Your Audience is King. Or Queen. Or Your Main Source of Funding.

Most of the time, writing projects are fun.

And then there are projects that are, well … not …really.

Don’t get me wrong, writing is never just all fun and games. It doesn’t matter how much you love writing, how much you are interested in and excited about a particular story you are writing, you will always struggle at some point or another (unless you are my friend Timewalkerauthor … I am not sure he *ever* struggles with writing anything, or at least it never seems that way :P).

Usually, I am facing one or more (mostly all) of the following issues:

  1. I don’t know how to start or what to write about (happens every time I want to blog)
  2. I started but have no idea how to continue (this is particularly interesting when your characters maneuver themselves in a position that will inevitably get them killed or at least imprisoned for life, which cuts the story rather short)
  3. Not writing enough detail (but it was in my head, so why do I …. oh, wait … readers are not mind-readers)
  4. Writing too much detail (who am I kidding, that never happens to me)
  5. Having to rewrite the intro or the end (never waste too much time on these until you are happy with the rest of the piece)
  6. Wanting to keep a scene/piece which absolutely does not need to be there (just keep it in your “for later use” file)

The aforementioned project was … how shall I put it … excruciating. Which was made worse by the fact that it was something I had to write for work. Like many other projects funded by the U.S. government, ours is required to produce various reports over the lifetime of the contract. This year, one of the topics we are reporting on in our annual report is Knowledge Management (KM), aka my domain at work.

I was pretty sure that this report (or lack of my writing progress … #1 from the list above: check) would either get me fired or make me quit.

Eventually, I managed to buckle down and write. And write. And write.

64 pages later: I am still here! I committed everything we’ve done in the past 2 ½ years, KM-wise, to paper. In great detail (#4: check. Charles, you would be proud of me!).

Of course, I was promptly informed that this is simply too much. I didn’t shoot the messenger, but I certainly felt like it.

Whereas overcoming/dealing with #1 – 6 is hard enough, I can always, always add another item to whatever project I am working on: 7. Having a hard time tailoring content to a specific audience.

Sounds simple. Isn’t. At least not for me. When it comes to describing (and, to a certain extent, justifying) my work, no detail is too small. No screenshot useless. No description too technical. After all, at the end of the day, I am somewhat proud of what we’ve accomplished, and I want people to know!

And here I was worried about not having written too much. Haha … -.-

I’m actually not sure what is worse: Having to add content or cutting content. Luckily, I have a co-worker who’s been writing/editing this particular report for years, so she went through and made suggestions on what to cut (“Really, you want that to go??”), what to summarize (“But, but … my details!”) and what to rephrase (“How’s that too negative, it’s the truth!”) and what to elaborate on (“But I thought too many details … never mind.”).

She’s right, of course. Every audience is different, and content needs to fulfill their needs. So, next time you write something, ask yourself: What message do I want to get across? What is my audience interested in? In the case of this report, our client is probably not interested in how taxonomies are implemented in SharePoint, or how the different parts work together. Rather, they want to know why we use the system, how it makes the project and its work more efficient and effective, and how it can potentially save money. So, after a few revisions, the chapter now consists of 30 pages. All the content is there, but it does paint a picture for one particular audience.

Getting everything on paper was not a waste of time though. In November, I’ll be speaking at the 2017 KMWorld conference in Washington, D.C. My presentation about “SharePoint Development, Successes, & Future Plans at The DHS Program” is part of the conference’s SharePoint Symposium. I don’t have the entire presentation down just yet, but I can already say two things: It won’t be a PowerPoint presentation (Death by PowerPoint anyone?), and the tone will be entirely different than that of the recent report. That does not mean though that it will be easier, of course.

How do you make sure that your content is tailored to an audience? I’d love to hear ideas!

P.S. Even writing a decent blog post about this report was excruciating!

Writing Class with James Patterson

masterclassJPA few years ago, I’ve participated in an in-person writing workshop with Orson Scott Card, which was just plain awesome. So I was intrigued when I came across a online writing class with James Patterson yesterday. Aside from it being a cool experience, he will also pick one student to co-author his next book with. Whereas I will certainly submit something, I know that mysteries/thrillers are not my writing style (and my voice is really different from JP’s, too), so I know that I won’t really have a chance. However, I am sure I’ll learn a lot, which might help me to get my manuscript to an agent. Fingers crossed!

