Thursday, June 28, 2012

I Confess: I REALLY am a Thief!

(Photo by ???  Read below and find out! -- 2012: Lake Michigan Sunset)

First, I want to again thank my good friend Don "DL" Hammons for his awesome guest post on Tuesday!  As with everything he posts on his Cruising Altitude 2.0 blog, it was an entertaining and informative post written with the warm, personal, and open style that makes DL such a compelling blogger and author.  Thank you again, Don!

Also, I want to welcome and thank everyone who came to visit my blog as a result of DL's posting. While I've unfortunately been a little too busy this week to respond to all the comments consistently, or to yet be able to return the visits and follows, I want you to know that I greatly appreciate your stopping by and that I will be returning the favor very soon.  And if you decided to become a new follower of my blog, I hope that you will find my ramblings and postings worthwhile.  Feel free to contact me directly if you ever have comments, thoughts, or feedback about my blog or anything you see posted here.

So, now -- are you wondering about the title of today's post?

Well, quite a while ago, I posted about how I realized I was a bit of a thief when it came to my writing, but this post isn't more about that.  This isn't about how I've been influenced by the writers I've read and loved.  No, this isn't even about writing.  This is about my blog.

Notice the picture above?  What do you think of it?

Well, it may not seem like it has much to do with the title of this post, it actually has everything to do with it.  Because compared to most of the images I've posted on my blog in the past, there's something very special about that picture of the sun setting over Lake Michigan.

I took it myself. 

Live and in person.  Last month, with my own camera -- well, actually with the camera of my Droid Razr cell phone.

I've been feeling more and more uncomfortable with my method of Googling a subject and then 'borrowing' one of the images that came up.  I would never steal someone else's words, so what makes it acceptable to simply take some of the images I find around the web?  


So it's stopping.  For all posts from this point on, any image you find on my blog will either be my own, will be public domain, or will be used only with permission.  And they will all be fully attributed.

But you know what?  I plan to make most of them  my own.  This is a blog about writing, which is a creative process, so I think trying to create my own images fits well.  I like the idea of using as much of my own stuff as possible.  They might be poorly photographed; they might be awkwardly edited in GIMP (a free open-source photo editing tool I'm trying to learn); and they might have little to do with the topic of the post they're attached to.

But they'll be mine.  Created by me.  And I'll be a thief no more.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Guest Post: DL Hammons

CF:  Most new writers stumble into blogging because they hear it's the way to "create a platform" or "develop a web presence" or "plant seeds of future fandom."   OK, I made that last one up, but the point is the same -- many new writers come to blogging looking to cultivate some sort of later benefit for their writing.  

I did. And yet, I now realize I enjoy the process of blogging in its own right.

Plus, I've also discovered a much larger benefit to blogging that I never expected:  The tremendous outpouring of support from other writers.  Being able to connect with this interwoven community of fellow weavers of the written word is a fabulous aspect of blogging -- one that I never envisioned when I first stuck my toes into the blogging etherwebs.  I've met a wonderful world of writers, from still-learning newbies like myself to multi-published writers with decades of experience, and they've all been extremely supportive. I'm blessed to have met them.

Today, I'm turning over this blog to one in particular.

The fellow writer I've known the longest -- even before I started blogging, actually -- is my good friend, Don "DL" Hammons.  He is a talented writer and a dynamic blogger.  His Cruising Altitude 2.0 is a wonderful blog visited faithfully by many hundreds of followers.  Plus, DL is one of the most genuine, kind, and caring people I've ever met, and I'm honored to be able to call him my friend.  

Please welcome DL to my small corner of the blogoverse:


Hey everybody! *waves*

Yeah…that’s me in the picture on the rim of the Grand Canyon contemplating what I was going to say here today. Forgive me if I stumble along, this is my very first guest post. I’ve done interviews before and read oodles of guest posts by other blogger/writers, but being on the other side is definitely different.

Chris and I have been pals since before either of us had a blog, trolling the writing forums together. He is a talented writer, a wealth of information, and a stalwart friend/supporter. That is why I really want to do what I can to make him proud that he tapped me for this honor.

