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Simple but true – Just do It

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We all have heard it by now that Nike slogan “Just do it”.  The slogan has been seared into our public consciousness because it is so simple and so true.  We all deep down want to stop the b/s and just do it.  Today I read post called stop the excuses that had a great video from Nike demonstrating why we all need to stop making excuses.

I found myself guilty of making  many excuses not to post this week.  I was too busy.  I had a mild case of writer’s block.  I was sleepy.  I was hungry.  No one out there was listening anyway.   Belle (my dog) hated my last post.  Another NCIS marathon was on.

The Nike video drove it home for me.  Excuses are for wimps.  You can always find a reason not to do something.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could make excuses for the things we shouldn’t do instead of the things we should? I can’t overeat today because I’m too tired. I don’t have enough time to procrastinate. It’s raining, so I have to stay indoors and workout.  Complaining makes my stomach hurt. I have to go to work today because I’ll be bored if I stay at home.  Try it. Maybe it will catch on and we will be a world of doers instead of non-doers.  So lace up those sneakers and Just do it – whatever you “it” is.

 

 

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What’s your rallying cry?

I was watching an episode of Harry’s Law, a new legal drama staring Kathy Bates, that started me thinking about the power of persuasion.  In this particular episode she was trying to free a man who was convicted of a murder he had always maintained that he did not commit.  True to form for these type shows in the final fifteen minutes she  represented the inmate before the parole board, facing her last opportunity to gain his freedom.  He had been before the board before and let’s just say they were less than impressed with his attitude, prompting one of the board members to proclaim that the law does not entitle Prisoner X to  fairness just due process.  With the clock approaching 9:50, Harry (Bates’ character) gave a speech on how the parole board should just do the right thing and show fairness whether the law required it or not.  Throw in a mea culpa from the defendant  and surprise, surprise the parole board caves and grants Prisoner X his parole.

Wouldn’t it be nice if real life worked this way?  In our times of need and when our courage is about to fail and our last chance at victory is about to me snatched away, if we could just have David E. Kelly (former lawyer and creator of Harry’s Law, the Practice and Ally McBeal) or Dick Wolf (creator of the Law & Order franchise) step in an write the words we need to make everything okay.   If they could give us the words to persuade our boss to give us that promotion or convince our co-workers to band together to demand our long overdue raises.  What would your rallying cry be?  What words would you use to persuade? Or even just to give yourself  a pep talk?

We’ve seen it everywhere from Remember the Titans (Denzel Washington’s coach must rally his racially integrated football team to win the state championship and defy prejudice) to Clash of the Titans (Perseus must  rally his  few surviving men to enter Medusa’s lair so they can take her head and ultimately defy the gods).   Mel Gibson’s William Wallace in Braveheart, Bill Pullman’s president in Independence Day, Morgan Freeman’s principal in Lean on Me and a host of coaches in everything from Hoosiers to Miracle all remind us of the power of words.  And on today, Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday and Superbowl Sunday, who can forget “win just one for the Gipper“?

As a writer, I would love to create a memorable scene that hits the reader right in the gut.  That moment where taken out of context the words may seem a little cheesy, but in the scene the words work because the reader is so emotionally involved in the story.  They want the underdog to win, the unloved to be loved, the innocent to be freed and the bully to get what’s coming.

I’ve been there in real life too.  Facing a jury of twelve strangers, I have often pondered what can I possibly say to get them to acquit?  Unlike in Harry’s Law, things aren’t always so easily resolved.  I’ve given brilliant closing arguments, had jury shaking their head in agreement with my words only to have them come back and convict on all counts.  Not because David E. Kelly and Dick Wolf  are better writers than me ( at least I like to think so), but because not only do they get to write the “call to arms” they also get to write the outcome, a power which I sadly do not possess.

What works in tvland and on the silver screen can work for us too.   In the words of Winston Churchill,  “never surrender.”  When you face an obstacle or feel a dream fading, don’t climb that mountain, speak to it. Persuade it to move.  But if persuasion fails and you must fight the mountaineers, write your own rallying cry that propels you or your team to act because sometimes the victory is not in winning the battle, but in just fighting the good fight.