I’m very happy though that my friend Timewalkerauthor has also signed up for this class. He, like me, has a completed manuscript, and his writing style could be a good fit for JP. Most of all though I hope that he will make some time again to start writing query letters.

“Do NOT sit there like ‘Oh I don’t feel like it today. I don’t feel like it tomorrow’.
Feel like it! Do it! Force yourself!” –James Patterson

I have to admit that I haven’t really been taking the time to write as much as I want. So my resolution for the next few months is to sit down a few days a week and force myself to write. Yes, I know that sounds odd. But it’s like forcing yourself to go to the gym. Even if you don’t feel like going, you know you feel better afterwards. There are plenty of days when I bitch and moan before getting on the treadmill and then enjoy it anyway. It’s the same with writing. Sometimes you don’t feel like it, sometimes your head is empty, and sometimes you can’t concentrate.  But Patterson is right. You have to force yourself sometimes, only then will you get somewhere.

One thing I like to do (and, again, don’t do often enough) is to sit down and just let my streamOfConsciousnessthoughts flow. I know that my brain can come up with all kinds of weird things, but for some reason it gets really shy when it comes to writing. The white page/screen is staring at me, taunting me, mocking me, and my thoughts are trying to hide in a very small corner of my mind. I think the most important thing to remember is that not everything you write is good or worth sharing or pursuing. Sometimes, after a writing session, I stare at the paper and I see a bunch of crap. I grimace and start laughing and then keep the paper for later, in case I need a good laugh (or for a later blog post in which I freely admit that I have an amazing talent to write something really, really bad).

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some of the lessons learned in this class; hopefully, some of you will find it useful and interesting.

Happy Writing!

Conjured in Gold – Part 3

Part 1Part 2

Conjured in Gold

Arlia’s skin started to tingle again, and her hands were freezing cold when she slipped out of her white robe and let it drop to the ground. The sunlight shone on her body as she received the golden robe from Muthra. The fabric felt warm, almost alive, and when the young woman let it slide down her body, it gave her a feeling of deep comfort and peace of mind.

She nestled at the small diamond pendant hanging around her neck, making sure it fell perfectly down the v-shaped neckline. She never took off this precious gift she had been given by her oldest brother, shortly before La’Rean vanished from the town one winter morning and was never seen again.

Arlia’s stomach tightened at the thought, and she fought to drive the thought from her mind.

She finally managed to smile at her teacher, who stepped aside and gave way to a crystal vessel. Taking a deep breath, Arlia carefully took a few steps forward. Her eyes widened when she looked down into the bowl.

Floating just above the shimmering bottom, there it was: a single bright-white feather. Arlia reached out, touched it with her fingertips and then gasped softly. Upon her touch, the feather began to glow and turn into a hue of gold that matched her robes perfectly. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. It was delicate, only about nine inches long, and now shone almost brighter than the sun. The young woman held her breath when she carefully took the end of the feather and lifted it from the crystal.

Her head was spinning.

This was it.  

With the feather in her right hand and her small bag in the other, Arlia approached the circle.

The golden dust floated lazily a few inches above the ground. But when Arlia came closer, the color became more vibrant, and the particles started to swirl around until the circle was complete; a golden disc pulsing with magic and life.

Arlia looked over her shoulder at Muthra. The old woman was sitting cross-legged, hands folded, and eyes closed. Praying.

The young woman focused on the circle in front of her. Slowly she opened her bag, and took out a handful of bright white stones. Ideally, her soul would have the color of the stones that were picked and also signified the steadfastness of the soul that was being conjured.

Carefully, Arlia distributed them on the outer ring of the golden disc. She expected the stores to fall through the fine golden dust, but to her surprise they floated just where they had been placed.

Next, she filled the circle with some wooden sticks, grass, flowers, and water. She wanted her companion to be as gentle and whole as the nature around her.

