Sunday, December 30, 2012

Play it Again, SAM: Setting Goals instead of Resolutions

The new year is upon us. Have you set your resolutions yet? I hate resolutions. Declaring your purpose for the new year doesn't make it happen. I resolve to lose weight, exercise more, and get more done, but without a plan my enthusiasm waivers and I find myself drowning in my own resolve.

About a decade ago affirmations and intentions were the latest thing at the new year. Both are more positive forms of new year's resolutions. You state that you will do something. I will trim down. I will incorporate diet and exercise into a healthier lifestyle. I will organize to achieve more. While positive and presented with the mood that we all have the power to make these intentions happen, again, if enthusiasm waivers the positive crumbles into negative inaction. Before long I’m beating myself up for blatant laziness. Not exactly positive and affirming. So, I like to focus on goals. Some creative people freeze up at the thought of setting goals. It’s so . . . business oriented. If you fall into this category, think of goals as stepping stones toward achieving your dream.

Like task management, goals take the bigger picture and break it into manageable pieces. Each smaller task or goal leads to accomplishing the bigger task. Many of us do this without realizing it—during the holidays, for instance. In order to get those holiday cards in the mail, there are steps involved. You need to create the list of people you’ll send them to, make labels (or address the envelopes), write notes and/or sign each card, stuff the envelopes, stamp, and drop at the post office. Each step might be done in 5- to 15-minute segments as your schedule allows. In the end, the cards are in the mail and on their way.

Goal-setting is the same. Set a goal, a time frame for achieving it, and then create action steps (or small goals that lead to the larger goal). Use S-A-M as a guideline. The goal should be specific. Select a target and set a deadline such as trimming 2 inches off your waist by summer, losing 15 pounds, or sending out 20 manuscripts by December. It should be achievable. This means you need to make it happen; you cannot rely on what someone else does as a step in the process (such as an editor accepting just 1 manuscript to launch your career). You need to find an exercise you enjoy doing if you are going to trim 2 inches off your waist. You will need to write a manuscript in order to reach that goal of submitting 20.  Finally, your goal needs to be measurable. Notice that these three goals include a specific number. This helps you track your progress as the year progresses.

I had a writing friend who decided to set of goal of receiving 10 rejections in a year. She was working to fit writing into a busy life as a mother, wife, and office manager. She had heard me speak and a comment I made about taking the plunge and getting over the fear of submitting really struck her. She knew that manuscripts left in a drawer would never become books. Setting a goal to get rejected took away her fear of rejection. It is part of a writer’s life after all. Her goal was specific and measurable. She knew she had to send out a MS a month to reach that goal. That was achievable given her busy life.

When the first MS was returned, the sting of rejection wasn't so bad. She sent it out again. And again. She had nearly reached her goal of 10 rejections by summer when she received an acceptance. Then a second. Now she was forced to write new material in order to reach her goal. She did. But she also had credits to list when sending out those new MSS. By the next year, she was ready to “play it again, SAM” in setting new goals. No floundering in good intentions or vague resolutions. Just specific, achievable, and measurable goals with action steps toward reaching them.

Here’s wishing you all a happy and productive 2013. Happy Writing!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Weave in Story Details

Work on observing your surroundings using all five senses. What does the wind smell like? What does rain taste like? What does a wooded area sound like? Describe the bark of different trees. How is today’s rain storm different than yesterday’s? How is a hot day different than a hot night? Start now to really notice the world around you—listen, feel, taste, experience it.

Next, translate these sensations to your character. What does he or she smell or hear when he or she enters the dark woods behind the row of houses? Instinct tells the character not to take the path through the woods as a short cut, but he or she has no choice. So, allow the reader to experience this place through the sensations the character encounters. 

