Wednesday, April 18, 2018

After the Excitement, Back to the Grind

Well, in case you missed it, an anthology I am a part of came out last week. If you’re interested in all the gushing excitement, head on over to my personal blog here. It was a fun day/week for our little anthology, and its opening day was really amazing. So much excitement! So much checking of stats! So much fangirling when this happened:

Okay, sure, his book has been in that general area forever, and we only hit it for a little while. But still, it’s one of those little moments you just have to enjoy.

Now a week has passed, and we’re past all the first hoorahs. And suddenly it’s like my writing is in a vacuum. I’ve been spending the last several months on almost weekly deadlines—short story contests, submissions, materials to submit for the upcoming Storymakers conference, final proofs for Unspun, etc. Now I have this gigantic lull.

I think this is where writing is hard for some of us. Somehow I manage to pull out some impressive feats once in a while when I’m backed up against a deadline, but then in the in-between spaces it can be hard to feel properly motivated. But these in-between spaces are where a lot of the real work happens.

So we have to find ways to motivate ourselves. It’s different for everyone, but we have to find what works for us. One thing I’ve got write now is an amazing accountability partner—we check in with each other every week on goals and plans. It doesn’t keep me perfectly in line, but it helps me to remember, “Hey, if I spend five hours binge-watching reality cooking shows, I’ve got to go tell LaChelle I was a total spaz. Maybe I’ll just write for five minutes... and then binge watch.” (At least I wrote first!) I’m also trying to practice building in deadlines (like most short story markets have deadlines, so I’m trying to write to some of them). I have friends who create their own reward systems—new shoes, new books, a bowl of ice cream, etc. There are lots of options out there!

So if you’re like me and you need some extra motivation to keep writing past the really exciting moments (first ideas, first drafts, publications, etc.), go find it, implement it. Not every moment of writing has to be filled with joy and inspiration, but I think we can find a lot more lasting fulfillment as we practice writing through the grind as well.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Storytelling, Foreshadowing, and Reality Cooking

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

One of my guilty pleasures is watching reality cooking shows. Not that I ever cook much, but it's really fun to watch other people cook. 

Recently while watching one on Netflix called Zumbo’s Just Desserts (seriously), I found myself thinking, “They’re talking about the lavender oil a lot. That means she added too much and it’s gonna taste awful.” And sure enough, a few minutes later, the judges were telling her that her cake tasted like potpourri.

I started paying more attention, and I realized that reality cooking shows are a really great place to see foreshadowing, clues, and misdirection in action. In any given episode, the filming and editing have already provided almost every clue you need to figure out the end result of the episode.*

These shows are also great at emotional manipulation. It was obvious pretty quickly in Zumbo’s, for example, that there was one particular character** who we were supposed to dislike. Everything this fellow said felt egotistical and just slightly sexist. And no one else spoke that way—at least not in the episode as it was edited. What is he like in real life? What are any of them like in real life? No idea. But we knew who to root for and who to dislike, just by their behaviors and speech. We didn’t have to be told.

Because of the editing, every clip they include matters, and they’re supposed to sway our perceptions. Does someone comment on how this weird flavor combination is definitely going to work? That will be important later in the episode—it’s either going to come back to bite them, or it’s going to turn out to have been absolutely brilliant.***

Which leads me to the subject of misdirection. Because it would be boring if every clue told you where to look. So they edit in specific comments and moments, but you don’t know if they’re going to lead to a flop or a fly. That lavender oil bit could have led to a fantastic success. What it couldn’t have led to? Nothing. Talking about it has signaled that something important is going on.

When a reality cooking show calls attention to a detail, that means it will matter. As an audience, we may not know if it will matter for good or for ill, but it matters. And that’s the way our writing should be as well. The details that we focus on should tell part of the story. The reader should be able to look back and say, “Oh, I see now why that mattered.”

It’s like Chekhov’s gun on the mantel. You can’t just put it there and then ignore it.

Analyzing the ways that reality cooking shows manipulate the audience and misdirect/guide us has been interesting to me, and I find myself actively trying to notice the clues as I watch. So if you need an excuse to watch your favorite cooking show, here you go.**** Call it research.