Many companions were conjured with items of war to ensure they would fare well in a battle, and oftentimes people added items that promised speed and swiftness.

Arlia used the clear water to ask for silent speed and movements as fluid as the drops that floated on top of the golden dust.

Next came sapphires. It had taken Arlia a long time to find stones that she considered perfect; they would represent her soul’s eyes.

Then she pulled a piece of fabric from her almost empty pouch. Unlike others, she had chosen to ask the tailors for their help instead of using the fur of an animal. Over the past year, she had collected petals from her favorite flower. The delicate leafs looked like a cotton ball sprinkled with powdered sugar. It was the softest material that could be found in these parts of her world. Her tiger would have the softest fur, if everything went right.

She unfolded the cloth and carefully spread it over the circle, hiding the items underneath.

She reached into her pouch one last time and pulled out a smooth, silvery-blue gem. On its surface, she had carefully inscribed the words “tiger” and “Na’Ral” in the ancient symbolic language. The second symbol was the name she had chosen for her soul: White Flame. She placed the gem in the middle of the blanket.

Holding her breath, she carefully placed the golden feather diagonally over the gem. In that very moment, the circle started to glow. Arlia stepped back, folded her hands, and got down on her knees. For a moment, everything was quiet. Then Muthra’s voice broke the silence. After a few seconds, Arlis joined her and together they sang the incantation, asking their ancestors for a soul companion that would stay with Arlia forever, that would carry her to end of the world and fight by her side whenever it was required.

When the song ended, both women opened their eyes and looked at the circle. The white blanket was gone, and so were the stones, the sticks, and the water. All that was left was the golden dust.

For a moment that felt like eternity to Arlia, she thought that nothing had happened.

Nothing at all.

Her heart sank, and her eyes began to fill with tears.

But then she saw movement. Something white and fluffy was stirring, and a glimmer of blue broke through the dust.

Silent Scream

silentScream

Sometimes, all you want to do is scream
but no sound crosses your lips.
The pain you feel is too much to bear,
And the scream dissolves into a thousand tears.

Fire burns inside your heart and mind,
and all you want to do is die.
You’re not sure how to survive the despair
and you are too exhausted to even cry.

You have so much love to give,
so many feelings are waiting inside.
But what’s the point of even feeling,
When you don’t have any trust to give?

So you sit and watch yourself burn.
Your body, your soul, your mind, your heart,
They all long for the one that will save you
From yourself forevermore.

It’s so hard to believe you will be okay.
It’s so hard to believe that somewhere out there
He’s waiting for you to cross his way
Look at him and feel your heart stop once more.

Maybe someday you will know that your suffering wasn’t in vain.
That things happen for a reason.
Someday you will look back, with him by your side,
And together you will walk towards a new chapter in your life.

Right now, it hurts too much to even believe
In yourself, in the world, in him who you don’t know.
Please, hold on a little while longer, and you will see
That somebody loves you for all you were, and all you will be.

Books Alive! 2015 – Washington Writers Conference

BooksAlive-LinkedIn

This past weekend I attended Books Alive! 2015, the Washington Writers Conference in Bethesda, MD, and I had a blast! Full disclosure: Since I am working on my own novel, the most important thing for me was the fact that I could pitch my manuscript to four agents in person. However, attending the panel discussions, interacting with speakers and -even more importantly- other authors added so much more to this experience than just getting a shot at selling my writing. It was incredible to hear all the great stories that attendees are working on, fiction and non-fiction alike, and I can only encourage every aspiring writer to try and attend next year’s conference.

During the first session of the morning, How to Pitch to an Agent, the panelists offered advice on how to make your pitch successful. I was happy to hear that their advice pretty much was the same I had received during a 2-week workshop I took last November (Get a Literary Agent, Mediabistro): 