How about a little background first? I’m married to my best friend (30 years next year) and have three awesome children (Son – 25, Daughter – 22, Son – 13), work as the Customer Services Manager for a popular lunchmeat manufacturer in central Arkansas, but what you’re probably most interested in is my writing chops. Although my passion for creative writing was born in my high school days, it lay dormant for many years while I used my skills to create procedure manuals and instruction guides for my various employers. That is until four years ago when out of the blue I felt compelled to write a short story about a spring break trip to Florida I took during my college days. The short story grew into a novella, and then eventually a full grown Mystery/Suspense novel. My passion was officially awakened!

It was during the writing of that first book when my blog, Cruising Altitude 2.0 was born. One of my characters in the book was supposed to be a popular blogger, and although I had played around with blogging on Myspace and Facebook, I didn’t have a blog of my own at the time. So I decided to create a writing blog to chronicle my experience and I gave it the same title of the blog from my book. I thought it would be cool if I ever did become published my readers could learn more about me via a connection from the book. Although the book sits on a shelf now collecting dust, the blog is still going strong. How’s that for irony?

I’ve since written a second novel (which I’m querying to agents right now), several short stories (one which will be published this summer),currently outlining my next project which will be a YA Horror/Suspense, and have worked hard to become a relevant contributor in our blogging community. Building a support group via the blogosphere takes time and effort, which I recently blogged about HERE, but it can also become a hindrance to writing development. I’ve struggled with that myself (thus the 2.0 at the end of Cruising Altitude) and finding that right balance is something every blogger has to face. It can be done though, and the rewards are well worth the effort.

I want to thank Chris for giving me the opportunity to drop by and visit with ya’ll (yes – I live in the South). If you’re one of his followers, you’ve chosen well. If not, become one now. You’ll be richer for it!


Friday, June 22, 2012

Editing: 'Writing' or Not?

Note: Next Tuesday (6/26), I will be putting up the first guest post ever on my blog!  I'm pretty excited about it -- I've known fellow writer DL Hammons (check out his awesome blog:  Cruising Altitude 2.0 ) for several years and he has graciously put together something that I know you'll find interesting and enlightening.

Today I wanted to share some thoughts about what I've been spending my writing time on recently.  This week, I've either done no writing or quite a bit of it, depending on how you define it:  

I've been editing.

I've written no new stories, and my overall word-count for the week has actually been negative since I've pared more than I've padded. But editing also means I've written many new words and inserted them into existing stories.  

So have I been writing or not?

To me, editing is a vital and significant part of my writing process, so I categorize it as "writing".  Maybe if you can create perfectly structured stories on the fly, with polished and pristine prose spewing out of you in a magical stream of consciousness, then you don't need to edit, and you might consider it non-writing.  I won't argue with you if this describes your writing, but I do envy you.

Because I'm nowhere near that.  I absolutely MUST edit.

And I realized I've developed a definite love-hate relationship with it.  I love the results of editing -- my stories are certainly improved after some serious and dedicated red-lining and revising.  But I also hate it.

Because it's tedious and frustrating at times -- it's so easy for me to get bogged down in petty internal wording debates. 
"Delvan lifted his baster and fired."  No. How about, "Lifting his blaster, Delvan fired."  Um, no.  Maybe just "Delvan fired his blaster" works better?  Or "The Blaster was fired by Delvan?"  No!  What am I thinking?!? Passive never works, especially in a fight scene!  Arrrgggh!   Um, wait...  Why was Delvan firing his blaster again? 

At times like this, editing can be excruciating.  Not because I'm so attached to my words that I don't want to change them.  No, I have no problem killing my darlings.   

My problem is that I'm too prone to kill them over and over and over.  I'll kill them, revive them, kill them again, bury them and move on, and then later come back to dig up the corpses just so I can kill them once more.