* In shows that record the whole season before the first episode has aired, you can sometimes see the clues for the finale right from the beginning.
** I say “character” because, let’s be honest, “reality” tv isn’t actually real. These are certainly characters or at least personas, not real people.
*** I just wrote “absolutely brilliant.” This means I’ve been watching The Great British Baking Show.
**** One caveat: American reality cooking shows do it far more than foreign. The Great British Baking Show feels a bit less manipulative of our emotions, although there are still plenty of clues to the results of each individual challenge.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Start Small

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

Anyone who lives near me and knows me well enough to drop in unexpectedly (or just drop in at all really) already knows this unsurprising fact: I am not much good at keeping the house clean. Insert the usual reasons here: small children, other priorities, and so on. This isn’t about making me feel better for having a messy house.

This is about making changes—to cleaning up, to writing, to whatever.

A friend of mine recommended this book called How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind (which, incidentally, is on sale at Amazon today only!), and I recently started reading it. Previous decluttering/cleaning-related books had fallen flat for me over and over. The ideas sounded awesome, but I was never very good with follow-through. (Plus, as has become a standing joke, I don’t like to talk to my socks, and my tax documents don’t really spark joy.)

This book is for the non-organized among us. In fact, the author, Dana White, starts off by saying that most of those other books are written by organized people, people who just logically work that way. White is not.

Well, honestly, I think this book is pretty great. It’s all kind of completely obvious—except that I’d never really thought these things through, and I’d never really bought into them before. So it’s obvious but also ... not obvious. And for the first time in a long time, my dishes are being finished every night (even if I have to handwash a couple!), my kitchen floor is clean(ish), and tidying doesn’t feel like it takes forever. I consider all of these things epic wins (even at the same time that I’m super embarrassed to admit that as a 37yo I still hadn’t figured out how to do these things regularly). So if you too have cleaning problems, go buy it! Read it! It’s an idea.

But this post isn’t actually about whether or not you’re a clean person. It’s about starting small. And how small makes a huge difference.

In How to Manage Your Home, the first task you’re assigned is just to do the dishes every day. For some of us, this seems like a daunting task. But White essentially says, “Pull up your big-kid panties and just do it.

Do it the first day, when it’s really hard because you’re way behind.
And then do it the second day, when it’s not as bad.
And the third day, when it’s getting a little easier.

Novel concept, yes? Just do it.

And now we come around to writing! (See? I do get there eventually.)

How does a story get written? A few words at a time. A couple of sentences, then paragraphs, then pages. But how does it not get done? By staring at the blank screen (or even just thinking about the blank screen) and freaking out because there’s so much to do and you haven’t started and you’re on a deadline and your ideas are crap and everyone out there is a bestseller and your friend has a more popular social media account than you and maybe if you just post something brilliant (like a blog post about starting small?) suddenly everyone will love you and you’ll get contracts and agents and publishers and million-dollar advances, but wait, none of that is going to work because your screen is still blank and it’s freaking you out and...

Get the picture? So what should you do about that story that you haven’t figured out yet? That you really want to write but it’s scaring you because it’s so hard or you’re not sure where to go or you’re not sure you’re good enough to write it yet? (Welcome to my entire life right now, by the way.)

You should go sit and type a few sentences.
Do it today, when it’s awful and hard.
Do it tomorrow, when it’s still insanely daunting.
Do it the next day, even when you’re still lost.
And the next and the next and the next.

You can do it. (And now I have to go start working on that story I’ve been avoiding like the dickens. Sigh. Taking my own advice is overrated.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

In Which I Have a Birthday and Review the Year


- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

Next week is my birthday. I’ll be 37, which is exciting if you like prime numbers but less fun if you prefer to have lots of factors in your age (like 36, which is fantastic—1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 18, 36!). If you multiple 37 by 3, however, you do get a cool number (111), so it’s not all bad. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to be geeky about numbers, which is always a bonus.

Anyway, I think it’s about time for an early midlife crisis, but I just don’t know what direction to take that (except, of course, rearranging all the furniture in my house and trying to toss half of my belongings, but since that happens regularly, it doesn’t really count).

