Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year's Resolution for 2014: Write, write, and write some more

Trying to be a writer and being a writer are two different things. 
Trying to me seems to imply failure and attempts, where as stating "I am thus and such," puts a definitive mark on who and what you are, or what you're doing, and becomes your label. You are that.

Well, I have unfortunately not been very good at holding to that. In point of fact, I have never held to that, except for that one nine month period where I pounded out 80k words, and haven't touched it since. As a writer, I am definitely not good at holding fast to a quota.
Which is where I introduce the Word Count Calendar, as blogged about by Laini Taylor, currently my favorite author and go-to inspiration when I need writing advice but don't expect an answer. Her blog is a hotbed for practical and creative insight into writing that has many a time made me stop scratching my head and march forward, banners waving and sword drawn to tackle the beast of my text.

But back to the point.
My New Year's Resolution list consists of two three things:

  1. Edit the book I wrote (and mentioned above)
  2. Start the process of getting it published
  3. Work on my new novel/get it finished. 
Now I started up this word count calendar, as seen below:

November only yielded 5k words.
In my mind, checking out other people's word count calendars - i.e. Laini Taylor and the people who inspired her - and seeing mine, it's a bit pathetic. 
Which is a cardinal sin in writing. Do not compare yourself to other people. You can't really qualify - whereas you can quantify word count - work as it pertains to another's style, voice, substance. I will never write like E.L. James, Stephen King, Robert Browning, Daniel Silva, or anyone else. I can admire and learn from their skills, but I will not ever be them.
As a writer - and as I've never had fiction published perhaps I shouldn't be talking - you should have your own voice and style. How other people like it is a matter of opinion. But directly copying doesn't seem like it's going to work out.
I could set myself a standard for what to put out at the end of a month - say 25k per month, times 12 would be 300k at the end of a year, and that might be a bit much for most novels. 
But two things I've learned about writing anything:

  1. If you sit there and procrastinate about doing it, it will never get done. Just sitting down to do the deed and starting it eliminates a good bit of apprehension about the completion of said thing.
  2. Just quit whining and be done with it all ready.
My New Years resolution is to be consistent and try for a minimum of 10 stickers a month. Not too little, not too much, and plenty of room for being the over-achiever that I am and making it work.

The way the word count calendar works is by setting a numerical value for each sticker of how many words you shall write. For me, every sticker is worth 1000 words. If I don't write exactly 1000 words or more, I don't get my sticker. Not 845, not 997, 1000. By having that goal motivator, that exact number staring at you, it gives you more incentive to get that little sticker. You can try cute little smiley face stickers or bear stickers, or whatever pleases you. 

I found these in Target and purchased them specifically for the WCC
As long as you keep to your quota and stick with it, you may come up with something. It may not be a great something, but keeping your skills sharp is an important part of a writer's trade. Like any other skill or craft, you have to keep it up to stay in shape, relevant, and interested in what you do.

So with that, have a Happy New Year in 2014!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Fantastic Title Block: An Exercise in Creative Marketing

One of the worst problems I have with writing is thinking up catchy titles.
I suck at creative titles. And it’s a major part of my job to think of something clever that brings people in. I want to shoot myself as I sit here, writing this, still struggling for a title to inspire people to volunteer for the free income tax help service that the public library has participated in for its third year in a row.
Coming up with something good is...difficult.

VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) is a great program. I hate to gripe, but the best I could come up with was

Feeling taxed? Volunteer to help others with VITA
Which sounds more like the catchphrase on a flyer than for a little news article in a library newsletter.


With creative stories, that’s not such a problem. Perhaps the article is too dry – it’s been reprinted for about the third time.

But clever wordplay is not my forte  - neither is rhyming 90% of the time.
I digress.

And this is the rub of trying to be a journalist/reporter/writer/wordsmith. Clever wordplay is key in drawing in a reader’s attention, regardless of how dry the material is. If you can come up with a funny angle, a worthwhile pun, even a groaner, anything that hooks the reader long enough that they at least pay some attention to what you spent hours agonizing over, your job has been completed. The quality of the writing is another matter. Injecting life into a dry piece of information is much tougher than it looks. And constant rewriting may or may not make what you pounded out better – at least to you when you reread it three or more times.

