The Bucket List

Bucket List Post

How many of you have a bucket list? The movie, The Bucket List, with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a 2007 movie in which two terminally ill men (Freeman and Nicholson) set out to accomplish a list of things they want to experience before they “kick the bucket.” I guess I took that movie to heart. Why wait until we’re dying to experience life? Each day we’re all one day closer to the end of our days. And at the risk of being cliché, not one of us is guaranteed tomorrow. That shouldn’t be a depressing or distressing thought, but rather one that inspires you to truly live.

I recently reviewed my bucket list and realized how few of them I’ve accomplished, much less remembered. I updated it, removing things that no longer held interest, adding some items that have piqued my interest over the past couple of years.

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years – Abraham Lincoln

Some of them I’m especially passionate about, namely:

  • Ride on a train,
  • Travel the New England coastline,
  • Perform a random act of kindness every day for a month,
  • Get to know 10 people from different countries.

While I’m an advocate for kindness by everyone, toward everyone, I’ll admit I’m not consistent in consciously looking for ways in which to practice acts of kindness. Work keeps me busy and preoccupied, life gets in the way, the lure of the television set and electronics, and…well, practicing acts of kindness gets placed on the back burner. Until I review my bucket list and remember.

Riding on a train and traveling the New England coastline are dreams that require minimal planning to make come true and are affordable. So there really is no excuse. Except, as with random acts of kindness, life happens and they become a “someday” item on the agenda, if I remember them at all.

And getting to know 10 people from different countries? That one I’m especially passionate about. Not simply meet, but with whom to share life. And, yet…yup, you guessed it…without the reminder, the effort falls to the wayside. So making an effort to meet and get to know people outside of the those that I stumble upon as I go through each day doesn’t happen.

My dream is to prove that love can cross any boundary, physical or otherwise. Nothing can stop love except unloving people. And this past year, with so many issues demonstrating anything but love, it’s especially important. There’s so much hatred, judgement, and intolerance in the world today, that it’s frightening. I want to be part of the movement to bring back love, compassion, kindness, and acceptance. It occurred to me this past weekend that while criminals in our country are considered innocent until proven guilty, those from other countries and nationalities or different race and religion than our own are often not afforded the same benefit. Instead they’re forced to prove their innocence. Where’s the fairness and justice in that? Why have we as a nation gone so far astray by separating “us” and “them.” Why can’t it just be “we?” “All” innocent first.

It’s all about Love. Acceptance. Kindness. Compassion.

I have three sponsor kiddos through Compassion International who I treasure, all three from different countries in Africa: Burkina Faso, Tanzania, and Togo. That’s a start. And I’ll be printing my bucket list and keeping it handy to view frequently, reminding me in the midst of the chaos and busyness of life, what’s truly important.

LoveAcceptanceCompassionKindness

When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves. William Arthur Ward

Writers and Writing

Conference

Is there anything more intoxicating than being in a room full of motivated writers? If there is, I can’t think of what it would be.

This past weekend I was fortunate to attend a writing workshop in Denver, Writing Commercial Fiction, by Jeffery Deaver, hosted by Rocky Mountain Chapter Mystery Writers of America, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This was my second time I was blessed to learn from him, the first being at the Colorado Gold Writer’s Conference. What a talented, generous, wonderful man!

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The five hours were packed with useful information, no fluff, no time wasted.

He started with general rules of writing fiction which included:

Define your goal as a writer, remember your mission, writing fiction is a business, adopt the mint-flavored business model (as an author it’s our job to give the reader a pleasant experience, mint vs liver-flavored toothpaste), the subject of your story and what it should be about, plan your book or story ahead of time (he’s a huge advocate of outlining and research and completely convinced me to put more time into each), and know your craft (from style, prose, grammar, punctuation, syntax, the publishing market, and technology). He touched on being aware of your shortcomings, the importance of rewriting, continuing your education via classes and conferences, that rejection is a speed bump and not a brick wall (something we can all benefit from to remember) and take your time in all aspects of writing. Hurrying the process will only result in a lesser quality piece of written work.