When I think about my age and writing, though, I can’t help but think of many/most of my favorite authors. Shannon Hale and Brandon Sanderson are both only a few years older than me. They’ve been publishing waaaaaay longer than I have (since, technically, I still haven’t!). Kate DiCamillo published Because of Winn Dixie when she was 36ish. We won’t go on and on, because that would be depressing. I guess the point is that it sure doesn’t feel like I’m doing much with my writing career.

At the same time, I’m quite aware that their career paths are just not for me. But then I think, “Maybe it’s because I’m just not a hard enough worker” (totally true), “Maybe I’m not talented” (hopefully not true), blah blah blah. I dither a lot. In the end, pretty much the only reasonable conclusion on this topic is Comparison = Bad.

So instead of comparisons, it seems like a good idea to think about the things I have done this year with writing.

I’ve written a bunch of short stories and flash fiction, two of which are going into anthologies relatively soon. I’ve participated in a flash fiction competition, which has been delightfully fun so far. I won the Mormon Lit Blitz this year. (Yay!) I won a Beginning of Book contest. I was given a great opportunity that is still terrifying the pants off me (and I am therefore stalling!)

I tried writing several stories that I wasn’t good enough to write yet. One of them turned out well. Some turned out okay anyway, though not amazing. One of them crashed and is still burning. I’m planning on pulling out the fire extinguisher and trying again. In trying things I wasn’t ready for, I got (hopefully) just a teensy bit better.

I started out the year with a goal of writing every single day. That goal also crashed and burned around August, but that was still pretty good for me. I went farther on that than I had previously, and I still write many days, though not even close to all.

I taught a writing class to a group of awesome teens, and as part of that, I put together an anthology of their awesome writing. It was an insane amount of work, but it turned out so fun, and I’m so glad I did it. I learned a lot about how anthologies work, how hard it is to put things in an order that makes sense and flows, and a lot of mishmash of stuff that I may never need to know again.

I discovered how much I love short fiction. I’m learning how it gives me most of the joy of writing, which is a big part of why I write in the first place. But it comes with far fewer of the bouts of angst, suffering, agony, and self-doubt that novel-writing has done in the past. So I’ve not given up on novels, but I am definitely loving the change of pace.

And none of this even touches on the sheer awesomeness that is each of my kids, which is a whole different topic.

Looking back, I’m really happy about writing this year, even though it still isn’t what I had planned on. I won some, lost some, grew and changed a lot. Another time I’ll start thinking about goals for the coming year, but for now, I think I’ll just relish where I’ve been. I’ll never catch up to my author crushes, but I think maybe I’ll find a place where I’m happy being me.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

All God's Children

by Jewel Leann Williams

(note: this comes from a post I made on Facebook some months ago, and for some reason I came across it tonight and felt prompted to share it here)

So many different ways on Facebook (and everywhere else) that people are posting things or commenting in ways that are breaking my heart. So many horrible things said about "those people"---all different sorts of "thoses" and so many sweeping generalizations, falsehoods, fearmongering, dehumanizing.... 

People. We are all, on this Earth, brothers and sisters. No race, religion, gender, class, or political group can be judged by the bad actions of a relative few. Even of they could, it's not the point. We were commanded by the Lord to "love thy neighbor as thyself" and when he said that, there was no fine print with exceptions to that commandment. 

You can't denigrate a whole race, or religion, or any group of people either by holding up their worst as an example of them all, by taking things out of context, by spreading rumors, by going on websites full of hate to find "facts" and then say you love your neighbor. You can't spread discord and contention and think you are right with God, OK with the Savior. 

Those people you insult, are children of God. Literally. Imagine how you feel when someone has insulted your child. If you, being imperfect, love your child so much that your heart aches for them, imagine how much more pain YOUR GOD feels when you behave as if one, or some, or many, of HIS children, are trash or devils or whatever terrible label you want to use. 

The great deceiver, Satan, would have us live in fear of each other, in misunderstanding, in hate. He laughs at us when we believe him, that we have to build MORE walls around our countries, our communities, our hearts. He is a liar.