New writers often tell the reader what happens in the story rather than showing the story unfold. The rule of thumb is "show, don't tell" (SDT). Showing involves the reader. It makes him or her feel and see the details of the story. Telling, or summarizing, slows the story down. You then risk losing the reader to the action of television or computer games. Sensory detail helps you as the author ensure a connection is created and maintained between the character and the reader. In many stories, depending on point of view, the reader will momentarily become the main character. So, describing what the character smells, hears, touches, sees, thinks, etc. strengthens the reader’s connection to a story. Dialogue is another great way to sneak in story details because it draws the reader into the story—and it ensures that something is happening in the scene. 

So, practice noticing details around you and translate that to your characters. Remember to show the reader by weaving in these details in through the reaction of the viewpoint character and through dialogue. 

Happy writing!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

How Writing is like Cooking

NOTE:  I'm trying to fix glitches with links between my different accounts. This blog, originally posted at Wonderings and Wanderings was supposed to also post here. I've posted a condensed version that focuses on the writing connection. 

I usually spend a good portion of my weekend in the kitchen making meals for the coming week. This weekend, however, none of my recipes turned out. I tried to blend two muffin recipes to create a "harvest fruit" muffin. Dud! I think I needed more baking powder or perhaps some baking soda. And, I plain forgot to include an ingredient in one dish until it was in the oven. Too bad I couldn't pull it out and add it (which is a wonderful revision technique for writing but doesn't bode well with step-by-step instructions).
But, in the end, I wasn't upset. First, not all the kitchen mishaps were inedible. Second, the time spent perfectly links with writing. Like these failed  recipes, sometimes we need to write scenes in stories, only to discard them later. It's not that they are awful; it's that they don't work with the other "ingredients" in the story for the most tasty outcome.
I think this is one of the hardest things for newer writers to understand about revising. Sometimes we need to write a specific scene with a character but its purpose is to help us further develop that character. It doesn't necessarily need to remain in the finished story. And sometimes, we need to add a scene (or ingredient) to boost suspense or keep the reader hooked. In the end, the reader doesn't need to know all that you had to accomplish in the kitchen---or even how many attempts it took to get the "recipe" right. The reader only cares about how tasty the end result is.
So, test your ingredients and don't be afraid to toss the "duds." Happy writing!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Life only Seems to Get in the Way

I know. I know. It's been too long since I've posted here. My only excuse is that this blog is dedicated to "all things writing." And, I've been blogging about life in general at my other blog: Wonderings and Wanderings

Even at that blog, I haven't posted all that often because this has been one insane year! But, the holidays are approaching and as busy as I am personally, I am even more determined to make time for my writing projects. The lesson here is that even when it seems life is getting in the way, it does not have to. 

Despite this busy year (and by busy I simply mean that my plate is full to brimming with the main course--my writing and teaching--as well as side dishes with family issues and other stuff demanding time), my business is growing. I have been asked to teach new classes. The first is a self-publishing class through an evening community education program. Now, other locations are requesting something similar. I've also taken on extra workshops during this part of the year (when I usually wait to offer these January through April). But, members were requesting my workshops. 

Also,  few good things have been happening with my writing and I've decided to launch a companion site to help people overcome writing challenges. One thing I emphasize with my students--of all ages is that writing does not need to be painful! So, that's the focus of this new site, called Lisa Wroble, Word Coach. It will launch soon through Weebly but until it does, you can find out more at

So, though I haven't been here much, I have not given up or fallen in the wake of the publishing industry confusion and economic adversity. I will be posting again soon, so watch this space. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Winds of Change Blowing

Southern Florida is getting ready for TS Issac. Since I've just emerged from an intense summer that has left me working hard to carve out writing time, the last thing I wanted to deal with was battening down and preparing for severe winds and rain at the least and a full-blown gale at worst.

I haven't posted much since spring because I promised myself I'd devote this blog to writing. But, I did learn some things out of this experience that I do feel are writing-related. It helped me put a positive spin on my personal life, so I can continue generating energy toward my writing. (I'm making baby steps, but at least I'm making regular progress!)

First, as I battled all the items in my storage closet, trying to make room for some of the lanai furniture, I realized the struggles I've been plowing through are much like the trials and conflict characters face in a good story. Who wants to read about a character who gets everything she wants? I do believe that the struggles make reaching a goal more satisfying. 