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The Best Things in Writing are Free

The best things in life are free and so can it be with your writing tools.  A few years ago I discovered freeware.  Freeware is software that is available at no charge or an optional charge ( i.e. asking for donations ).  Being somewhat of a skeptic, it took me a while to trust freeware.  After all who would invest their time, energy and sometimes money into designing a great program and then just give it away?  As we writers write for sheer joy, apparently there are people ( I won’t call them über geeks ) who love programming for the sheer joy of it.  These wonderful people then put their creations out on the net for you and I to use at will.    I have found the following  little jewels indispensable:

1. yWriter –  A word processing  program for writers that lets you write scene by scene and chapter by chapter.  Once you have written a few scenes you can drop and drag to change the order or move them to different chapters.  You can print out reports that give you a synopsis of your book and includes chapter outlines.  It also has a storyboard function.  There is great support through a yahoo groups forum.  It does not have as many editing features as WORD or Open Office ( another free program), but you can easily export to another program if you need more editing tools. (I hear Celtx is good for scriptwriters.)

2. idailydiary – I’m a pretty boring kinda girl so I don’t keep a personal diary.  However, I have what  I refer to as  “freestyle days” where I just write with no particular novel in mind.   I’m always looking for ways to organize these ramblings so I can use them later if they fit a particular project.   I had recently read an article about  journaling and how it could stimulate your writing life, so I downloaded some software.   Now I maintain a couple of diaries for my characters.  (My female assassin has some real juicy stuff going on) I’ve tried a couple of different programs, but I find idailydiary very easy to use and the interface looks nice.  You can also password protect it from prying eyes.

3. Treepad – Treepad is an organizational tool.  The best way to explain it is it works like Windows explorer where you have folders inside of folders.  The folders are nodes and they contain articles.  The articles are where you write information.  It’s a good way to organize information that you like, but aren’t ready to use or to store research for a particular project.  You can use images and links.

4.  Syncback – Syncback is a program that lets you synchronize files on your hard drive to an external drive or a flash drive.  What I like is that you can create different profiles that it saves.  So if I want to sync only Red Earth Stories files in one place I can do that and I can create a profile for my legal stuff to save somewhere else without having to designate what I want saved and where it goes every time.

In support of full disclosure, treepad, idailydiary and syncback all have versions that you can upgrade to and pay for.   However, the free versions work very nicely.  If you have some freeware suggestions, I’d love to hear from you.  Hope this bit of FREE advice was helpful.

disclaimer: I have no financial interest in any of the aforementioned programs.  However, I do accept donations for my priceless advice.   When using freeware of any sort, do your own homework.  Some freeware is just a guise for malware, worms, viruses and spyware.

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Grow a thick skin

As a criminal defense attorney, I thought I had a thick skin.  I’ve been stared down by the family of victims, had my integrity questioned by jurors and even had my intelligence challenged by a few of my own clients when their cases didn’t go their way.   None of that bothered me.  It was part of the job.

After I finished my novel, I wanted to share it with others. To my surprise I was petrified at the thought.  My think skin had turned to onion paper.  I almost did not take a very beneficial writing workshop because I did not want to read my work to the group.

Today, I got a refresher course in how to take it on the chin.  I am entering the Amazon breakthrough novel contest which requires that you write a 300 word pitch.  I called my sister and asked if she would read the pitch for me and give me her opinion.  She didn’t have a lot of time, so she forwarded to a friend, “Mona” who practically inhales novels.  Instead of relaying to me what Mona had to say, my sister told me Mona had a lot to say, so it would be better if I talked to her myself.

Oh boy!!! Panic set in. I thought my pitch was brilliant, but obviously, Mona did not.  Mona, known for honesty and directness, in the nicest way possible basically said all but the last line sucked.  She didn’t literally say “sucked,” but she felt it was a little confusing and more importantly uninteresting.  Instead of going into defense mode or worse yet, questioning her intelligence, I really listened to what she had to say.  She made some very good points.  So I went home ate a little fried rice, scratched my head and started again.  The sentence that I felt really passionate about I kept.   Some of the things that she suggested I take out I did.

The most important thing was that she forced me to look at my pitch in a different light.  To really consider what the reader would think. When I finished the re-write I let my hubby read it and my sister re-read.  My husband, who is an avid reader and can be a tough critic, loved it.  My sister thought it was MUCH better and  I ultimately got the seal of approval from Mona.

