Monday, May 30, 2016

One Weird Question That Will Tell You a Lot About Your Protagonist


by Kasey Tross

I know that title sounds like click bait, but it's actually not (well, it is, but it's also true). This insightful- and odd- question came to me the other day due to a situation with a neighbor, and the question is this:

What happens when your main character is faced with a stick shift?

See, my neighbor had a situation (which was a whole other stressful thing I won't get into) in which she needed to move her husband's car. She got panicky because she didn't know how to drive a stick. I said, "I do. I'll move it for you." She handed me the keys, and I got behind the wheel of his turbo-charged, souped-up car. It was his baby. (He was in Indonesia.) I turned it on and it made that rumbly purr, which sent a little shiver of dread down my spine because it was in that moment I realized I haven't actually driven a stick shift in quite a long time, and the last time was my brother's elderly truck which required some finessing.

This car was anything but elderly.

Anyway, I very carefully eased it into first gear and out of the garage, and over to the neighbor's driveway where we'd been told we could park it for the time being. Everything went fine, and I felt a little twinge of pride and gratitude at having that skill, but on my way home later, I found myself thinking, "What would my MC do if she was faced with a situation involving a stick shift?" And, more importantly, "Why?"

Here are a few options for you (though the possibilities are numerous):

1. She would shy away. She's never driven a stick before, because they make her nervous. Nice, safe, easy-to-use automatic, please.

2. She would shy away. Her parents bought her her first shiny new car when she was 16 and it was an automatic. She's never felt the need to learn.

3. She would shrug and give it a go. She's got no other options and she's never driven one before, but how hard can it be?

4. She would hop right in and get going. She had a tough life growing up; all she's ever driven were clunkers with stick shifts.

5. She would reluctantly agree. She learned how to drive a stick once, but that was a long time ago, and she hasn't done it since. What if she messed up the car?

6. No problem. Everybody knows driving is way more fun with a stick shift!

7. She would smile and get behind the wheel. Her parents raised her on automatics, but those summers spent with Grandma? Well, they weren't exactly knitting the whole time.

A few more questions:

- Was whether or not learning to drive a stick a decision she made or a decision someone made for her?

- If she did learn, who taught her? What was the learning experience like?

- Is it a skill she has ever needed? Why or why not?

- Does this character's reaction to being faced with a stick shift surprise the people around her or not?

As you can see, this question takes you into your character's past, touching on past relationships and even socioeconomic status, and it also reveals quite a bit about her personality, both past and present.

If you're writing a fantasy or historical novel, then you might think this question can't apply, but what if your characters were transported into modern day, and they had grown up in a world with cars? How would their personality/status/relationships translate in a modern world?

I hope you take this weird question and get to know your characters better this week.



Saturday, May 28, 2016

My Summer Challenge to You

By Lacey Gunter

I am so excited for summer. My work as a professor dies down and my time with my kids ramps up. It's a time of free schedules, exploring creativity and lots of cuddles. Don't get me wrong, school is great and I love it. But there is something magical about summer's nonconformity to rigid topics and timelines that opens the world to new possibilities.

One of our favorite things about summer is the time my kids finally get to learn about all the topics or skills sets they wanted to during the year, but school got in the way of.  They take fun classes from the local university on various topics that interest them. We go to the library at least twice a week and check out bucket loads of books on all the crazy topics that pop in their heads.  And they finally have time to ask a thousand questions and I have the time to answer them.

Happily, this is an activity I love to take part in also.  Sometimes I will take a class with my kids or on my own. I often got to workshops or conferences. I try out new cooking, sewing, art and craft projects. And I greatly expand my reading as well.

The freedom of summer does not escape us, instead it expands us. This is the kind of learning that's not motivated by standards and competition, but by the rich feast it offers to the intellect and the soul.

This is why I want to issue a challenge to you. Find at least one thing new you want to learn this summer that will help expand you as either a writer or a mother or just as a person. But don't just pick something you've been told you need to learn or you feel you have to know to keep up with other mommies or writers. Pick something for the sheer joy of learning.  As it says in one of our LDS books of scripture, "The glory of God is intelligence." (D&C 93:36)  So make this summer glorious. Find some nook of God's intelligence and make it your own.