Second, since I couldn't fit everything from the lanai in storage, I had to move the larger furniture and plants inside. That meant indoor furniture to make room for the outdoor furniture. Now I had to clean, too, and wipe down all the outdoor furniture before bringing it in. So, in the end, things are cleaner just because I gave attention to areas I've been too busy to attend to. (And, the empty lanai was swept and cleaned and will need the same again once the storm blows through.) Also, since I was cleaning and rearranging, I continued that energy into my office to see what I can move around for more space and efficiency. 

Finally, during the numerous trips to the store to buy supplies, fight with the crowds of panicking people, and acknowledge the sense of urgency everyone seemed to be feeling, I decided to tack on a few "errands" that would give me a feeling of doing something for my writing. I mailed copies of my book, Food for a Greener Planet: What You Can Do, to a reading association award program, submitted the opening of one of my novels to  a literary contest, and ordered promo materials for my latest book, Dealing with Stress

I'm determined that all these "life issues" will not get in the way of my goals. The baby steps are paying off. The winds of change are blowing, and not just from this tropical storm/possible hurricane. I feel this storm is (and will continue) helping me "clean out" and make changes. 

To all affected by Issac, may you stay safe and weather the storm! 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Too Busy Writing: Seeking Balance

Sorry, I haven't posted sooner. I know it's been a while. Too long in fact. But, I been so busy writing. Well, teaching and freelancing anyway. Those who know me know that I balance my time between teaching and writing, and between work with younger readers and adult learners. The adult learners are participants in writing workshops I offer locally (though I am taking a few of these workshops online soon).

Though summers are usually my time to write more and teach less since the seasonal folks have headed north to cooler summer temps, this year is unusual. Not only was I asked to teach at the local college for both summer semesters, but two of the venues I offer workshops for asked me to add a class. And they filled, which is unusual for summer. I don't mind because this is all a change of pace. I thrive and draw both ideas and energy from shifting up my scheduling. 

Enter a new issue: time for my own projects is limited, especially when I get through the hectic scheduling of season by promising myself time to work on my writing projects. I also took on a huge (as in equivalent to a large advance) client project. So, for a few weeks I was edging toward burn-out and wondering why I had agreed to any of it.

 Now that I've had a little time to re-balance, re-organize (mostly my office), and re-charge I'm ready to move forward again. As long as I keep my "life wheel" balanced between the teaching and the writing, between my projects and client projects, and between work with or for younger readers and adults, I seem to have the energy I need to make and meet my goals. 

Think about what demands are placed on your time. Is it balanced? If not, what do you need to do to put all those demands in equal portions? You will find yourself with a little more time for your writing and a lot more energy. Happy writing!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Writing Discpline

Discipline is a big part of working as a professional writer. It's important to focus on the task at hand, but I may take a short break to play with new ideas if I hit a lag and need to get the creative juices flowing. After my deadline is met, however, I will have plenty of ideas waiting. How do I decide which to pursue next? I consider two things: exhilaration and marketing. With which of these ideas am I most intrigued? Which will maintain my interest during all the stages of writing–including repeatedly revising and polishing? Once I've selected the three most promising, I'll consider markets. This is especially important for nonfiction. If it won't sell, why spend the time  working on it? Of course, trends change and an idea that may not interest an editor today may interest him in 2-3 months or 2-3 years.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Corralling Ideas

When I was a 100 percent “newbie” writer, I actually worried that I’d only have one idea to write about. I was actually reluctant to send out my first MS for fear that I wouldn’t know what to work on next. This very thought is ludicrous to me now; once I became aware of all the potential ideas surrounding me, I quickly filled up an 18-inch index card file box! 