So what about you?  How does editing work best for you?  Any editing tips you want to pass on to this serial word killer?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Story Tracker Spreadsheet

First off, I apologize for the lapse in my web presence, updating this blog, and visiting and commenting on all the blogs I follow -- it's been an extremely hectic week!

I do have several things I want to post about in the next few weeks, including the first-ever guest post on this blog that I'm really looking forward to, so I am hoping that my schedule slackens a little and that I have time to more regularly update this blog. 

But for this post, I wanted to touch on something that arose out of my last post (geez, over a week and a half ago!).
Anyway, I was asked in the comments of my last post about the Story Tracker spreadsheet I use, and if I would post a template.  Well, I'm always eager to help other writers however I can, so I'd be glad to.  Here's a link to a copy of the spreadsheet I put together to track my stories (I've entered a few 'sample' lines to show you how I use the sheets):
It's nothing radical, and admittedly, much of the information I put into my spreadsheet t is redundant to what I record with Duotrope.  (And if you're unfamiliar with Dutrope, I would really recommend checking it out -- it's all kinds of awesome!  Try it out, and then once you grow to like it, slip them a buck or two to support all the great work they do. )

Yeah, I'm probably a little OCD on all this record-keeping, but I like to tack my stories and I dig spreadsheets.  In fact, I also have an entirely different spreadsheet I use as a writing log.  In it I track my daily word-count production against my monthly goals -- usually just to make note of the huge amount I fall short by...

But back to my Story Tracker spreadsheet:  It's an MS Excel file with two tabs -- one to track the stories I've written, and one to store ideas for future stories.  

The first tab is the Completed Stories tab, and it looks like this:

I enter a new line for every new story, new version, or new submission, and update the status as needed.  The breakdown of the columns is:

Piece Num:  A reference number for the story I've written.  Initially I used to just track everything by title, but then I went and renamed a story and it made me realize that I needed some way to keep it associated with its previous versions.  So I added this column just to tie related stories together regardless of title.  When I create a new story unrelated to the others, I add a new Piece Number.

Ver:  Version number.  I increment this for every 'substantial' rewrite I do of a story. 

Sub:  The Submission number of a given version of the story.  I increment this every time I send out (or self-post) a given version.

Title:  The title of the story

Length:  Word Count.

Date Completed:  The date the version is 'finished' with final edits and is ready to post or submit.

Status:  What is the submission's current status.  I try to limit this to a set list so I can easily filter on this column to see all the current submissions that are out, etc.  My list is the following six categories:

Unused:  The story's 'done' but I haven't submitted it or posted it anywhere.  I may eventually send it out as is, or revise it at some point, but the Submission Number stays at 0 as long as it is unused.

Self-Posted:  I've posted it on my blog or some other site (writing prompt site, etc), without having to have it 'accepted' by anyone.

Submitted:  The submission is out and I'm waiting to hear back on it.

Rejected:  The story was turned down.  I'll either keep the story unchanged and resub it somewhere else (with a new line and Submission Number), or revise it into a new version depending on feedback and my own review.

Accepted: Accepted but not yet published

Published: The story has been published

Status Date:  The latest date something happened regarding the submission's status.

Location:  Where the story was submitted or self-posted.

Notes:  Info and notes about the submission.

I use the sort and filter features of Excel a lot.  I can filter on the status to find all the unused stories or to see all my rejections, filter on a given publication to see everything I've sent to them, and so forth.  I can also sort by date to put things in chronological order, or maybe to count my completed story word-count for a given month, or whatever.  But my usual sort order is ascending by Piece Number, Version, and Submission, as shown above.  This puts all the rows related to a particular story together in sequential order.

The other tab of the spreadsheet contains my Writing Ideas.  It looks like this:

This is pretty simple.  It just serves as a spot to keep all my ideas together.  I'll give a new idea a number, a genre, maybe a working title, and jot down the basic concept.  Then when I'm wondering about what to write, I can sweep through this list and maybe take one.

Once an idea gets used, I'll update the Used column, and then when it gets 'completed', I'll change the working title to the completed title (if needed) and add a new entry in the other tab to track it now that it's a story.