Our Savior said things like love, pray for, do good to, those we call enemy. He said things like if ye are not one ye are not mine. Like turn the other cheek.  

What I say won't convince anyone to "Stop it," but I had to say it anyway.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Because When It Gets To Be Too Much, You Disappear

Hello, my awesome MMWs! I have missed you so, and I apologize for my abrupt absence. I have no good explanations for it, except that one day I didn't get around to writing my Monday post, and then it happened again, and then again, until it was just easier to keep "forgetting" than to come back and post.

But now I'm back, because Things are happening with my writing!

Thing 1: I made an author page on Facebook. I decided it was finally time. Come see me-

Thing 2: I'm NaNoEdMo-ing my LDS romantic comedy novel based on the four- yes FOUR- critiques I got back from critique partners. They are amazing and it was a big boost to my confidence that they all FINISHED the book and seemed to enjoy it! I'm feeling thisclose to getting this novel ready for submissions, and as soon as I do submit it, I have several other projects just waiting for my attention, so I'm eager to get going on those as well.

Thing 3: I'm trying to put myself "out there" more. This past week I gave a presentation at my kids' middle school about what it's like to be a writer, and I also attended the Festival of the Written Word, a fantastic event put on by my local library, where I attended 3 panel discussions and was reminded of how much fun it is to be among my tribe. Side note: did you know that 90% of published authors are finding their agents through networking these days? Only 10% through cold queries. If that doesn't encourage you to put yourself out there in the writing community, I don't know what will!

Another reason I'm back posting here once again is because I was helping a writing friend with an issue she was having with character development and the first resource I turned to was Mormon Mommy Writers, because I remembered we'd had some fantastic posts on the subject. I started searching through the posts and I realized we have a TON of fantastic posts on all aspects of writing, and I remembered what an honor it is to be associated with this blog, and I was ashamed of myself for letting my participation in it lapse.

So again, please forgive me my neglect, and I look forward to jumping back in with both feet and sharing this journey with you once again!

Now, it's time to catch up- what's going on with YOUR writing these days? NaNoWriMo? NaNoEdMo? NoNaNo? Give me the scoop, I'm dying to know!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Finding Your Voice Through Storytelling

By Lacey Gunter

I had the opportunity this weekend to attend the Timpanogus Storytelling Festival for the second year in a row. I went with my parents and my kids and we had a great time.  Some of the stories were unique and personal, some were retelling of an old classic in a new way, and some were just off the wall zany and silly.

I love listening to the stories, but one of the best reasons to come to a storytelling festival is to hear each of the story teller's unique voice.  I don't mean the actual tone of their voice, but rather the way they tell their story.  A storyteller's unique voice is at least half of what draws an audience into their story.  In much the same way, a writer's voice is critical in drawing a reader into their story.

But how do we get our writer's voice or even know what it is?  If you've ever got the feedback on a manuscript that your story lacks voice or needs more of your own unique writer's voice, it may not be obvious how to get it. Fixing grammatical errors, making characters more three dimensional, mending plot holes or spicing up a query letter can be difficult tasks. But there are typical tried and true ways to help you accomplish these tasks and most authors with enough commitment can reasonably manage them.

Knowing how to find your unique writer's voice, on the other hand, may not be as apparent. Finding your unique writer's voice isn't exactly something you can learn from studying writing books or talking to successful authors. So what's a writer to do? My suggestion to you is to try out storytelling. If you can figure out how to draw someone you are talking to into a story, your unique voice is going to naturally shine through in your writing as well. 

Start out small and easy. Pick a story you know really well. It can be a memory from your own life or even a tried and true fable you've heard a thousand times. Then find a small audience, or even a camera or mirror, and give it a whirl.  The more you practice, the better you are going to get and the more you are going to discover what kind of stories your good at telling and how you like to tell them.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Getting Back in the Saddle

Found at
- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay 

I've been in such a funk. This year started off wonderfully. I had a goal to write everyday. Maybe not a lot, but at least something. And for several months, I was doing great. Not perfect--I missed a couple of days--but really well. 