  1. Create a hook – Something that captures the agent’s attention.
  2. About your book: How long is the manuscript? Where on the shelf would you place it? (I.e. My novel [title] is a commercial science fiction novel with some dystopian and gone-girl elements, and is complete at 108,000 words). 
  3. Your elevator pitch: Give a high-level overview of what your novel is about. Don’t try to summarize the entire plot in a synopsis-like style. You want to be as brief as possible. Think of it as your elevator pitch. Mine sounded something like this (and takes me about 30 seconds): Kyra Taylor is known as a Y, one of the very small percentage of telepaths who are considered the most powerful of them all. Her world is turned upside down when she discovers her own fate: to become a Mind Hunter, an elite professional with just one job—finding rogue telepaths and bringing them in…or bringing them down. She is assigned to Nathaniel Cadwell, the most powerful hunter in service. Their relationship is torn between contempt and secret affection, and it is about to become a lot more complicated when powers unknown to both Kyra and Nathaniel attempt to use them for their own agenda: to create a new and even more powerful generation of telepaths. With Kyra on the run and Nathaniel being misled by those above him, both must find and overcome the secrets hidden in the Rivers of the Mind. 
  4. Give comparative titles. It shows the agent that you know your market and your target audience. Avoid comparing yourself to bestsellers. You want to be confident, not cocky. However, if specifically asked, be prepared to humbly mention some books or writers whose target audience you share. In my case, I compared my novel to The Office of Mercy (Ariel Djanikian) and The Mind Readers (Lori Brighton), but I mentioned that I believe my novel would probably appeal to readers who enjoy stories like Divergent  and The Hunger Games. 
  5. Your bio: Give a brief overview of who you are, your credentials (i.e. previous publications) and anything that shows the agent you are basically qualified and have worked on your craft. In my case I mentioned that I have published various professional articles, and that I have taken several writing workshops including one lead by Orson Scott Card.
  6. Be your biggest fan! Publishers are looking for people who can market themselves. Probably not what introverted writers want to hear; in fact, a good but very introverted friend of mine who hates the entire putting yourself out there-thing said that “this makes you long for the days when it was acceptable to be a writer just so you didn’t have to interact with anybody” (I am paraphrasing here). My response to this was that being outgoing and selling myself and my work to people did not come naturally to me. I had to learn and work really hard, but by now I can talk to strangers and in front of crowds with ease, and I have no problem conveying my passion for something to others. And if I can learn how to do that, so can you!
  7. Say what’s next! Are you working on other projects? Maybe even a sequel (which is what I am working on).

Throughout the day, people dashed in and out of the rooms to take advantage of the five minutes of face-to-face time with four agents. Think of it as verbal Twitter … five minutes really feel like 140 characters, much to the dismay of my above mentioned introverted friend, who hates Twitter and the concept with a passion. I was really nervous when I pitched to the first agent, but it got better each time I did it. I kind of wish that, at the end of the day, I could have pitched to the very first agent again, simply because I felt so much more confident. All four of my agents invited me to submit the beginning of my story, which made me very happy (cross your fingers!).

Whereas I enjoyed each panel and presentation I attended, I particularly want to highlight the last session of the day, From Magazines and Blogs to Books, moderated by Holly Smith and featuring Caitlin Kelly, Monica Bhide, and Adele Levine. Their stories of how they got published were fun to listen to; even more interesting was their advice on how to deal with rejection. As we writers are all well aware of, rejection is part of our craft. In fact, one panelist said that she had once been told by a mentor that “if you haven’t been rejected at least 72 times, you have no right to complain”. Adele Levine revealed that she allows herself to get angry with an agent or editor that rejects her work (“Screw you, [name]!”)

Biggest and most important take-away: Listening to their experiences and talking to the agents made me realize that just because somebody does not want to take on your project does not mean that it sucks, or -worse- that YOU as a person suck. This is something that I struggle with (and I am pretty sure I am not the only one): If my work gets rejected, I feel like a failure. We really should not feel that way though. It just means that the project was not the right one for a particular agent. The most important thing is to keep believing in you and your work! And then you can get angry all you want at the person that rejected you 🙂

Keep writing, be your biggest fan, and remember: You can live your dreams, it’s just a matter of will (and perseverance)!