So there you go.  Maybe this will help you, maybe it won't.  Maybe I'm too spreadsheet-happy and making things too complicated.  Maybe you find this ridiculously constrictive and detail-obsessed and think it will completely stifle your creativity.  That's ok -- I know it's not for everyone.
But if you think it can help you, feel free to take it with my best wishes and use it however you like.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday Mishmash: Inspiration, Presentation, and Commemoration

I'm putting this post together as a first attempt at what may evolve into a semi-regular blog feature:  A Friday post that briefly covers a variety of things -- loose ends, quick updates, and random writing thoughts-at-large.  

 Today there are three things I want to touch on:

I.  Inpsiration:

I was asked recently about where I get ideas about what to write.  I've been asked this before (I think all writers get this question), but it's always hard for me to be specific, because I'm not really sure.  Maybe it's a gift or just a sign of my scatter-brainedness, but thankfully ideas come to me faster than I can create stories.  

While I may not be able to always say where they come from, I at least try to keep track of them.  I always have a list of ideas I'm working off of.  And yes -- it's in a spreadsheet.  One tab of my "Story Tracker" spreadsheet lists 'ideas' and the other tab lists all the revisions of the stories I've completed, their word-count, where they've been submitted to, and so forth.  OK, I admit it -- I'm nerdy. 

Anyway, as I was thinking about that question this week, I realized one source of my ideas, and I wanted to share it with you:  I seem to get a lot of the germs of my ideas right out of the news.  I'll read a news story or catch it on TV and then later it will kind of reappear in an altered way, in a new setting, with a new 'what-if' kind of ending, or whatever.  But the seed of the idea seems to have come from that earlier news story.  

And I think this is a good thing -- after all, truth is stranger than fiction, so why shouldn't it serve as the basis FOR some fiction?

II. Presentation:

 At the beginning of this week, L.G. Keltner presented me with another blog award -- the Booker Award

Thank you very much, L.G.!

So here are the rules of this award:

-- This award is for book bloggers only. To receive this award the blog must be at least 50% about books (reading or writing is okay)

-- Along with receiving this award, you must also share your top five favorite books you have ever read. (More than five is okay)

-- You must give this award to 5-10other lucky book blogs you adore.

Well, I love so many books, it's extremely hard to pick only five as my favorites, but here are five are surely be top contenders for my list:

Stranger in a Strange Land  -- Robert Heinlein
The Lord of the Rings -- J.R.R. Tolkien
The Stand -- Stephen King
Dune -- Frank Herbert
The Godfather -- Mario Puzo

Many, many others might make this list if I were to redo it on another day, but these are my picks for today.  And if for some reason, I was restricted to only non-fiction, I might say:

Cosmos -- Carl Sagan
The Tao of Physics -- Fritjof Capra
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance -- Robert Pirsig (yeah, ok, it's a novel, but it touches on so many real-life issues and deep topics that I'm including it here)
On Writing -- Stephen King
The Tao of Pooh -- Benjamin Hoff

Now I'm supposed to name five-to-ten other "bookish" (or writing) blogs that don't already have this award, but I'm going to cheat and open it up.   Check out my profile to see all the blogs I follow, and here's the thing:  Every one of these blogs deserves this award!  

So I hereby present this award to each of you!!!  Take it, display it proudly, and pass it on.

III. Commemoration:

 And finally, I want to touch on something that many of my fellow writers have in their blogs the past few days:  The writing world has lost a huge legend:  Ray Bradbury  (8/22/1920 - 6/5/2012)  

I was first exposed to the work of Ray Bradbury in the early 1970's when I read his famous novel Fahrenheit 451.  I loved it and have re-read it several times since.  I have also read and admired much more of his work, from novels like Something Wicked This Way Comes to a ton of his short stories. 

But I have not read everything he wrote, or even most of it -- in his lifetime he published over FIVE HUNDRED separate pieces, from short stories to novels to screenplays.     