And then, something hit. I'm still not sure what it was, and I'm definitely not over it yet. It's been like walking uphill through sludge. I just haven't cared. About much of anything, really. I've wondered, am I depressed? Am I just being lazy? What is wrong with me? 

And the wonderful little checkmarks that I used to make to keep track of days I wrote ... They just tapered off. I haven't even looked at the tracking app I have for weeks. Just thinking about it makes me feel tense. Pretty much the entire month of August, a black hole of nothing. 

But here I am again, trying to get back in the saddle. There are two really amazing anthology projects that I want to be involved in, but that takes actually, you know, writing. So I'm starting small, with a blog post about essentially nothing, and working up from there. 

It's hard to start up again after you've lost all momentum. It's hard to feel like you're back at the beginning. But I recently read this statement from C. S. Lewis that I think sums it up: 

"You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending."

What do you all do when you feel like you're back at the beginning with no progress made? How do you get back up and start again?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Muse Wanted

By Lacey Gunter

Muse, my muse, I've been a tad busy lately.
Not by choice though, life and responsibilities just got a little ahead of me.
I've come back to you begging on hands and knees to be my friend again.
Whisper those sweet little ideas into my mind, even in the middle of the night.
I won't complain. I promise.

Muse, sweet muse, remember the good old days when we use to be thick as thieves.
You'd introduce me to all sorts of crazy characters.
We'd plot and scheme together.
You always had a way of making me laugh at the most inopportune times.
We were good together, you and me.

Muse, hey muse, I know you love a good game of chase.
I've got my running shoes on, see.
You can start us out with just the mere shadow of an idea, and I can...
Wait, what was that, ... wait, I wasn't quite ready... ouch... slow down ...please!
You know this game is a lot more fun when you let yourself get caught once in a while.

Muse, crazy muse, alright, I can see you've already got plans tonight.
Well, if you change your mind, I'll just be sitting here in front of this computer all night.
And for your information, I won't even think about getting on Facebook.
You do remember my number, don't you?
Well, I guess I'll be seein' ya...hopefully.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Because of the Struggle

Cursed runner weeds.

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

Today I was out pulling weeds in a tiny patch of my yard. They were the kind of weeds that send out runners that then put down more roots and just keep on going. I had let them go far too long and they were huge and well-established. To tug them up, I had to yank and yank and yank all along their lengths until the whole system came up. I thought to myself, I hate these weeds. I wish they didn’t exist. There is absolutely no purpose to them.

And then, immediately, I began to wonder—what if there is a purpose to them?

For me, the answer came swiftly. They were there for the struggle. That twenty or thirty minutes of hard work pulling up weeds, with my fingers in the dirt, making my little patch of garden lovely again—that time was hard, but in the end, I loved the sense of accomplishment. I loved the progress. I loved that I had done something hard.

I was recently asked to do something that is going to be incredibly hard for me. Quite frankly, my first reaction was I don’t want to do this. I wish it didn’t exist. I can’t do it. I’m still struggling with it, though I absolutely know it’s the right thing to do. But just like pulling weeds, it’s going to be hard. But I think the struggle is part of the point. If we never struggle, we never know what we’re capable of. We never get the powerful feeling that comes of getting through something that is difficult.

A friend recently told me it had been forever since she last wrote, but she wanted to start—and she was scared. She is a confident, awesome person, and she has tried and is good at so many things. But she’s afraid that in this she will fail. So to her I ask, what can you learn about yourself if you try? What if it’s not about “success” (and who defines “success” anyway)? What if it’s about discovering new possibilities? What if it’s about the struggle?

Last month I gave this suggestion: Write something you’re not good enough to write yet. That is something that I’ve really needed to remember lately as I’ve struggled with a story that is almost working but just not quite. I’m just not good enough to write it yet, but I’m still trying.

But I pulled up the weeds, and their purpose was the struggle. I will do the hard thing, and I will grow in that struggle. I will finish the story and I will submit it to the places I’m writing it for, and they will probably reject it, but I will get better at writing, and my next story will be better because I tried.

Because of the struggle.


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