Friday, May 27, 2016

I'm So Glad We Had This Time Together

by Mare Ball @ Adventures in the Ballpark

Almost three and a half three years ago I wrote my first post for Mormon Mommy Writers. I was so honored to be invited to regularly write here. I've read so many sweet/informative/relatable posts here, and I feel connected with many of the contributors.

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to learn more about writing, the struggles of motherhood, and share issues of faith. When stumbling along this journey of life, communities of women are the best companions.

My life has changed over the past six months in ways that are demanding more of my attention, and I need to step away from a few things - including my time here. I hate that I can't do everything I want to do, but I don't think anybody gets that in life.  Maybe our expectations are too high, or maybe we just love too many things. Either way, my season here at MMW is closing.

I want to thank Nikki Wilson for inviting me aboard and Kasey Q her encouragement. I appreciate all the writers here who have commented on or enjoyed anything I wrote.  I'm grateful to all of you who shared your story. Writing is such a linking of hearts, isn't it?

I will always be grateful for my time here.  Welcome other writers like you did me. I'll be checking in, so keep up the good work!

I'd love to stay connected:

FACEBOOK

PINTEREST

BLOG Adventures in the Ballpark


much love from my Ballpark,

Mare



Thursday, May 26, 2016

Music as a Muse


By Patricia Cates

Most of us know why we write. We also seem to have a fairly good grasp on how to write. The question that looms in many, weary, writer’s-blocked heads, is what should I write?

The answer has not always been simple or clear. There has been much ado about the advice given years ago (by Hemingway?) to simply “Write what you know.” However many writers disagree. (Boy do they!) They see it as limiting. I will counter and say the most successful comedians who write their own stuff, who have done interviews, admit that they get most of their material from everyday events. It’s the hilarity that comes with family life or even their sadly laughable adolescent years that works for them. If you write what you do know you will surely still have to do research, just not as much. But maybe it’s not in the knowledge as much as in the experience itself, and the emotions attached, where we get our inspiration. No matter the genre, we will always need characters plucking emotion in fiction writing.

Soooo…If you have writer’s block and do not know what to write, I have a suggestion. Grab a note pad (or voice command device,) pull out your favorite records from when you were in elementary school, close your eyes and see what happens. Are you 10 again? Surely a vivid memory or twenty will come floating back. Some might make you smile and others could make you cringe...and that's good! The feelings attached to those settings you are now recalling could make for great fodder for your next chapter. Hey, maybe you can even derive a book from one of those memories. If elementary school is reaching too far back, try high school or college. Music can trigger long forgotten memories like no other. (So can smells but that would be much harder and…um…strange.)

Drawing from life experience is likely practiced by romance writers everywhere already. They write about their first crush and change the name, and the outcome! Writers create justice in their pages where none was found in real life, (like the school bully they put up with for seven years.) We see that all the time. The clothing styles and descriptions we can put our characters in from days past are fun as well. Sometimes we just need a memory jolt to garner those bold descriptions of things we have already seen and have forgotten. Big hair bands anyone? Spandex pants? Grunge?

But what about writers who want to focus on fantasy. Can they draw any benefit from this method? How do our past memories relate to a world filled with fantasy? Certainly one could base a character off an old long forgotten school chum. As an author you can give them a special power or gnarly facial warts. Your elementary school library can become a porthole for the children who read a specific book found on aisle A-F. That song you loved from 1987 can be playing in the background of your novel. When your fairy is awarded her first wings, use lyrics from your favorite victory song, just remember to give the band credit. In mystery writing that same friend you now remember from 3rd grade can be your supporting character and maybe even a suspect. I think pulling from our personal pasts is great and music can help get us there.

Do you need a setting? Could the music you listened to from the late 1990’s maybe remind you of a family vacation you took, and now you are suddenly transported back in time to that weird restaurant you happened across while driving? Voila! You have a new setting for your murder scene. After all the waiter WAS pretty creepy. All remembered because of a song you heard on the radio during that time.

But still stands the question of what to write! You are the only one who can answer this. Stop thinking so hard and just let it flow. Put your WIP down for a minute, get some Pandora or iTunes going and start jotting down your memoires. Let the music be your muse. I guarantee you that your fingers will start tapping pretty fast.






Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Writing and Prayer

By Kathy Lipscomb

I’ve finally realized something and I don’t know why it took me so long to figure out. When I feel anxious or resistant to doing something, like writing, it’s all the more reason to do it. And it’s okay to ask our loving Heavenly Father for help.

The first time I let people critique my work in front of me was at an LDStorymakers conference (I believe I’ve told this story). I was so nervous, so, so nervous that I contemplated getting out of my chair and running as fast as I could. Me. Running. I don’t run. I hate running as a general rule, but I was so sick to my stomach that it was a serious contemplation. After a silent prayer, God helped me through those thoughts, and before I could get up and run, the words I’d written came out of my mouth. I did it. I ended up with fantastic critiques. I had things to fix, but I also gained a little more confidence in my work—something I desperately needed.

I’ve since let many, many authors critique my work, and it’s scary every time. I keep waiting for that fear, that anxiousness, to go away, but for me, it hasn’t. I even get great critiques of how much an author loved it (not always J), but that fear comes back. Every. Single. Time.

Fear and anxiety are not from God. They are from the adversary. God wants us all to learn and grow, to develop our talents. He isn’t going to do things to make us stop, but the adversary will. Don’t listen to that fear. When you have a day that for some unknown reason you have such anxiety over writing that you would rather do anything else in the world…those are the days you need to write the most. The adversary will work against you. Fight back by praying for help. It’s totally okay to pray for help with your book. Now, I’m not saying you should pray to be a best-seller or famous or rich. But to genuinely pray that you will write a book to the best of your ability, that you will inspire and uplift your readers, that you will learn and grow in your writing talent—those are all great reasons to pray. Those are all ways to fight against the fear, the anxiety, the feeling of incompetence.


Pray. God will guide you. He loves you. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Jane Jacobs—A Mom and a Writer Who Changed Things and Inspired a Movement

by Jewel Leann Williams

On May 4 when I opened up my Google for…well, whatever reason, there was a Doodle of a little lady with giant glasses among city buildings. I was curious and clicked on it. The Doodle was in celebration of the 100th birthday of a woman named Jane Jacobs. 



As I read, it occurred to me that this woman, while not a “Mormon,” was definitely a “Mommy” and most assuredly a “Writer”—and as I had just written a piece about “standing up and speaking out,” she was an example of someone who bravely did just that, and inspired change that I’m sure even she didn’t imagine she would affect.

Jane Jacobs was a self-taught journalist living in Greenwich Village in New York. The short story is that an extremely powerful man, Robert Moses, had made plans to demolish the iconic Washington Square Park in order to build the Lower Manhattan Expressway. There were various plots and plans to build different roads and high-rises, demolish neighborhoods, etc., to push all of this through (I am simplifying the story for space).  Jane organized grass-roots efforts to block these developments, because she believed that neighborhoods should be a mix of old and new, business and residence, instead of buildings and roads just designed to move cars from place to place.

From writing letters to government officials, articles in magazines and newspapers, and a book that has since become standard reading for architects and planners (THE DEATH AND LIFE OF AMERICAN CITIES), Jane made people aware of a better way for the city to be more livable. Then she started mobilizing people. She spearheaded grass-roots efforts to protest and attend planning hearings and other meetings. She got government officials on her side that were not in the pocket of power-broker Moses, and sure enough, through her efforts, Mr. Moses and his plans were blocked multiple times.

During one of the hearings, Robert Moses threw a temper tantrum as he realized his plans were about to be thwarted. According to an interview Ms. Jacobs gave to Metropolis Magazine in 2001, Roberts said, "There is nobody against this—NOBODY, NOBODY, NOBODY, but a bunch of, a bunch of MOTHERS!” and then stomped out.(1) That “bunch of mothers” kept an expressway out of Washington Square park. 
Washington Square Park (photograph public domain from Wikipedia Commons)



Jane and her husband knew that their sons were approaching an age where they would either have to become criminals, or fight in a war (Vietnam) that their family deeply opposed. In order to spare them having to make that decision, her family moved to Toronto Canada, where she lived until she passed away in 2006. She remained active as a writer, in politics as a community organizer and in protecting neighborhoods there as well, and was selected to the Order of Canada for her contributions.  