From there he spent time on the four elements of a story:

Plot – Continually introduce conflicts. Every scene needs to raise questions. Aim for the WOW! factor. He suggested holding off on answering those questions as long as possible. Unresolved anticipation is good, but never leave a conflict, clue, or subplot unanswered. Every question needs to be answered at the end of the book and every clue resolved. He talked about adding subplots, humor, and even a few fun facts. He explained the importance of using plot reversals and how to energize the middle of the book. I was surprised (pleasantly so since I’ve always struggled with the 3-act structure) that he doesn’t believe in the 3-act structure but rather a linear structure with a series of ups and downs. He talked about the need for surprise endings, that your twists need to have consequences, and the necessity of creating risks for your characters by incorporating physical threats, death, or a loss of something, whether it be love, friendship, a career, or any other loss that’s significant to a character. He touched on using the Goldilocks principle when incorporating research–not to little, not too much, but make sure it helps the story and furthers the reader’s understanding.

Characters – It’s good to have a protagonist with flaws but s/he needs to be likeable, don’t create passive characters, observe people constantly to make your characters better, give them quirks and tics, the best way to reveal a character (telling the reader directly, describe the appearance, thoughts, and feelings, using dialogue, through the character’s actions, and through others reactions). And we can’t leave out that even the villain needs to be a little likable. Shoot for compelling characters instead of interesting.

Setting – The setting is essentially another character but less important than plot and character. The plot should be developed first, then populated with characters, then setting comes into play. He stressed the importance of doing your research on settings. Boots-on-the-ground research is best, but if that isn’t possible, use the Internet.

Dialogue – Don’t over explain during dialogue, write as if someone is talking (use contractions and break the rules of grammar), match the characters with their dialogue, and when using a dialogue attribution “said” and “asked” are best.

This is only a brief explanation of topics covered. Each section was chock full of information, suggestions, examples, and personal stories. And when I asked if I could record his presentation, he was kind enough to allow it. That’s generosity, folks! His passion for his profession is hugely contagious. (How’s that for the ole ly adverb?)

Numerous members of my Sisters in Crime-Colorado writing group attended as well. (I’m third from the right with the cut-out shoulder shirt). To say it was beneficial to us as writers is an understatement. If he’s ever presenting at a conference/workshop in your area, I highly recommend any and all writers to attend. You won’t be sorry. It will be a mint-flavored experience!

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And now it’s back to Camp NaNo where I have a manuscript vying for my attention.

Write on. Have a beautiful week!

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
― Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Sandcastles

Building Sandcastles

When writing a first draft, I have to remind myself constantly that I’m only shoveling sand into a box so later I can build castles.   Shannon Hale

I’ve been struggling with my writing lately. Justifying the time it takes as well as the lure of everything else “out there” that sucks me in. All it took was meeting with my writing bestie, Karen Whalen, today to turn that around.

Women often base their worth on how much they accomplish and how productive they are. Cleaning, cooking, taking care of family, working (for those of us who work outside the home), church obligations, laundry…the list goes on a mile long. And what about saying “no” to a request someone has of you? Gasp!

Sometimes when we get caught in the vicious cycle of doing, doing, doing, all we need is that someone to issue a gentle reminder that it’s okay to be. It’s okay to take some time to do what we love. To nurture the side of ourselves that brings joy. Writing is not wasted time, but treasured time. Not to mention extra income for some.

During our conversation today my passion was re-ignited, writing projects planned, and Camp NaNo next month is one of them. For those who aren’t familiar with Camp NaNo, it’s a spin-off of NaNoWriMo in November but much more flexible. While NaNoWriMo requires writing 50,000 words in a month, Camp NaNoWriMo allows the writer to set their own word count goal, hourly goal, or page goal. Also, where NaNoWriMo means working on a new piece of work, Camp NaNo allows you to choose to work on a novel, short stories, poetry, revisions, etc. It also includes virtual cabins so you can check in with your cabin mates each evening for support and encouragement.

I’m setting a word count goal of 50,000 and beginning a new novel, book two in the Whispering Pines series. If anyone wants to join in and share a cabin, let me know. We can share virtual s’mores, sit around a virtual campfire, and maybe tell a ghost story or two. Too busy? Even if you set your goal at 10,000 words or 10  hours over the course of the month, that’s 10,000 words or 10 hours you didn’t have before. That could be the beginning of your beautiful sandcastle.