The same will happen for you. If you’ve followed suggestions in previous posts, ideas should soon arrive fast and furious. When they threaten to trample you, corral ‘em up in a file or notebook. I often think of ideas while I'm working on deadline projects. Something about the pressure to complete one task temps me with others. Rather than allow new ideas to entice me away from the current project, I'll jot them down to pursue later.  If I'm on the computer, I switch to a new document and make bullet points or brief summaries along with notes on potential markets and research possibilities (if it's nonfiction). If I'm not at the computer I'll use my journal to record ideas (and often go into more detail) or jot the ideas on scrap paper or an index card to develop later.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Make Your Clay

Earlier this week I finally had a chance to catch up with a dear friend. We went for a walk on the beach and talked about writing. Since she has taken my writing classes in the past (that’s actually how I met her), she reminded me about something I tell my students at all levels: "make your clay and then worry about details later."

What do I mean by this? A writer’s draft is the medium of our craft which we shape and refine during revision. The real work of writing comes during revision. As writers we need to make our clay, meaning getting the words out of our heads and onto paper where we can then work and rework those words into a finished manuscript. If we were painters, we would have brushes, paints, palette, and paper or canvas to use to create our work. If we were potters, we would begin with a lump of clay and mold, shape, and work in details.

Writers, too, need something to work with--something to shape, trim away excess, add in detail, refine and illuminate. So I encourage all my writers to finish (or nearly finish) a draft before they focus on revising. Why? It’s easier to trim away the excess and add in details, develop a character, refine a plot line, and so on, if you have your basic three-part structure in place. It’s not set in stone. Word processing programs make it (thankfully) easy to move, cut, and add (and return to a previous version if necessary). But, once the words are in black type on white paper or screen, it gives the writer something to see and work with, much like the clay used by potters and sculptors.

Having something concrete to shape takes away the tension of revision for newer writers. Viewing the draft as something that includes debris or flaws to pick out takes the pressure off of creating a "perfect" first draft. The key word is "first," since many writers create multiple "drafts" before a polished piece is sent to an editor. Incidentally, the editor then refers to that much-revision MS as the “first draft,” since it is his or her first go-round in editing it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Blending Details

These two exercises require you to use details from your journal and spring-board to a new idea. You'll blend the real and the imaginary to create a story.

Exercise 1:
Find a favorite magazine. Select an ad that inspires you. Find another ad or photo of a person.
Write about that person in the setting or situation from the first ad. What happens? Is there a problem? How is it resolved?

Exercise 2:
1)   Select three ads or photos from magazines that show both people and inspiring settings.
2)   Write down a focus point or question. For example, a decision you need to make, a problem you need to solve, a subject you're interested in learning more about, or a recent complaint.
3)   Select one of the magazine photos and write about your focus point from the viewpoint of the person in the photograph. Use appropriate language/vocabulary if this person is a child or teen.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Wanted: The ‘Perfect' Journal

Any notebook will do for your writer's journal. You can use a spiral notebook or composition book from the school supplies section a t your favorite store or visit the bookstore for a selection of blank books. The variety is impressive, from lined or unlined sheets to various sizes (and shapes). The important thing is that you feel comfortable with the book so you'll enjoy writing in it often.

You might even prefer to use your computer to journal. Many of my writing friends insist this is the best method because of the "search and find" features on most word processing programs. I prefer a portable, handwritten journal. If this is your choice, too, choose a writing instrument with as much care as the journal itself. Do you want to hear the scratching of a pencil or marker on the page or feel the glide of a gel-ink or fountain pen? I like the feel of smooth, thicker paper and the fast, flowing ink of a Roller Ball. But, I also prefer different colors to help me designate different days at a glance. The choice is yours.

Whichever method you choose, be sure to keep the first few pages blank. Record favorite writing exercises or prompts on those opening pages. You'll be able to quickly find writing prompts whenever you want to write during unexpected spare time. Each time you complete an exercise, you'll gain something more from it. Draw from these completed exercises, just as you'll glean from experiences in each journal entry in developing writing ideas.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Journaling: Writers Basic Training

Keeping a journal is the best way to harness thoughts, memories, ideas and dreams. Those penned experiences will provide plenty of details to add realism to your stories. Journaling also serves as "training," to help you find your writer's voice, among many other writing skills.