I loved his work as a reader, and now, as I clumsily hack away at trying to develop as a writer, I am even more impressed and awed by his prolific output.  To have written so much extraordinary work is simply amazing.

And, you know?  I opened this post talking about writing inspiration, and I think I've actually touched on it throughout.  In the section on Booker Award, I mentioned several favorite books that inspired me to write (including "Zen and the Art..." which was rejected over 100 times before it was finally published and became a best-selling legendary book -- how inspiring to a writer is that?!), and in this section, I've come full-circle.  Because if I ever need inspiration about how to write, I can't do any better than to consider the life and work of Ray Bradbury.

Thank you for all you've given the world, Ray -- you will be missed.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rejection, Rejection, Everywhere...

 "Thank you for your recent submission.
Unfortunately, we do not feel it is a fit for us at this time."

If you want to be a writer, you better get used to seeing that in a broad spectrum of variations.  It's called rejection, and it’s a big part of the life of being a writer.

I've only been submitting pieces for a relatively short while, but I've seen it many, many times already.  

So how does it make me feel?


OK, yeah -- it sucks.  I'm not here to lie to you.  There's always a bit of a gut-punch when that submission I've been cautiously optimistic and hopeful about falls short and turns into yet another rejection.  I may even wallow in "woe-is-me!" wretchedness, stew in "how COULD they?!?" indignation, and flail in "that's it -- I'm done writing forever!" finality.  

At least for a while.

But, eventually -- and usually pretty quickly -- I come around and see it as part of the natural process.  I'm paying my dues, honing my chops, and slogging my way through the normal development that ALL writers go through.  Every writer gets rejected.  It's not worth beating myself up over, and when I shake off my funk of pathetic self-loathing the rejection actually helps motivate me to make that piece, or the next one, maybe just a little better.

I also consider myself very fortunate that so many of my rejections have included specific positive comments about my story, offered suggestions for improvement, and gave encouragement about future submissions.  That means a tremendous amount to me, and gives me at least some validation that I'm on the right track as a developing writer.  

But not always.  Sometimes it's as generic, short, and vague as the one I quoted at the start of this post, and all I can do is shrug my shoulders and move on.

Because, in whatever its form, the rejection eventually just adds to my determination to overcome it and improve my writing.  I WILL get something published eventually, even if it's just to prove it to myself that I can.

OK, so here are some other thoughts about rejection I've absorbed from various places or just adopted as common-sense on my own.  Maybe they can help you overcome your own rejections:

  1. Don't take it to heart.  It's only a rejection of one piece by one publication, for any of a gazillion reasons.  Maybe they received 1000 submissions for 2 slots and yours was #3 on the list of possibilities.  Maybe the editor decided to go with her brother-in-law's piece instead.  Who knows?  Rejections aren't personal -- it's better to not take it that way. 
  2. Keep the specifics to yourself.  Other writers are submitting to that publication, or editors and staff of that publication (or others) may be checking out your blog, so there's really nothing to be gained by broadcasting, "Such and such publication rejected me and said this and that about my story."  Remain professional, positive, and move on without sharing the juicy details.  It's better for everyone, I think.
  3. Don't give up on the piece.  Take any feedback under careful consideration, tweak your story to try and improve it, and resubmit it elsewhere.  Other places may have different tastes and a different group of competing submissions.  One man's trash is another man's treasure, so keep the piece in circulation.
  4. Don't give up on the publication.  Respectfully submit another piece to them.  They may like that one better, or it may better fit a particular issue they're putting together, or it might just be the 'right time'.  Don't carpet-bomb them with submissions, but just because they've rejected one piece doesn’t mean they'll never take anything of yours.
  5. Keep writing!  I believe a lot of it is a numbers game -- play the percentages.  Even if 99% of the time you're rejected, it means that your 100th story will click somewhere.  And as the biggest benefit -- writing is an exercise; the more you do it, the better you get at it.  Keep trying to improve and keep churning it out.  You'll connect somewhere.  I know it.
 See?  No reason why I shouldn't be determined, right?