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Write on!

 There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

 

 

 

 

Social Media – Friend or Foe?

Social Media

Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Instagram. Tumblr. Snapchat. Pinterest. Flickr.

These are only a handful of the dozens of social networking sites and apps. One study predicted  the number of those using these sites and apps is likely to cross the 2.6 billion mark by 2018.

And here we are. It’s 2018.

But is the facination with social media a good thing, a bad thing, or individual?

We are, by human nature, made to connect with others. People are relational. With so many options and opportunities to connect, we should be an enormous group of connected, people, right?

Yes. And no.

We have relationships that begin, flourish, falter, and end on social media sites.

The more social media we have, the more we think we’re connecting, yet we are really disconnecting from each other. JR

We as a society have become so busy multitasking and striving to use every free moment to be productive, that we have absolutely no free moments left.

We have no time to connect with family and friends in person anymore. And personally spending time with friends and family has been radically linked to better health and happiness.

Social media has its perks. It allows for keeping in touch with long-distance friends and family. However, a telephone call works here as well. And social media allows for quick connections in an age where we’re chronically short on time. And because of how busy we are, it allows for more frequent check-ins with our loved ones.

In-person perks include deeper, more meaningful relationships. The handshake, hug, and physical touch that social media doesn’t afford. Not to mention the health benefits of friendships. It saddens me when I’m in a restaurant/coffee shop and see people spending time together physically but each is connecting to someone else on their smart phones.

Do you feel more inspired after a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with a friend or a quick social media check in? What about meeting a friend at the gym or connecting to work out via Skype. And is social media really more time-saving? I know I can spend an easy hour or two surfing Facebook feeds before I realize what happened. And I’m not a particularly fast texter, so calling someone often is much more time-saving. And yet, I default to whipping out my phone and shooting that text message.

For me, personally, social media is convenient, but I feel so much more fulfilled when I meet with someone face-to-face. Actually see the smile of a loved one rather than through an emoticon. Get that parting hug rather than the texted cyber hug ((((((Hug))))). Though I have to admit I often don’t take the time for it. It’s easier to take the quick route. However, it’s critical for me–and people in general–not to allow social media to fully replace face-to-face connections, because that would leave us relationally bankrupt.

Please share. What is your preferred connection style–social media or in-person? Or both? Do you love social media, hate it, or are you indifferent?

 Friends

 

 

International Women’s Day

Mother Teresa

I saved my Wednesday post for Thursday this week, because today is International Women’s Day. While I’m not a women’s libber or a women’s rights activist (Not that there’s anything wrong with those who are, in fact, if that’s you, KUDOS! Keep it up!), I do believe women are special and contribute far more to society than they’re given credit for. So today I celebrate a few of the women who have contributed something to my life in the way of lessons learned or those I greatly admire. Those are:

Marilyn Monroe – She was such a beautiful, talented woman, and yet so conflicted. Sadly, Marilyn Monroe has proven that beauty truly is only skin deep and cannot buy happiness or true joy.

Amelia Earhart – Aviation pioneer – She has demonstrated that being a woman should never stop one from doing what one truly wants to do. If anything, she has shown that one should try even harder, pursuing passion with gusto.

Oprah Winfrey – She has shown that no matter what we’re born with and what our past holds, it does not have to define and shape our future. We have the power within us to do and be whatever we choose to be. And, as with Amelia Earhart, passion and perseverance can move mountains.

Katie Davis – Katie has shown that we’re never too young to make a difference. At 18 she moved to Uganda to work with the poor and has adopted 14 girls and made a difference to an abundance of people. She radiates joy, love, hope, and the Spirit of Jesus.

Anne Frank – Her statement, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart,” is astounding to me. She has shown that attitude really is 99% of what we become.

Kathryn Stockett – Wow! Talk about perseverance! After five years of trying to secure a literary agent and approximately 60 rejections, the author of the bestseller, The Help, never quit. Thank goodness she finally caught the attention of just one, because it’s a book I would recommend to anyone and everyone.

