Friday, August 29, 2014

Viewpoint: Writing and Clinical Depression

This post is in response to one I read earlier this week by Chuck Wendig, a brilliant post in which Chuck replied to one of his readers about whether her depression made her less of a writer (or not a writer at all) because of how it sometimes hindered her creativity and productivity.

Here's Chuck's post, including the woman's original question. I encourage you to read it.

I was really touched by Chuck's post and the way he responded to the woman, and I just wanted to add my two cents to the conversation.

I'm a writer, and I've been diagnosed with clinical depression, an anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fibromyalgia syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and chronic myofascial pain syndrome, among other things.

I can empathize with the woman who wrote to Chuck. Some days, I get out of bed and sit down at my desk and stare at a blank document on my computer screen, and I can't get words to formulate themselves in my head because of "fibro fog" or because of the loss of concentration and focus that can occur with depression.

Sometimes, I have a really good morning where I can focus and be productive and get a lot written, and I'm excited about that. Then, I often have to take the rest of the day off because I've exhausted my reserves.

It's easy to slip into the trap of wondering, Since I can't maintain a routine, and sometimes I don't get more than five or ten words written down before I have to call it a day, does that make me less of a writer?

The answer, gently but firmly, is no, it does not.


# # #

Joni Eareckson Tada, founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, is not less of a person, artist, author, and ministry activist because she's paralyzed from the neck down. In fact, it's because of her condition that she has become such a paradigmatic figure in motivational speaking and conferences around the world, working tirelessly on behalf of others with disabilities.

She's spent years channeling her paralysis --- something that might have debilitated her completely --- into the inspiration and motivation to reach out to others.

I read one of her books several months ago. Joni has bad days. Sometimes, she has horrendous days when she can't get out of bed or get anything done. Somehow, she's come to terms with her limitations, accepts that she needs to be patient and gentle with herself, and determines to move forward when she has a better day.


# # #

I close with a personal story to illustrate the point further.

My sisters, people gifted in ways that I am definitely not, spend hours on a weekly basis volunteering and working closely with students with autism, from high-functioning levels to severe levels. In conversation with them recently, I asked about their "autistic kids."

Kate and Margaret looked at me and said gently, "It's 'kids with autism.' Or 'kids who have an autism disorder.' They're kids, people, human beings first. The autism doesn't define them."

My sisters are correct.

In the same way, our health conditions, disabilities, inabilities, and limitations do not have to define us. The woman who wrote to Chuck is not a "depressed writer." She is a writer, a human being worthy of honor and validation, first and foremost, who happens to battle depression.

Own your identity as a human being first. You are not your health conditions or weaknesses.

I'm a writer, blogger, poet, book reviewer, freelance editor and proofreader, reader, sister, friend, daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin, floral designer, webmaster, musician, human being. None of my health conditions can change any of that or define me differently.

# # #

What is it that you face that makes you question your identity? Diagnoses, disorders, chronic conditions? Past abuse, substance abuse, doubt, fear, anger issues? Family tension, troubled upbringing, neglect, abandonment? How do you define yourself?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Review: "You'll Get Through This" (Max Lucado)

Sometimes life seems determined to capsize the boat in which you've made yourself comfortable, secure, safe. Sometimes people or circumstances turn against you or betray you or forget about you, and you find yourself feeling abandoned. Sometimes you have no idea how you're going to press onward, and it seems like the easiest thing to do is just ... stop.

Stop.

You are not alone wherever you are, whatever you're going through. Even if nobody else seems to understand, God certainly does. Look there for guidance and comfort.



Author Max Lucado profiles the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis in the Old Testament in his (Lucado's) book You'll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times

Joseph, one of twelve brothers, motherless, with an oblivious father, had it rough. Sold into slavery by his own family, relocated to a place he'd never been and didn't want to visit, seduced by the wily wife of his employer, falsely accused of misconduct and imprisoned for it, forgotten about, and then, decades later, forced to face his treacherous brothers once again, this time in the position of power where he'd once been the weakling.

Maybe you've been there, felt that way before. Ever been hated and betrayed? Had to change your location or your job or your relationship when you didn't want to? Felt abandoned and completely alone? Been tempted to do something illegal or immoral just to fit in or forget or make the pain go away? Wondered whether anyone --- or Anyone --- was listening to you? Been mistreated, neglected, abused, or worse by your own family or friends?

Joseph's been there. Lucado paints a picture of a Biblical man who could absolutely relate to all kinds of trials, but who never lost sight of the fact that God was yet with him --- Immanuel (Matthew 1:23 NIV).