I neither smoke nor drink, but that's how I feel.

Take Your Taxes to the Next Level – no. What does that even mean?

Handle Sums of money – and make people richer!
            Better, but misleading.

Finding Money for Those Without
Eh…Better, but not gold.

Finding Cash in Tough Times
Hmm…that might work, depending on how I angle the rest of it. Also not great, but that’ll do pig. That’ll do.

Sometimes brainstorming and writing until something comes out produces work that perhaps can be polished with a little spit to look somewhat better.
Here is the original article as it was:

**** is acting as a  volunteer tax preparation site. Volunteers can help low-income families in the local area get their taxes done. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) brings over $1.2 million into the homes of families and boosts their income to help pay utility bills and even afford necessities for winter across the state.
            Last year the program serviced over 140 people from *** and *** counties. Each completed tax return can help to raise a working family’s income by up to $4,800. Full training is available and is freely offered by the IRS.The VITA program is a community service builder that builds confidence and works well as experience for anyone looking to build on their resume.For more information or a Volunteer Application, call ****, or email *****.

And the new and improved *shiny* article reads: 

The last few years have been tough for Americans with low job and economic growth. Sometimes extra cash garnered through properly done tax returns can result in easing the burden placed on low-income families struggling to pay bills or meet daily living needs. *** hopes to remedy that.In 2014, *** will again act as a volunteer tax preparation site by setting up appointments between volunteers and families in need during tax season. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program brings over $1.2 million into the homes of families across the state for winter, boosting their income to help pay utility bills and even afford necessities during the cold months.Last year, the program saw over 140 people from the *** and *** counties sign up. According to the program’s official site, each completed tax return can help to raise a working family’s income up to $4,800.
But what made the program a success were the volunteers who took the time to learn the free coursework to help low-income families. The training is provided at no cost by the IRS. In addition to helping the community, VITA works as a service learning tool that builds confidence and can be used as volunteer experience on a resume.*** hopes to expand the program out with more volunteers this year. To learn more about serving the community through the VITA program as a volunteer applicant, call ***, or email ***.
Sometimes just rewriting and taking out the simple crap – or putting on a new coat of paint on a garage sale find – can really make it better.

Is it Pulitzer Prize worthy? Not really.

But for a newsletter bulletin, it does a decent job. Better job? Possibly. But deadlines are deadlines, and we can’t always make it perfect. Pretty good (ahem, passable) will make the cut.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas: Why Writing and Crafting are the same (and then some craft bits)

Sometimes I like to be crafty.

Ok. I really enjoy being crafty. Like so:

Recent attempts at painting turned out well.

Baby booties, larger than expected

Winky the owl, muse and mascot

My cookbook, before it was destroyed by blue spray paint

A variety of things as you can see, usually working out.

But this holiday, I decided to make scarves. Rather than spend my time further honing my writing skills, I made these babies for gifts to give to folks.

Scarfy fluffy goodness.

Armed with a small army of these for Christmas giving, I felt fantastic about my choice. 
Making something to give someone and then giving to them is a lovely feeling. Really. The person who receives your gift will generally feel touched that you thought of them, even if it isn't the prettiest thing they've ever received.

And making these is quite simple. I won't show you how, as this is not a craft blog, but to embolden and inspire you to go forth and make something simply for the joy of creation. Because that's what writing really is; not just telling a story, but creating something, new, borrowed, or given a shiny new coat of varnish, and making it your own, so it can be given, loved, understood, and appreciated.

Now, my excuse to do the crafty part:

If you so choose to make a scarf like so, you will need

  • a crochet hook, my preferred size is J
  • Red Heart Boutique Sashay ruffle yarn in the color of your choice
  • a small toilet paper tube (we'll get there in a minute)
  • a friend with patience and time

Here we have a finished roll. Rolling the ruffle yarn up like 
so helps immensely when knitting/crocheting. 
(And even though I'm team knit, this is far easier to crochet)

When the yarn comes bundled, it's completely bunched together and rumpled. This is why you need a tp roll, or part of the end off an old wrapping paper roll. Just cut it to about 4-5 inches. You will need a partner to stretch and hold the rumpled yarn, giving a firm tension. You will then roll the yarn. I recommend rolling away from yourself, but it's all preference.