Her legacy lives on—Google her if you want to read about some of the contributions of this fascinating woman.

The thing that touches me the most is that while Jane Jacobs did attend college for several years, she never earned a degree. She wrote seven books and countless magazine articles which are still studied today. 

Another part of her legacy are “Jane’s Walks” that became held in her honor.  From Wikipedia: 

Jane’s Walk is a series of neighborhood walking tours. Named after urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs, Jane's Walks are held annually during the first weekend in May to coincide with her birthday.
Jane's Walks are led by volunteers, and are offered for free. The walks are led by anyone who has an interest in the neighborhoods where they live, work or hang out. They are not always about architecture and heritage, and offer a more personal take on the local culture, the social history and the planning issues faced by the residents.
Since its inception in 2007, Jane’s Walk has happened in cities across North America and around the world. In 2014, over 40,000 people took part in a Jane's Walk led by volunteers in 134 cities across 6 continents. Cities that have participated in Jane's Walk include Calcutta, Calgary, Halifax, Lethbridge, Ljubljana, Montreal, Ottawa, Perth, Sudbury, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, Waterloo, Kitchener, Windsor, Winnipeg; Anchorage, Boston, Chicago, Dayton, Detroit, Honolulu,[6] New Orleans, New York City, Oakland, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis. In 2009, a walk in Mumbai, India was added. In 2011 the first Jane's Walk in Madrid was held.  In Slovenia Jane's Walk was organized in 8 cities in 2012. The organizer, Institute for Spatial Policies, also published a manual how to prepare and organize the event.


All of this, because a MOTHER (and a WRITER) wanted to save her neighborhood. She believed it was right, and she stood up, and spoke out. How powerful!

I hope this story has given you a little inspiration to use your own talents and gifts to make YOUR own corner of the world a better place. You never know how far YOUR ideas can spread!





(1)    Jane Jacobs Interviewed by Jim Kunstler For Metropolis Magazine, March 2001 September 6, 2000: Toronto Canada

Friday, May 20, 2016

Wanna-Be Updates

Ok MMW family,
I’ve done it! I’ve stuck with my writing schedule…sort of. I definitely don’t get to write the four hours a week as I had originally planned on thanks to the end of the year scramble plus STAAR testing. BUT I have been writing more and more. I jot down ideas or dialogue that pop into my head. I have even put a scene or two together. Progress!

The only failure I have to admit is editing…I really despise editing. I need it, and I know I need it, but I really, REALLY don’t wanna. *insert whiny voice*

There is something about having to go back through your work, looking for imperfections and pulling apart the story you had put your heart and soul into, that is heart wrenching. Thinking about all that work makes me feel overwhelmed and stressed. So I mentally set it aside for another day (which then turns into weeks, months, years).

My husband always suggests I give my story to a family member to read and edit, but in my head I turn into Gollum (Lord of the Rings) and clutch my story to my chest hissing, “It’s MY precious.” I am trapped in a conundrum of my own making and I need help getting out.

So my question to my fellow writers is this: how do you motivate yourself to edit? Do you have strategies that work for you? PLEASE share them! I need all the help I can get… J

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

One Contraction at a Time


- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

A couple of weeks ago, I gave birth to our fourth child. It was a harder labor than I expected, partially because I had managed to convince myself that my childbirth experiences really were supposed to get easier with each child (lies! all lies!), and partially because, well, childbirth.

Still, in retrospect, it really wasn’t all that dreadful. Nine hours total, only about half of that being truly, all-encompassingly difficult, and even during those five-ish really hard hours, contractions came . . . and they went. In between most contractions, there was a period (short though it may have been) of physical calm, of reprieve. And in the end, of course, out came my gorgeous, adorable, handsome little baby, giving meaning to the process and the pain and the exhaustion and the fear.

In the midst of the experience, though, there were so many times when I thought, “Why am I doing this?!” and “I can’t do this anymore!” and “I am so tired; I just need a break,” and, of course, “I am never letting my husband touch me again.”* The process was overwhelming, stretching me (ha! literally!) beyond what I think of as my capacity. And yet, here I am, still alive, still kicking (gently, because I’m still a little sore). So clearly it was within my capacity. Clearly I was measuring my capacity wrong.