Forever Young, my Unborn Soul

Some blog posts make me happy. The ones that achieve this most often are those rare ones that offer a glimpse into the writer’s mind. What she was thinking when writing a particular scene, how she came to invent a certain character, or what gave her the idea for a particular plot development. When I read posts like that, it makes the person who wrote it even more human to me, and it just makes me plain happy to get close to a person I don’t even know for a very short time (i.e. the time it takes me to read and think about the post). So, since I’ve just had such a particular moment, I would like to return the favor and share it with those of you who feel the same when it comes to diving into another person’s mind.

It all started by discovering the song Forever Young by The Tenors this morning, which I have been listening to all day. I can get quite OCD with songs I like, so it’s not uncommon for me to listen to one song for days on end. At some point today during my drive home, I was thinking about my own novel and thought it would be a great scene, at some point, to have Nathaniel do something for Kyra that is totally out of character. Just for your information, Kyra and Nathaniel are my two main characters, and Sandra, Jack, Sebastian and Cameron are some of the important supporting characters; this post isn’t really about my story, the plot or the characters though, so it really does not matter if you haven’t read the story and/or know about the characters. At some point, either now or after reading this post, you may want to  listen to the song/read the lyrics (YouTube link here, and the lyrics can be found here).

Back to Nathaniel and my thinking that it would be cool if he sang something for Kyra since he knows how much she loves music. That thought alone made me smile (if you will ever read the story, you will most likely understand why). Here’s how my next string of thoughts went (almost literally):”Well, he would need a pretty good reason to sing something for her … besides, the song is performed by four guys, so maybe I can throw Jack, Sebastian and Cameron into the mix. But for what occasion …”. At that point my thoughts trailed off from that question and I imagined the four guys on some sort of stage, singing for Kyra and the others, and after a few more repetitions of the song, it hit me: The unborn baby.

Prior to writing this, I debated whether to reveal this tiny piece of information, but I think by keeping it vague I am not spoiling anything. I then decided that the very first and last verse of the song could be sung by Sandra, who is somewhat of an artsy type anyway, and I figured that the whole “sing a song for the baby” thing could have been her idea in the first place. Why? Because it’s something beautiful to do (among other reasons the group has), plus she gets to convince four very different men with different backgrounds, motives, and relationships to each other to work together for one person they all love in different ways.

Having all these little details about a scene (or a character for that matter) form in my head always has a very relaxing and calming effect on me. Oftentimes, depending on the scene and music, it helps me understand myself and certain situations a little better, but above all, visualizing ideas and having bits and pieces come together to a coherent scene just makes me plain happy, whether the scene actually makes it into the story in the end or not. And it’s the same when I read about other writer’s thought processes. So please keep sharing, you definitely light up my world every time you do!

For those of you who have read my manuscript as beta readers and therefore know the characters, and for those who just want a little more detail, here’s how I imagined the distribution of lyrics among the five people. What they sing also reflects their personalities. It differs a little from the way The Tenors do it, but hey, my story is fictional, so I figured I can get away with it … plus, at this point it’s all in my head, and I don’t even know if it will ever make into the story. Certainly not in the first book, but maybe the sequel I already have in my head.

[SANDRA]
May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others, let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the sky, climb on every rung
And may you stay, forever young

[JACK]
May you grow up to be righteous, may grown up to be true
May you always know the truth and see the light surrounding you

[NATHANIEL]
May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong
May you stay, forever young

[JACK]
Forever young, (echo -always by the other 3)
Forever young, (echo)

[NATHANIEL]
May you stay, (echo)
Forever

[CAMERON]
May your hands always be busy, may your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation, with no winds of changes shift

[SEBASTIAN]
May your heart always be joyful, your song always be sung
And may you stay, forever young

[CAMERON]
Forever young, (echo)
Forever young, (echo)

[SEBASTIAN]
May you stay, (echo)
Forever young, (echo)
And may you stay, (echo)

[SANDRA]
May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes always come true
And may you stay, forever young

My First Time

First off: Happy New Year to all fellow writers out there! May 2015 be a good, productive, creative and successful year for all of us!PhotoGrid_1421179193829

I spent Christmas and New Year’s with my family in Germany, and despite my best intentions I didn’t do anything but eat and sleep. I didn’t do any revising or writing, or anything else that involved my laptop for that matter. I swear that sometimes I could hear it whimper from my room …

What I did do was read comments regarding the first three chapters of my novel from a very close and good friend of mine … and man did he bash my writing! At least that’s what I thought when I read his email for the first time. I didn’t read it again for a few days because I was really discouraged and was basically pouting and doubting my ability to even get a single sentence right, so I just wanted to throw away my proverbial quill and give up. But then I started reading his comments (and amendments) to my writing, and I realized that he wasn’t trying to be mean at all … it’s just that he is SO far away from my target audience that he just plain did not enjoy my writing style.