You don't need to write daily, and the entries you make could be one page or ten pages. They don't need to make sense as far as transitions or sequence either. I often use // in the margin of my journal to indicate a change in thought or when I've returned later in the day to record a new thought or idea. I put an asterisk next to ideas or dreams that I think have story or article potential. I usually reread entries monthly to add idea notes in the margins or highlight pieces I think may be useful in the near future. 

Sometimes entries during the course of several weeks or a month show an idea slowly developing and I'll start a new entry which comments on those previous ideas, reminding myself how the idea sparked and where I see it possibly leading. It is usually a lack of time that keeps me from outlining or drafting these ideas right away, so using the journal helps me document them for later development.

I also do writing exercises in my journals, practicing different story elements–dialogue, description, sensory details. I find it helpful to clear my mind by writing ideas down before bed-time. When I'm under deadline, journaling helps me clear my thoughts each morning so I'm able to focus on the project at hand. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tuning into Ideas

You've already begun recording ideas as you notice them. Another way to find ideas is to make some lists. It helps to open with questions. What topics interest you? Try to list two or three. What questions are triggered when you watch or read the news? List a few. Collect names for places and characters, too. Use the ideas you gather to fill in the following list. Try to collect ten items in the coming week.


Find and write down inspiring quotes, too. At the end of the week, review your list and write down article ideas or story plots based on merging the bits and pieces you've recorded.
Challenge yourself to expand the list each week, building to 12, 15, 18, or 20 items in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Protest SOPA and PIPA to stop internet censorship

On Jan 24th, Congress will vote to pass internet censorship in the Senate, even though the vast majority of Americans are opposed. We need to kill the bill - PIPA in the Senate and SOPA in the House - to protect our rights to free speech, privacy, and prosperity. Learn more at the SOPA Infographic and by visiting Stop American Censorship

Writers depend on social media, social networking, an independent sites to promote their work and keep in touch with fans. This bill could seriously infringe on our ability to continue sharing and self-expression. It also threatens information made available through libraries and school libraries, especially, are in danger through budget cuts. Where will it end? Please educate yourself and join the protest!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Finding Ideas: Train Your Brain

New classes began this week for several venues in which I teach—college level writing skills, creative and nonfiction writing, and storytelling with my elementary students. No matter the age or level of the writer, before you can write, you need ideas.

Ideas are all around us, but many new writers need to train themselves to recognize ideas. Yes, being open to ideas from our experiences comes with time. This is also why journaling is beneficial. Before you decide to journal, though, spend some time answering questions.

What's on your mind? What do you wonder about? Record interesting bits of overheard conversation. Describe interesting people you meet or notice. As you write about what has happened in your life and record enjoyable experiences, it's easier to see potential ideas as they surface.

Another way to train your brain to notice ideas is to make a list every evening. What errands, events, incidents, people, activities, and places made up your day? Even if you only list two or three items each evening, by the end of the week you'll have a longer list to work with. Now, use three large index cards to categorize the list. Mark one card "characters," one "plot points," and the last card "details." Transfer items from your list to the appropriate card. For example, events and incidents go on "plot points" while sensory experiences and descriptors go on "details." Interesting people you've dealt with, from cashiers and bank tellers to rowdy kids, go on "characters." Jumbling items from all three cards will create prompts for story writing.

Continue organizing those ideas; the more ideas you collect, the easier it will be to translate them from experience to story idea.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Write Through the Year

I've had a nice long break from teaching. Writing workshops concluded just after Thanksgiving. Teaching for both elementary arts enrichment students and college students concluded the second week in December. That makes it from 4-6 weeks since some of my students have seen me.

My workshops students, however, have been in contact. Not every one of them, but several. Most have asked for advice on how to keep up their writing, so I've decided to add postings to Word Coach to help them out. I'm calling them "Write Through the Year" and I'll answer questions about finding ideas, keeping a writer's journal, various craft elements, creating or finding critique groups, and so on. Stay tuned!