Adjusting to having this new baby in our family has been (and will continue to be) a challenge, the same way that all major life changes tend to be a challenge, even when the change is wonderful. He takes up so much of my time and energy, and there are so many other needs to be met along with his. I occasionally find myself wondering how we’re all going to get through the coming weeks and months.

And yet, I know we will. We have the capacity, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

One strategy that helped in dealing with the difficulty of labor was to take things one contraction at a time. When I thought about how much I might have left, how much labor was still before me, I was overwhelmed and terrified. When I just worked on getting through just the next contraction, it was still hard—it was hard, but it was more bearable. I was reminded that I didn’t have to do it all at once.

And so, on a particularly challenging day or in a terrible, exhausting minute, I hope to try to remember this: Contractions come, but they also go. I don’t need to worry about the struggles to come down the road. I only have to get through this next contraction, this next hardest moment. Even when it seems like there is only hard stuff, I can look at and recognize those calm spaces in between. And, most of all, I can know that God has granted me the capacity to move through life’s contractions, to reach the prizes along the way. Our capacity to stretch and grow and create is far greater than we recognize. The contractions are how we make room in our lives for wonderful blessings. They prepare us to give birth to great things.


* Okay, so I really just tossed that one in because it’s standard, right?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Biggest Lie Mom Writers Tell Themselves


You're a mom. Sometimes it feels like you don't have time for anything. And how can you? How can you write when you have a to-do list longer than the Great Wall of China? If you had free time, you'd write. Right?

But you do.

I used to tell myself this because to me, writing used to mean sitting down for hours at a time letting inspiration flow through me in an almost ceremonial way. That was before I became a mom. Before I spent most of my days with cuddle fights, cleaning dishes, floors, cuts, scrapes, reading tiny books over and over. I love my busy kiddo filled days because I love being a mom, but somehow I got it into my head that that meant I simply didn't have time to write anymore.

But I did.

I'm in a Facebook group for eating healthy and a woman posted that she just didn't have enough time to make a healthy meal every single day and she felt it was impossible to eat healthy if she didn't have the time. The advice she got was pretty standard: Make a meal plan, Follow easier recipes, etc. And then I saw this suggestion that changed my life:
Put your healthy food in front of you. Get a veggie platter, fruit, or a healthy snack out of the fridge and on the counter throughout the day. That way if you don't always eat a healthy meal, at least you are eating healthy snacks.
Genius! I thought. But ahem, let me stop for a second to address that you might be thinking eating vegetables is what changed my life. Well, yes, but no. That is not the Happily Ever After I'm heading towards. It's how I used that advice that made me realize I do have time to write.

When you're going throughout your day how many times does an idea pop into your head? And how many times does a dialogue scene play out, or a plot idea? And how many times do you just let it slosh around in your brain until you forget?


The thought of opening up your laptop to write out the entire scene might not be an option. But it's not your only option!

A successful writing session doesn't have to be hours of zoning out. Just like the idea of putting vegetables in front of you to eat healthier, put writing in front of you. Make it easier to quickly jot your ideas down.

  • Get a thought journal that has a pen attached to it so you're never frantically searching for one. Keep it somewhere you won't lose it and that the kids can't reach it. AND NOT IN SOME DRAWER. Somewhere you'll see it. 
  • Use your phone. I use Google Keep because then I can access what I've written from my computer. I'd advise not to use an app that has way more cool features, because really, you just want to open it up, and get your thoughts on there before you've got a clean up on isle the kid'(s)' room. 
  • Get a white board and hang it on the wall. Write down your thoughts there. If you don't want your whole family seeing it, or if it gets too full, take a pic with your phone and erase. And if you really don't want to miss an idea there's this, 

  • Surround yourself with what will inspire you to write. There's no rule that says you can only keep your writing stuff in your writing nook. An awesome quote on the living room wall might just look good. Gasp. And even in the kitchen! It doesn't even have to be a quote. It could be a painting or photograph that makes you feel like a writer. 
  • MAKE SOME TIME. There's nothing wrong with taking time for yourself. You work hard. You deserve it. And you will be happier and better for it. But as tempting as just zoning out and watching TV sounds, don't do it. Ok, you can watch some TV. I'll be the first to admit I like my shows and I'm not ashamed, but don't give all of the time you've made for yourself to TV. 
  • Call yourself a writer. You can surround yourself with the idea that you're a writer but you have got to believe it. No, you probably aren't spending hours and hours writing unless you go to the occasional retreat, but writing is writing. No matter how unconventional your way of doing it is. 