Whereas my novel caters to young adults/adults like me who still feel young/mostly women, my friend is a gentleman in his early sixties who enjoys reading books by Clive Cussler … and that is definitely not the type of book I am writing (or could write), nor is it my writing style. My friend made a bunch of changes to my text and writing, and the more I read it, the more I realized that he was trying to turn it into something that could have come from Cussler and similar authors. Which is not to say that I don’t like Clive’s writing … I do, and it’s clearly a successful style. It’s just not mine.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame my friend at all for his rather harsh words, and it was probably a stupid idea of me to give the draft to a person who is clearly not one of the readers I am trying to reach. It was a great learning experience for me though. In general, I don’t deal well with criticism, so that’s definitely something I need to work on. And, to be fair, he did have some good points that I will consider. But it also taught me not to lose faith in myself just because one person does not like my writing. I am sure there will be plenty more, and I should really be able to deal with that.

I would love to hear from you how you deal with criticism and inevitable self-doubt!

Here’s to a happy, healthy, and overall great 2015!

Xo, Aileen

So … You Want to be Funny?

So do I. Really. I’m just … not. Not when I want to be, anyway. Every now and then I end up in situations where my friends almost choke because they thought I was so hilarious. Those situations usually involve some joke I didn’t understand and thus provoked a ridiculous reaction. I could tell you the tea bag story (I really just wanted some hot tea), but … never mind. The point is that it’s American humor, and I’ve only lived in this country for close to eight years now, so sometimes I still don’t get it. Give me a break!

But seriously, I wish I could  be funny and come up with stuff  that you find in books by Bill Bryson or John Scalzi. I can’t remember how often I’ve read I’m a Stranger Here Myself (“Why Everyone is Worried” is my absolute favorite) or Old Man’s War (I would marry John Perry if I could … really) and couldn’t stop laughing, even in public places. No, it does not count as being funny when other people laugh at you just because you act like an idiot in public :P.

Of course, it does not always have to be so elaborate. I would be perfectly happy if I were able to come up with stuff you see in the catalogs that appear in your mailbox every year around Christmas time (What on Earth and Signals.com being two of my favorites). I mean, how hard can it be to come up with lines such as these:

itired

tense

 

 

 

 

Who came up with that? Certainly not the catalog people? I have no idea, and that’s not really the point. The point is that they made me laugh regardless, and that’s always a good thing on a cold Sunday morning. But it got me thinking: How hard can it really  be to be funny? Because, when you think of it, I doubt that even masters like Bill Bryson, Dave Barry and others walk over to their desks, sit down, merrily scribble something on paper and toss the pen into a corner after maybe twenty minutes, get up to do something else? I really doubt it works that way (and if it does, please don’t tell me and destroy my hope that even these writers actually have to work on their stories to perfect them). So I think at the end of the day it’s really damn hard to be funny.

Despite my admiration for the above mentioned writers, I would never try to copy their style, or even attempt to. Mainly because I could not, even if I quit my job and locked myself up for the rest of my life and read nothing but their books. It just would not happen. More importantly though I think I am okay with my own style (or what it is shaping up to be). I just would like to make people giggle every now and then. After all, humor is one of the three things that provoke reactions in people, at least according to Eve Mayer, and that’s what writers strive for (okay, the reactions should be positive, too, but that’s beside the point).

So, the next time you read something that I’ve written, and it elicits a smile or maybe even a giggle, let me know. It will make my day, I promise!