I finished this book in three days and was inspired and comforted by every second of the reading. I didn't always enjoy what Lucado had to say, but everything is Biblically based and grounded; I just don't always like to hear that I'm not the only one in the universe who's faced problems and trials before. Lucado's conversational tone and easy writing style make him a pleasure to sit down and read after a long day, first thing in the morning, or (even better) during a particularly challenging time in your life.

If you could use some encouragement, I highly recommend this book for your personal library.

# # #

Title: You'll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times
Author: Max Lucado
ISBN: 978-0-8499-4847-3
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1wpoc1l

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Top Five: The Most Helpful Articles from August 18-22

5. "10 Fantastic Book Dedications" on Book Riot (Wallace Yovetich)

Link: http://bit.ly/1tbS24K

Ever thought before about to whom you might dedicate your work-in-progress? The front matter of a book is often something we think about last, and sometimes it's something we seem to give very little thought to at all. Who (or what) in your life needs to hear your appreciation? Think about it!

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4. "Depression, Creativity & Connection" on Elephant Journal (Lynn Shattuck)

Link: http://bit.ly/1oDZDtA

Robin Williams's death really took a lot of people by surprise and inundated media with musings about clinical depression and other psychological diagnoses. Here's one woman's take on the situation, with maybe the possibility that depression can contribute to a creative mind.

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3. "How a Daily Writing Habit Makes You a Better Person" on Goins, Writer (Jeff Goins)

Link: http://bit.ly/1BSsJd1

A brief article on the absolute importance of making writing a habit. Someone once said that it takes three weeks (21 days) to make a habit. Even if you just sit down at your desk and stare at a blank page for ten minutes every day at 6:30 in the morning, you'll start to develop a habit. While you're there, you can't do anything other than write --- don't check email or make phone calls or listen to messages or hold a conversation or sort laundry or stare out the window or read the newspaper. You don't have to write, but you can't do anything else for those ten minutes every single day. See what happens.

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2. "99 Essential Quotes on Character Creation" on WritinGeekery (MJ Bush)

Link: http://bit.ly/1sLGGXE

I'm still working through all of these fantastic, insightful quotes that writers can use as inspiration and guidance for creating characters that will drive their stories. There's also a bonus downloadable PDF file with the quotes so you can save it to your computer (or whatever) and revisit it whenever you need to. Includes quotes by James Scott Bell, Nathan Bransford, Larry Brooks, and K.M. Weiland, among others.

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1. "5 Guidelines for Approaching Book Review Bloggers" on Janice Hardy's Fiction University (Marcy Kennedy)

Link: http://bit.ly/1tq1HVz

Five fantastic recommendations for the author who needs an honest review for his or her work. Kennedy knows exactly whereof she speaks and gives sound advice for those looking to get their books reviewed, including following the reviewers' submission guidelines closely and not commenting on the review, whether the verdict was positive or not.

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Let me know if I missed anything from the week that should have been highlighted and/or profiled! What did you most appreciate from the week's lineup?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Conference Insights: Your First Chapter

The Writer's Digest Conference East 2014 was a fantastic opportunity to network and learn. I'm happy to pass along some of what I heard from the experts in the industry.

Senior literary agent Larry Kirshbaum with the Waxman Leavell Literary Agency gave tips on how to write a bestseller. One of my favorites was the following, on how to start your novel and structure your first chapter:

"Read a lot of first chapters to see what works."

Doesn't that make sense? It might seem like you run the risk of plagiarizing, but really, the authors whose books you love to read must know what they're doing. Their books got published.

And just because you admire a technique an author uses doesn't mean you're plagiarizing if you put that technique to work in your own manuscript. You'll have your own style, your own voice, your own story. And besides, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (Charles Caleb Colton).

Opening Lines

Study some opening lines first. What is it about them that makes you want to read on? That hooks you into what's to come? Does the opening line establish the voice, tone, and style of the story? What works for you? What doesn't hook you?

Open Moby Dick (Herman Melville): "Call me Ishmael."

What about To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)? "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

Try Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury). "It was a pleasure to burn."

Or Holes (Louis Sachar). "There is no lake at Camp Green Lake."

Or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (J.K. Rowling): "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

Analyze first lines.

First Chapters

Then study and analyze whole first chapters. How did the author follow up on that first line? Was it the first paragraph that made you want to keep reading? Or the first page? Why? If it was a book you've never read, at what point did you put it down?

