Shared post: Write or type?

The other day I found this interesting blog by Chris Hilton (follow the link at the end to read it) about whether those who use a computer or those who write longhand are more creative.

I found many of the arguments persuasive, but for me it boils down to the physical. My hands, arms, and shoulders are so abused after a lifetime of making my living with a computer keyboard that writing with a pencil (or a pen) would cause me some fairly significant pain.

And I’m not sure my handwriting would be fast enough for the little man who drives my creativity.

Plus, I’m not even sure I could read my own writing anymore and I’m absolutely positive that no one else could.

But enough about me. What do you think? Do you write longhand? Or do you use a computer? Are there times when you might do both? Would you ever try longhand?

Read Hilton’s post: Write or type?

Mike-9Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as the editor of CHEFS Mix Blog for CHEFS Catalog he is enjoying his playground. Previous playgrounds include being the Managing Editor of the magazine ACFW Journal and the ezine Afictionado for seven years. He also plays with words as a freelance editor and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, worked in corporate communications, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Pencil image courtesy of ponsulak / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

The Sabbath Life for a Writer

This may seem counter-intuitive, but here it is: You can improve your writing by taking time off to not write.

Those of you who are jumping up and down right now because you think you’ve just found a new excuse for your lack of writing this week, this month, this year—“Hey! I’m on a writing Sabbath!”—calm down. You’re misunderstanding.

First, let’s define the term: Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word that means “to cease, to stop working.” As Peter Scazzero writes in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, it refers to “doing nothing related to work for a 24-hour period each week.”

Sabbath, as Scazzero is referring to it, “provides for us … an additional rhythm for an entire reorientation of our lives around the living God. On Sabbaths, we imitate God by stopping our work and resting.”

Reorientation

For many years, I saw the Sabbath as a day to rest after working, working, working for the previous six days. I have used it as an excuse to work more and more throughout the week—if I worked hard enough I could enjoy the Sabbath without feeling guilty. But that’s backward.

A biblical Sabbath isn’t a reward for hard work; it’s not a time to unplug. Rather, it’s an opportunity to plug into God and recharge in anticipation of the coming week. It’s a retreat, yes, but not to inactivity. It’s a retreat into relationship with
God.

So should a writing Sabbath be. Don’t retreat into inactivity, but retreat into activities that build your relationship with your creative self. Some writing Sabbath possibilities:

  • Instead of writing five chapters of your current manuscript, pick up one of those long-neglected books on your To Be Read pile and submerge yourself in it. Suspend your inner editor and your inner learner. You’re not looking for typos or trying to analyze how the writer created that unique feature. Your goal is simply to be carried away.
  • Instead of spending time “marketing” on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, turn off the computer, call a real friend, and take in a local walking or bicycling path. “Pin” the memories of the beauty you see and experience in your Emotions Bank—you can withdraw them later for use in your WIP.
  • Instead of printing your latest chapters and grabbing your red pen for corrections, visit a local nursing home, homeless shelter, or school and volunteer with the aged, the invisible, or the young. Your investment could “edit” the course that person’s story takes forever.

Re-Engage

Best of all, when you do return to your desk and computer, you’ll return energized—and may even have a couple great plot points to flesh out as you move your story forward.

The important thing when taking a writing Sabbath is to remember Scazzero’s four principles of a biblical Sabbath and apply them to your writing Sabbath:

  1. Stop: Stop writing. Stop social media. Stop editing. Lay it all down, knowing that it’s temporary and will still be there when you return. (Deadline exemptions available.)
  2. Rest: Step completely away from writing and writing-related activities. Your creativity needs it.
  3. Delight: Experience “joy, completion, wonder, and play,” as Scazzero puts it.
  4. Contemplate: Before returning to your keyboard, think about the experiences you had and what they might mean when you begin writing again. Seed your brain with the “what if” possibilities and allow them to germinate.

Consider the writing Sabbath—not as an excuse to not write, but as an opportunity to enrich and deepen your well. See if it doesn’t help you recharge for the next session of writing.

One last thought from Scazzero: “Sabbath is like receiving the gift of a snow day every week. Stores are closed. Roads are impassable. Suddenly you have the gift of a day to do whatever you want. You don’t have any obligations, pressures, or responsibilities. You have permission to play.”

Writer image courtesy of Phaitoon/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friends in water image courtesy of adamr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mike-9Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as the editor of CHEFS Mix Blog for CHEFS Catalog he is enjoying his playground. Previous playgrounds include being the Managing Editor of the magazine ACFW Journal and the ezine Afictionado for seven years. He also plays with words as a freelance editor and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, worked in corporate communications, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Originally posted on Novel Rocket

The Summer of Success

Facing a crossroads at the moment—what step to take next and all that. I’m not all angsty over it, but I have been thinking a lot about the late Donna Summer lately, as a result.