A Writer’s Thanks

With everything that is going on in this world and in our lives, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are plenty of things we can and should be thankful for. Like First-World problems. Yes, we consider those problems, but think about it: Would you rather deal with famine or the fact that you have run out of chocolate at eleven at night? Would you rather deal with Ebola or with a semi-annoying cold? Would you rather live in a war zone or suffer through that three-hour meeting with your boss and his new annoying right-hand man? Would you rather scramble to put food on your table and feed your family or go through the annoying “We want ham vs turkey” argument with your loved ones? Would you rather deal with writing a national speech on how we plan to fight the IS or with writer’s block?

I am not saying that these problems are not relevant to us, or even seem like the proverbial mountain that you’ll never be able to climb. What I am saying -or trying to, anyway- is that most of our problems are small compared to what millions of other people have to suffer through every single day. We are very privileged, and it’s easy to forget that sometime, but I think it’s something we always need to keep in mind. It puts our struggles into perspective.

With that being said, here are a few things that I am really thankful for this year: thanksgiving-229287_640

  • My family and friends: Without them, my brief period of unemployment would have been much harder. I could say a lot more about these guys, but we’ve all had our hours of doubts,
    so we all know what it feels like when somebody has your back, no matter what
  • Being unemployed in the summer: Yes, sounds odd, but it could have happened in the winter … but instead, I was able to start running, go to the pool, get out of the house to apply for jobs and get the first draft of Rivers of The Mind (working title) on paper.
  • My health: I was fortunate to be able to make lifestyle changes that got me on a path to a much better health (and lots of weight loss, too)
  • My new job: I am thankful that I found a new job relatively quickly (after being unemployed for three months). I am thankful that I had a lot of interviews, and I am thankful that I persevered and, in the end, not only found a new job but also a place that makes me feel welcome and useful
  • And lastly, to tie this somehow back into writing, I am thankful for friends that are willing to read over my drafts and take the time to give feedback. Special thanks for draft #4 go to (in no particular order): Monica, Charles, Carolyn, Anna, and Cindy. Above all though, I am thankful for their encouragement and believing in me. Means so much, guys!

What are you thankful for this year?

Wishing you all a safe, tasty, and healthy Thanksgiving!

Holy Sh**, That’s [Insert Name of Character Here]!

That exact thought flashed through my mind the other day when I was waiting for the metro in D.C. to go home after a night out with some of my girlfriends. I look to the left, and there’s this guy, and he looked EXACTLY like I picture Nathaniel, one of the main characters in my novel. It was uncanny, but very cool at the same time. Of course, it does not happen very often that you see a personification of a character that you have been writing next to you on the subway platform. I could still kick myself for not saying hello to the guy … but what was I gonna say? “Hey, I am writing a book, and you look EXACTLY like one of my main characters?” Even through it’s true, it sounds like THE worst pick-up line EVER! So of course I didn’t say anything … I really hope I will run into him again, but I am not sure I would be better prepared next time.

After this admittance of having no courage to approach people I think are cute, I am getting to my actual topic: Although you don’t usually see your characters walking/standing around in flesh and blood, you can use bits and pieces of the people around you to shape your characters, to give them personality, background, and authenticity. You can draw a lot of inspiration from strangers and friends/acquaintances alike. Maybe there’s this really tall guy walking by, and just the way he carries his briefcase reminds you of your villain (my apologies to all tall men with briefcases out there … I am sure you are not all that bad :P). Maybe one of your friends has a character trait that works perfectly for one of your characters. For example, a good friend of mine is one of the sweetest, kindest and most honest people you will ever meet, and those particular attributes perfectly describe Cameron, one of the good guys in my novel. Cameron tries hard to be a friend to Kyra, whom he loves -which -of course- is good for the story as it creates tension, and not just between him and Kyra.

It also works the other way ’round: Say you have a character (or need a character) but are not quite sure yet how you can give him/her more personality and depth; next time that happens, focus on what’s going on around you, whether you are on the subway, in the grocery store or just walking around. There’s so much inspiration out there that’s just waiting to be found, and suddenly you come up with all kinds of great ideas on how to develop your character and also plot.

So the next time you walk around, or ride the metro, or are just sipping your cup of coffee, have a look around and just observe. You’d be surprised how many little things will stand out.

Happy Writing, and Happy Weekend!