Here are some questions to get you started in your analysis of first chapters:

> What characters are introduced?
> What's the setting?
> How are the point-of-view (POV), voice, and style established?
> What's the time period?
> How do you know the genre? (Or do you?)
> What's the setting?
> What draws you into the story? (Or doesn't?)
> What makes you care about the characters?
> What's the inciting incident? Or does it come later?

Food for Thought

Try it out. Pick a dozen books off your shelf (or check the local library). Read the first chapter of each. Study the authors' techniques. What works? what would you do differently? How would your manuscript benefit from what you've learned?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Review: "What Every BODY Is Saying" (Joe Navarro)

Ever wondered what a furrowed brow really means? Or how to tell if someone is actually listening to what you're saying? Or why you feel more in control when you stand, lean forward, spread your arms, and place your hands on the table in front of you?

Author Joe Navarro, former FBI agent, is an expert in interpreting body language. In his revealing book, What Every BODY Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People, he breaks the body into categories --- feet and legs in one chapter, hands and fingers in another --- and catalogs each movement a person can make, and what it means.

With real-life examples from his work history and personal life, Navarro makes interpreting body language an approachable topic. Want to know how to convey interest when you're being interviewed for a job you want? Or the most disrespectful eye movement to watch for in your kids or significant other? Navarro has the answers.

His tone is engaging and informative, despite the academic subject matter; he held my interest all the way through the book. Body movements I've always wondered about --- and some I've never even thought about before --- can be practically interpreted, and the resulting comprehension only benefits you and those with whom you interact.

For Writers

Picture a character in your current work who needs a quirk or hobby. Why not let him/her be an expert in reading people? What consequences would that have on dialogue, character interactions, and relationships? In a mystery, the sleuth is often able to read others --- but what does that look like in a romance? or a dystopian novel?

Play with the possibilities!

Title: What Every BODY Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People
Author: Joe Navarro with Marvin Karlins, PhD
ISBN: 978-0061438295
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1oVIXwA


Disclaimer:
 The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Top Five: The Most Helpful Articles from Last Week

Here's a survey of the top five most helpful articles (for writers, bloggers, and freelancers) from last week:

5. "Daily Blog Tips is Welcoming (High Quality) Guest Posts" on Daily Blog Tips (Daniel Scocco)

Link: http://bit.ly/1phDLD3

This brief post is an update on the situation at Daily Blog Tips, which is now accepting guest blog posts again after an eight-month hiatus. Included are guidelines and contact information. If you're a blogger or freelancer and you're looking for a chance to showcase some of your original work, this opportunity could be for you.

4. "9 Tips to Perfectly Pitch Your Guest Blog Post" on Convince & Convert (Jess Ostroff)

Link: http://bit.ly/1t6Stxi

When in doubt, these nine tips for how to pitch a guest blog post (see #5 above) will certainly come in handy, especially delivered by such a credible source. Managing Editor Jess Ostroff receives pitches for guest blog posts, and she knows whereof she speaks in offering guidance.

3. "9 Ways to Become More Creative in the Next 10 Minutes" on Inc. (Larry Kim)

Link: http://bit.ly/1oDR2Rt

Who hasn't run into writer's block before? Next time it hits your desk, spare ten minutes and try one of these methods to break out of the rut and do something so completely different that your brain won't have any choice but to start imagining and creating again.

2. "12 Most Spectacular Tools for Bootstrapped Freelancers" on 12 Most (Liesha Petrovich)

Link: http://bit.ly/VsqGuI

Twelve websites --- twelve critical tools. Freelancers, use these sites to create a weekly plan, double- and triple-check grammar questions, take notes, create a website, and much more!

1. "We're Multitasking, But Are We Getting More Done?" on Forbes (Frances Booth)

Link: http://onforb.es/1kHfdDA

Having just finished reading a book that addresses (among others) this very topic, I was delighted to see the article about it. David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, contends that the human brain cannot, in fact, be made to do more than one thing at once. When you think your'e multitasking by checking email and talking on the phone at the same time, you're actually forcing your brain to switch back and forth between the two (or more) tasks very quickly. Attention can't be divided. How much more could you get done in a day if you weren't trying to do it all at once?

Which one (ones) of these articles did you find most helpful? Did I miss any gems from this week?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Book Review: "The Derision of Heaven" (Michael Whitworth)

Author Michael Whitworth's The Derision of Heaven is a Biblically based discussion of the Old Testament Book of Daniel, in which Whitworth systematically explains symbolism, historicity, prophetic inclusions, and even some of the more confusing visions Daniel saw.