Jane Pauley – I grew up watching her on NBC’s The Today Show, and her simple beauty and love of being a journalist fed my love of words. Recently she has spoken openly about her bipolar disorder, helping to overcome some of the stigma surrounding the illness. Go Jane!

Maya Angelou – A woman who has overcome childhood trauma and used it to help others overcome through words. And the poem Phenomenal Woman? I need say no more. Simply phenomenal!

Mother Teresa – I don’t even know where to begin with explaining what this amazing Godly woman has taught me. She was the most perfect role model of grace, humility, and demonstration of love. Her simplicity and selfless service to others knew no bounds.

But the first and most influential woman in my life is my mother. She has taught me that hard work, faith, and dedication are the keys to success. She has taught me that taking care of and being present for my own family is the greatest gift I can give, and that to serve and follow Christ, I need not travel to another country to do so, but it starts in my own home. And she has taught me that laughter and joy are key to aging gracefully.

To you women, celebrate those women who have paved the way to make your life a better one. And to you men, celebrate those women who enrich your lives.

There are still many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made.   Michelle Obama

Well-behaved women seldom make history. 
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

 

Winter’s Beauty

Never before have I had spring fever so badly and so early. Probably because, for the most part, we’ve had an incredibly mild winter here in Colorado this year. So when the snow and cold hit these past couple of weeks, it reminded me we’re still in the middle of winter. But what’s the best thing to get through a battle? Gratitude – pure and simple. I’d like to share some photos revealing the beauty of winter, scenery for which to be grateful. Enjoy.

Estes Jan 2015

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Nov MN Creek

We cannot stop the winter or the summer from coming. We cannot stop the spring or the fall or make them other than they are. They are gifts from the universe that we cannot refuse. But we can choose what we will contribute to life when each arrives. Gary Zukav

 

Writer’s Doubt

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Banish writer’s doubt? Or not?

In a recent guest blog post I was asked what my least favorite part of the writing process is. My answer was “getting my manuscript back from the editor.”

I learned I’m far from alone in that aspect. I also learned that even famous authors feel that way.

There are numerous blog posts and chapters in writing books dedicated to writer’s doubt and what all those red marks from an editor do our writer’s self esteem. It pretty much demolishes it for a spell. It knocks a writer on his/her fanny. The important thing is that we get back up. Immediately.

I recently got a manuscript back from an editor with a publishing company. It had a lot of red and requested changes. My initial reaction was…

what

But after I took the time to process the disappointment, I was able to focus on the positive and move forward. The positive comments the editor made held far more weight, kicking self-doubt to the curb. Well, mostly. 🙂

“I couldn’t put the partial down. I rarely say that so sit back, take a breath, and smile.”

“You have a nice, easy writing style and things flow quite nicely. Your gift for dialogue is great. It’s easy and natural like the people are sitting in my living room bantering or fighting back and forth.”

“The thing to keep in mind is that the mechanics of writing can always be fixed, but not everyone can do what you’ve done, come up with such a unique story and make it work.”

After making the suggested changes, I’ll be looking at a contract. (Yay!)

Since writer’s doubt is so prevalent among fragile writer’s egos, I’ve collected the following quotes that help me, and I hope will help you, too.


Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
Barbara Kingsolver

Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.                     Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

I feel self-doubt whether I’m doing something hard or easy. Sigourney Weaver

I think self-doubt, as grim as it can be, makes me a better writer. Stasis and hubris would probably be the death knell for my career. Kristan Higgins

I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.
Erica Jong

The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately: the time has come for him to lay aside his pen. 
Colette, Earthly Paradise

Writing was a defeat, it was a humiliation, it was coming face-to-face with yourself and seeing you weren’t good enough.
Karl Ove Knausgård, Min kamp 5

The best writers I’ve read possess oodles of self-doubt, yet claw their way up with each work and remain humble. Boastful ones, not so much.
Don Roff

Bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt.  Charles Bukowski


After reading the quotes by Kristan Higgins and Don Roff, self-doubt isn’t all bad. As long as it doesn’t cripple you from creating, from moving forward, and from truly living.

Write on.