Sep 8, 2014

Re-configuring the Stakes

My 30's have not been super kind to me.

I had two bunion surgeries, severely sprained my ankle several times which resulted in reconstructing ligaments and just over a week ago, I fell while picking apples and broke my hand.

My right hand.

I am right handed.

Bone in the middle of my hand.
This last week has been a series of relearning how to do things (seriously, try brushing your teeth with the other hand).

But in the last week, I also successfully wrote the Greek family tree vineyard on the board for my students, developed a deeper love for my iPhone and iPad and touchscreen communication, accompanied a Suzuki strings group for and hour and a half (mostly left handed), and still went on with my life.

It has been good to make me think about the other things I assume. I assumed I could only type with two working hands, but my speed with just two fingers in my right available is getting better. My concentration is more honed because I have to watch so carefully what I am writing or I spend more time deleting than drafting.

But the big benefit that came from this whole thing is that it made me think about characters. I think as writers, we try to make life too easy for our characters. We forget that characters, and people for that matter, are resilient. We think that the conflict we are presenting will show their true character, but sometimes it just makes them re-configure.

I'm about a month deep into an outline which I sent to my CP's last week, and through our discussion, I realized that what I thought was a conflict is really more of an annoyance. The stakes aren't high enough, so the emotional connection isn't high enough.

A broken hand sucks, and people feel sympathetic, but after the first week or two, sympathy diminishes and people go on with their lives.

How do you raise stakes with your characters? What book have you read that had stakes at just the right level?

Aug 27, 2014


There have been many books come out in the last few years about the power of habits. At first glance, a buyer might wonder if it is the latest trend, like hiding vegetables in cupcakes was a few years ago. But I think it is more than that. People are recognizing that in the society of constant distraction via technology, where time can slip away with what seems to be the snap of a finger, there is a necessity to be more diligent in preserving focus.

William James suggested that people are "bundles of habits". We have these things that distract us, then become us, often without even really seeing the transformation take place. Obviously, this can happen for our benefit or our detriment.

For all the chaos that going back to school causes in my life, I am always happy once it is underway because that schedule provides an incredible framework within which I can structure my life. I know what time I need to wake up (4:40 am) what time I need to be in the shower by, what time I need to spend studying scriptures with on my own and with my kids in the morning, what time I need to leave work in order to arrive on time (7:20 am). And though it seems frenzied at first, it is structured hurrying.

Along these same lines, I have the opportunity to understand the time in which I can write. There are blog posts, social media and the like that are able to be intertwined with Mom, what is a vertice (I still don't know), how do you spell, what book should I, can this be washed with the whites, etc.

And then there is writing a novel.

Or re-re-writing again again, which is what I'm currently doing.

The habits that we form also need to melt in with the habits of those who live around us. After school, my kids and husband know that my habit is to take care of kid stuff and house stuff and most nights, dinner stuff.  In return for that habit that contributes to their life, they give me the liberty to enjoy the habit of putting on my red SkullCandy headphones, turning on my classical music, and writing. When I complete that habit, my brain shifts into time to write mode, and productivity can be achieved.

Of course, this isn't how every day works out. But a habit won't be cast to the wayside with just one day of disruption. Still, we need to fight to keep the habits that will lead us to achieving the goals we have set for ourselves.

How do you set your day to encourage habits? Any techniques that make life a little easier in maintaining them? 

Aug 25, 2014

Stages of Learning - Again

Almost two weeks ago, I had a writing realization. The characters I was creating were too young for the genre I'm writing. Way too young.

I thought back to conversations I've had with my husband. We often will refer to Maslow's Four Stages of Learning in the processes we or our children are experiencing. The realization about my characters reminded me of it.
Image source:

It also reminded me that the transition that is the hardest is the one from conscious incompetence to conscious competence. I think it is the hardest because once you know that thing, going back you can't help but wonder how you didn't know it before. It's so obvious if we would have just known what to look for. 

I knew my story wasn't working - not the way I wanted it to. But I didn't know why. I created ideas, theories, all of these things while ignoring the prospective readers and what they want to read about. 

And so I'm starting over. But this time, I'm keeping the new knowledge in the front of my mind. I broke out the color coded post-it notes, cleared space on my dining room table, threatened my children not to move or even touch the notes, and character arcs are reforming.

It is a slow process. It will be a slow process. Until I have the character solidified in my mind, until I can think about them as real people, it will be slow. But it will be progression, and that is the most important part.

Have you had something you didn't know you didn't know? Had to start over? What techniques helped you transition to unconscious competence?

Aug 18, 2014

The Circular Process of Growth

There are moments in acquiring any skill where progress can be achieved and feel like it is stagnant or falling back. It's part of the knowledge spectrum: people who don't know what they don't know are often quite bold. As knowledge is acquired, it becomes clear that what is known about a subject is less than previously thought.

And so it is with writing. When writers first start out, they often consider characters and setting, and the problem that needs to be solved. That's what they know. But then they attend classes, read books, study the way other writers write, we notice things. We start to know what we don't know.

But sometimes, that knowledge sneaks up on you, shouts a truth and runs away laughing as you come to recognize a key component you missed.

If you are like me, you probably don't like being scared. I usually react with anger. And so it was when I had such a moment a few days ago. This essential component of writing was something I should have noticed, but didn't. It was probably a contributor to the reason I got rejected in many queries and contests. And now that I can see it, I can't believe I didn't see it.

So, anger dissipated, reason took control again, and the answer, though hard to swallow, is clear.

The book I had almost 40k written in needs to be completely restructured, rethought, rewritten.

And so does the book I was querying.


Lucky for me, I grew up in a family that taught me the value of work. Lucky for me, I'm not afraid of a challenge. Lucky for me, I figured this out before there were two full books to rewrite.

This is the way it goes, knowledge. The only variable is what we plan to do with the growing pains.

For me, I plan to write.

Aug 15, 2014

On Trust: Reality and Characters

Every year, at the beginning of school, the district I work for has an opening institute. It is the time when we celebrate people who have been working in the district in 5 year increments (had one this year at 40 years - whew!), discuss the vision for the new year, that kind of thing.

Then we have a speaker of some kind. It is usually someone who aligns with what the superintendent wants us to consider, start on the right foot and so forth. This experience over the last eight years has elicited various reactions from me. But this year it hit home.

The conversation was about trust. Do students trust their teachers? Do the teachers trust their administration? Does the public trust education and vice versa? And through the entire presentation I found myself volleying between "This is brilliant and I know how to be a better teacher/wife/mom/friend" and "Wow, would this ever be a great exercise to utilize in character development".

And it got me thinking about how someone knows they can or cannot trust another. Sure, we've all see the movies, read the books, attended the plays where there is a gross violation of trust. We gasp, raise hands to our mouths, flip back pages to see if we really did see it coming and so forth. But how do we know when a character can trust another?

When we can trust someone?

When someone can trust us?

As I have considered this for a few days, I've determined it all comes down to actions. We can create characters who were Eagle Scouts, donate time at soup kitchens, fundraise for the less fortunate all we want, but that doesn't elicit an aura of trust. That can only come from that character doing what they say they will do.



Which brings me to reality. I've been in a writing funk lately - one that is different than what I've experienced before. The blog suffered, my novel suffered, social media suffered. But a large part of the funk was that I didn't trust myself. I said that writing is important, that connecting with people who uplift and inspire was important, but I didn't have the actions to back it up.

I was betraying the trust in myself.

This isn't often a violation in trust that we consider, but it is probably the most important one for us to maintain.

And same thing with our characters.