With clarity, patience, and a conversational style infused with occasion dryly witty comments, Whitworth steps through the Book of Daniel in chronological order, one chapter at a time. His intent is to provide readers with the historical and religious background for each chapter, the context in which the chapter's contents were written, and so to invite understanding for the text.

The tone of the book --- really, more of an intensive Bible study --- is not at all pedantic, boring, conspiratorial, or condescending. On the contrary, Whitworth seems determined to invite readers to join him in an open-minded exploration of some of the most challenging passages in the Bible, ones that scholars have debated for centuries and continue to debate.

Nonetheless, Whitworth's exegesis is Biblically sound, with verses from the rest of the Bible pulled in for clarity and detailed footnotes that reference all the academic and scholarly resources he used to undertake his study.

Most everyone knows the story of Daniel and the lions' den, whether from a children's picture book or a church sermon about faith in the midst of adversity or a cultural reference to the oppression of Christians in that era.

Fewer people (who have not been raised in traditionalist churches or families) will recall the story of Daniel's friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and their trial with the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) or the story of the hand that appeared and wrote on the wall, judging King Belshazzar (Daniel 5).

And yet Whitworth contends that the overarching theme of Daniel remains consistent throughout, despite the wide variety of narratives, prophecies, and apocalyptic language included. He suggests that the theme of Daniel is the honor and awe due God for God's power and provision, regardless of adversity. That, Whitworth says, is a promise to which God's people can cling, no matter what's going on in their lives, and that Daniel is the perfect place to learn how to trust in such a God.

But for the periodic typo, the work is reliably written, lending credibility to Whitworth's study, and where many scholars take a conspiracy-laden or apocalyptic approach to interpreting Daniel's visions, in particular, Whitworth leans more heavily on the side of history to explain what might otherwise appear to be recipes for disastrous societal panic about the Second Coming of Christ in judgment.

I appreciated Whitworth's down-to-earth, rational approach, and the logic and patience with which he contends his interpretation of the Scripture. I would highly recommend this book as a Bible study for anyone interested in delving deeper into Daniel than just the usual story of his encounter with lions.

# # #

Title: The Derision of Heaven
Author: Michael Whitworth
ISBN: 978-1941972014
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1E5AJsf


Disclaimer: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookCrash.com review program in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Film Writes: Give Your Character a Secret to Protect

WARNING: This post contains plot spoilers for the Disney movie Tangled.

Make your characters three-dimensional and up the stakes in your story by giving each character a dark secret, something to hide.

What For?

To be honest, it's no fun to read about characters who have absolutely nothing to hide, no sordid pasts, no closeted skeletons, no illegitimate children or abusive upbringings or buried treasures.

When you give your characters each a secret to protect, a secret  that they really don't want to have to share, you accomplish two things: you round out the characters, and you up the stakes in your story.

Round Out a Character

By the halfway point of Tangled, you think you know Flynn Rider pretty well: bad boy, reluctant hero, typical greedy thief and ruffian.

Yeah, that about sums him up.

But a lot of those characteristics, paired together, are pretty predictable. What if you wanted to give Flynn an extra dimension, something unexpected that readers won't see coming?

You give Flynn a secret, something he really doesn't want anyone else to find out, and then you put him in an impossible situation he doesn't expect to survive, so he feels compelled to share that one personal secret about himself. (You'll have to watch the movie to find out what it is.)

And now you've seen a deeper side of Flynn than you expected. He's become more endearing, less standoffish, more human ... and more well-rounded.

Up the Stakes

Rapunzel's secret is her power to magically keep people young (even to heal wounds) if they sing a certain song and are touching her enchanted hair. For a while, that's almost the only thing you know about Rapunzel, but the secret deepens the story because her hair becomes the thing that keeps her in bondage to her mother (and prison warden).

When Rapunzel runs away with Flynn to pursue her own dream, her mother does everything she can to get Rapunzel (and her hair) back safely. And Rapunzel's hair (which magically glows when the certain song is sung) helps get her and Flynn out of some tight spots.

As long as Rapunzel carries this secret with her, as long as she can keep people young and beautiful, she'll never be free from those whose greatest desire (at any cost) is youthfulness. The stakes are high for Rapunzel, and the odds don't look good for her escaping her fate. Viewers will hang on till the bitter end to see what happens.


# # #

Don't hesitate to give your characters a secret, something they wouldn't want anyone else to find out. Maybe she's a convicted felon, or he grew up an orphan, or she's got cancer, or he's working out a hidden agenda.

A secret is a gem whose mining will deepen your story in many different ways.