See the pile at the top? Hard to pick up loops if it's all crinkly.

When you're all done, your roll should be nice and fat, 
all stretched out and ready to go.

Here is the final project, from skein to roll to yarn ream to scarf.
And that's it for ruffle yarn. I'm biased because I like the look of the sashay yarn.
But for an additional bit of crafty stuff, take a look at this juice carton wallet! 
Be amazed at it's coolness!

For the project click here

That is all for now. Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, have a happy/merry whatever!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Remember crafting and writing is all about creation. So go forth and be inspired!

And remember to share the post if you enjoyed it please.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Taking Advantage of [Unfair] Advantages

Unfair Advantages

Today surfing Linked In, I came across the proceeding article that discussed having an unfair advantage in order to out-maneuver the competition and essentially, stay relevant.

While the advice is worth considering, it got me thinking.

Is there really such a thing as an “unfair” advantage?

I think, resoundingly, the answer is no.

Advantage is defined thusly, courtesy of (just the first four):

1. any state, circumstance, opportunity, or means specially favorable to success, interest, or any desired end: the advantage of a good education.
2. benefit; gain; profit: It will be to his advantage to learn Chinese before going to China.
3. superiority or ascendancy (often followed by over  or of  ): His height gave him an advantage over his opponent.
4. a position of superiority (often followed by over  or of  ): their advantage in experienced players.

An advantage is an advantage, regardless of how it was come by. Can the advantage be termed as “immoral”, “unethical”? Sure. But unfair?

I am roughly 5’5”. My brother is 6’1”. If we play basketball, my brother might have the advantage of his height. If I practiced and played more, I would have the advantage of skill. Because I’m smaller, I might have the advantage of better maneuverability, and he the advantage of looming over me or shooting a longer, better basket, etc, etc.

Now with these things in mind, are they unfair? Is it unfair that I may (I don’t) have better shooting skills? Is it unfair that he’s taller than me? Not really. They’re more the circumstances or better yet – the variables to be taken into account by the subjects in the example. It is what it is, not what we want it to be, nor how we project it to be, or how we’d like it to be, but what it is. I’m average height and he’s tall. He’s overweight and out of shape, and I’m not. He’s played more basketball than me. All of these things work in tandem, with and against one another to produce certain outcomes – one a winner, a loser. Maybe a draw.

Using the word unfair in this context is akin to stating that somehow, the world works on this basis of rules where everything is meted out “fairly”, people get what they deserve (more aptly, what they want or they think they deserve), through hard work or not, and somehow, there is a just God who ensures these things happen for our benefit because we will it.

But then there’s that niggling adage of “Life’s not fair,” which comes full-circle to the concept that again, there is something unfair, overall, about life.

Which, in case you’ve been trapped in an air-tight plastic container lately, is true.

The rich are still better off than the poor. Big businesses still angle out little businesses. Short people are still short, and maybe without the aid of step ladders or growth hormones aren’t sprouting a few more inches. The strong triumph over the weak. And so on and so forth, ad nauseum.

The point is, fair is an ideal we strive for, not necessarily a reality. We can’t just expect someone to serve us a free lunch. That doesn’t happen. 

As the Obamacare debacle has shown, things are definitely not fair, because apparently you can’t keep your health insurance.

But I digress.

Fairness is some fantasy land do-gooder’s wistful promise of placating our anxieties and hurt when things don’t go our way; or when businesses lose money; when someone dies and taxes suck up everything left in the inheritance; when some punk steals your crayons or glue just as you were about to use them.
So it’s unfair.

Don’t whine. Or complain. Or get even.

Suck it up and accept it. Advantages or not, people have what they have, and make the most of it.
Mike Rowe could teach a thing or too about advantages
Be clever and play smart to win/triumph/earn that medal/certificate of participation. Or the merger, deal, job interview. Whatever. Opportunities knock everyday and learn to recognize them.

Play it smart. Because fair is for those who expect things to happen by whining and daydreaming, not for the makers and doers who break the box finding another way that’s better, smarter, or just cleverer. And you can’t be upset that those people thought of it before you. You just need to figure out how to cleverly utilize either what you've got or what's around you.

Find your angle and out think them. It’s tough, but just rip the band aid off and stop whimpering about it.

And then the rest is up to you.