  • Something is better than nothing. If you think what you're jotting down is pointless, it's not. This is J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix on one piece of paper. 


So just do it. If this is your writing zone,

own it. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Staying on the Road to Completion

By Lacey Gunter

The message of how important it is to follow through and complete your WIP comes up frequently in writing conferences and classes. For those of you who have completed manuscripts before, you know that this task can be really tough. That romance you felt with the characters and the story at the start of writing has usually long since fizzled before you finish. It is hard and sometimes almost painful work. You have to be a strict task master with yourself to finish and you probably sometimes ask yourself if maybe it would be better just to set aside your WIP and work on something else.

 Are there situations when finishing your WIP really isn't that important? I am a bit of a finishing junkie. I love that feeling of having something complete. This is not because I have a great natural talent for follow through. Quite the opposite, I have a natural tenancy for procrastination and distraction. It is for this reason that I feel so good when I complete something. I have overcome my natural tendencies and conquered the task. Having said that, I do feel there is one situation where shelfing a WIP and starting something new is a good idea. If you have discovered or learned some information which presents credible evidence that your WIP is simply unmarketable and completing it will not benefit you in some way (i.e. it is not a story you need to tell such as a family history and you don't need to prove to yourself you can complete a manuscript), then, by all means, stop wasting your time and move on to something more productive.  Most desires to quit a manuscript don't fall into this category. So when those feelings of disenchantment strike, what do you do to overcome it?

Here are some strategies I have learned to help me stay on the road to completion:

1. Set clear concise and achievable goals: Small tasks can be easily winged. It's a lot harder to complete a big multistage task in a reasonable amount of time without a little planning. And breaking that big task up into manageable chunks can make the task seem less overwhelming.

2. Couple those goals with deadlines and consequences: Being a natural procrastinator, my creative juices are usually like thick sludge right up until the last possible moment when they finally start to flow like a river. One way I have found to combat this is to create deadlines for myself. I don't mean those flimsy artificial deadlines you write on your calendar and no one else really cares or sees except for maybe your spouse. Instead I create real deadlines in which I will face some level of consequence for failing to meet, such as public embarrassment. One example of this might be joining a critique group where you are required to submit something for critique on a consistent schedule. No one wants to ready the same chapter they read last month with little or no improvement. You lack of progress with grow annoying very quickly. Things like this can be a very good motivator.

3. Learn the difference between a break and a reward: Everyone needs breaks. Your ability to think creatively, focus on the task and produce good writing wanes over time without small periods of rest. Everyone knows this. But don't let your self-directed breaks look more like the kind of activities you do when you've already completed a hard day's worth of work. What do breaks look like in a supervised work place? You go the bathroom, eat a small meal or snack, maybe take a very short walk or do a small amount of reading and then you are right back on the job.  This is what a break should look like. It should not look like an hour and a half on Facebook or Pinterest. These are the types of activities that should be used as awards for accomplishing a difficult task.  If you feel you need more time away from a stressful scene in your WIP than a short break will allow, make it the kind of break that counts. Go to a different, more enjoyable section of your WIP and work on that. This is the way to stay on task and get things done.

4. Choose imperfection over a stop in production: Don't let yourself get so stuck on getting the perfect writing or the perfect storyline that you end up doing nothing at all. This type of thinking does more than just waste time. It can erode your confidence to a point of impeding your ability to succeed or even progress. When I find myself in a state like this, I repeat the mantra to myself "something really is better than nothing". Get something down. Go back and edit it later when the pressure is not so high and you are able to think a little more clearly or can see it from a different perspective. It is amazing how well this technique works.

These are some of the strategies I use frequently to help finish my WIPs. What techniques have you found successful?

Don't give up. You can do it!

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