So kids, the moral for today is Grow a thick skin and learn to really listen.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cheating?

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Is it cheating  to simply post a link?  I wrote a guest blog for my sister and I want it to count for my postaweek2011. You can go to VanessaBrightsite.com to read it!

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Don’t let it get away

Procrastinators such as myself let too many things slip away.  I let the day (Sunday) slip away before I wrote this post.  Thus, I come to you some time after midnight.  On the wordpress blog, there was a post (three days ago) about keeping up with good ideas.  I, like that blogger, keep a handy notebook in my purse to jot down ideas of all kinds – character ideas, inspired by the the girl in the grocery store with hair the color of cotton candy, or plot, inspired by the newspaper article I just read about the woman who called 9-1-1 because Burger King didn’t let her have it her way, or blog ideas, like why grammar rules and proof reading go to pot after midnight.  The notebook, although very cute, is an archaic way way of keeping up with ideas.

Here’s a few more:

1. Send yourself an email – Especially convenient for smartphone  owners.  if you’re in a real hurry don’t bother with the body of the email, use the subject line.

2. Send yourself a text – I use my cell phone to text my Google voice number.

3. A lot of phones will let you record a snippet of conversation,  so leave yourself a note.

4. Call your voice mail.

5. Ipod nano users – use the video feature to film yourself.

6. Tell your spouse to remind you.  (Okay, that one’s not so good, but miracles happen.)

 

 

 

 

 

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What I learned from writing a book

I’ve finished my book AGAIN.   What I mean by that is that I just completed another cover-to-cover revision of my book.  I’ve stopped trying to explain the concept to my non-writer friends because whenever I say I’ve finished a revision they immediately ask – ‘so what’s left to do before you upload it?’  (I’m self-publishing) That question made me think about what I learned from the experience of actually writing a complete 95,000 word novel.  Here are five things that immediately come to mind:

1.  The real writing comes in the revision process. I’m sure you’ve heard writers claim that they just sit down, put pen to paper and out it comes.  Usually what comes out the first time is what comes out of Belle, my terrier mix, after she’s had a good dinner of people food.   Sure there may be passages that sparkle, but most of it is going to work, and lots of it.

2.  An outline is the writer’s friend. There a plenty of articles that debate the value of outlining.  Some say its great because it keeps you on track, some say it inhibits creativity.  My book is a legal thriller with a splash of romance – so I consider myself a genre writer.  When you are writing a thriller or mystery where spreading clues throughout the story is important, outlining before you write is helpful.  But what I realized is its difficult to keep track of intricate plot details once you’ve written about 30,000 words.  if you don’t track your story you spend countless amounts of time trying to find certain events. I discovered after I was halfway through my book that there is software that helps make outlining a lot easier.

3.  The right tools are essential. Having the right tools at your fingertips, makes the process easier and stops procrastination.  How much time do you waste looking for things instead of writing.  I bought a messenger bag that only holds my writing tools.  I purchased a netbook, which at 10 inches keeps me very mobile.  As a lawyer, who goes to court a lot, I have to write whenever and where ever I can.  My bag is stocked with netbook, thesaurus, highlighters, research files and outlines.  The bag stays packed and ready to go.

4.  Writing really is a craft. Before I wrote my book I thought I was a fantastic writer.  After the first draft, my ego was somewhat deflated.  To be able to write a masterpiece in the  first draft is the exception and not the rule.  After I had finished the book, I took a fiction workshop and then realized how many things I had done wrong.  I also understood why I had gotten those agent rejections.  My work said amateur.  I also saw that I had instinctively done a lot of things right.  Reading how-to articles and taking classes on writing is helpful, but its only the writing itself that makes you better.  Once I had written my book, a light switched on and I understood why POV, pace, and even grammar were important.

5.  To be a good writer you need to be a good reader. Once I realized what caused me difficulties in my own book, I started looking at other novels, to see how other writers handled things.  Francine Prose wrote an interesting book called Reading like a Writer.  I’ve been a writer a long time, but now I’m a novelist. When I read now, I read not only for the enjoyment of the story, but I read for what I can learn about writing itself.

I’ve learned other things as well, but I leave you with this last one: When you run out of juice, just stop writing.

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