Donna Summer? The Queen of Disco?

First of all, thinking about Donna Summer is not new for me. I’ve had a long time interest in her career and in the singer, herself. I’ve even been known to be a defender of Summer (she’s so much more than disco), because I think her talent was far overshadowed by her persona and by the Super Storm known as Disco that came in and tried, unsuccessfully, to obliterate the Rock and Roll shoreline.

Variety defined her career

Still, I’m more interested in Summer’s genre-hopping than in her music, per se. For instance, did you know she was nominated for 17 Grammy Awards in eight different categories (sort of like fiction genres)? Further, did you know she won five times in four different categories—twice in Inspirational? That’s right, Inspirational. The singer of 1975s 17-minute+ disco moan-fest, “Love To Love You, Baby,” won two Grammy Awards for Best Inspirational song (1984 and 1985).

Conventional wisdom is to not genre hop in the publishing world. There’s greater freedom in music (Linda Ronstadt also played the field, musically). But in publishing, writers are often advised that if they start in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense) then they should stay in romance (or speculative or historical or suspense).

But, I must have a little Donna Summer in me because I don’t want to be constrained in that way. Before we get all crazy, let’s remember that no one is knocking down my door for my next book—or, for that matter, my first book.

But—again—we can look to the diva for guidance. Because “conventional wisdom” isn’t called “conventional-sort-of-good-advice,” you know?

Summer made her mark in one genre—disco. It was the red-hot genre of the time and she rode that horse for all it was worth.

But when the horse started to get hobbled, she made the smart move of wrapping up that era with a Greatest Hits collection, changing record labels, and then came roaring back in 1980 with a rock-pop disc without even a whiff of disco, The Wanderer. And a song from that project earned her one of her Grammy nominations.

What are the lessons for a writer?

  1. Do your homework. Summer worked in Germany and Europe in various touring companies of shows like “Hair” and “Godspell” before connecting with Giorgio Moroder for her first major album, Love To Love You Baby.
  2. Establish yourself as an excellent writer of (choose one: romance/historical/suspense/other) and then, like Summer, work your butt off to make your mark. She released seven disco albums from 1975 to 1979—that’s four years—three of them in a row were blockbuster double albums.
  3. Keep your nose to the ground and your face forward. If you pay attention to the market and publishing trends, you’ll know when it’s time to change genres. If you’re a big enough success, you’ll get your opportunity. When you do, show the same quality, perseverance, and dedication to craft that got you where you are.

That’s the way to build a Hall of Fame career (Summer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013) and do all the things you want to do.

Summer died May 17, 2012, at age 63. At her death (from cancer) she was working on two albums simultaneously—a collection of standards and a new dance music collection.

For the record, Summer’s Grammy wins were for:

  1. Best R&B Female Performance, 1979, for “Last Dance.”
  2. Best Rock Female Performance, 1980, for “Hot Stuff.”
  3. Best Inspirational Performance, 1984, for “He’s A Rebel.”
  4. Best Inspirational Performance, 1985, for “Forgive Me.”
  5. Best Dance Music Performance, 1998, for “Carry On.”

Additionally, she was nominated four times for Best Pop Vocal, twice for Best R&B Vocal, twice for best Rock Vocal, once for Album of the Year, once for Best Disco Vocal, once for Best Inspirational, and once for Best Dance Music.

Not a bad career.

Your turn: So, do you have a little Donna Summer in you?

Mike-9Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as the editor of CHEFS Mix Blog for CHEFS Catalog he is enjoying his playground. Previous playgrounds include being the Managing Editor of the magazine ACFW Journal and the ezine Afictionado for seven years. He also plays with words as a freelance editor and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, worked in corporate communications, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Originally posted on Novel Rocket

Filling Your Well of Ideas

Sometimes I think my idea well has run dry. The plots I dredge up are so spare they couldn’t even flesh out a flash fiction story.

Can you relate?

The Well of Ideas

The Well of Ideas

Usually what this means is I need to switch from “creative” mode to “ingestion” mode—I need more raw material to draw from. Some writers can create a story idea from nothing except their own imagination.

That is not me. And if that’s not you, too, maybe this trick will help you fill your well.

Feed Me, Seymour!

Much like the carnivorous plant in “The Little Shop of Horrors,” I need constant feeding. Often I chow down on a great novel; less frequently nonfiction fills my gullet.

Maybe it’s my background as a newspaper reporter, but some of the best food for my imagination comes from the news—including quasi news sources like blogs. Because, as Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

When I read news, online or print (broadcast doesn’t work for me), invariably I read an article that sparks an idea or two. Now, I freely admit not all of them will produce even a flash fiction piece, let alone a full-blown novel, but the important thing is I’m filling my imagination. At the appropriate time, several of the ideas will likely congeal together and produce something workable.

But I can guarantee that nothing workable will be produced if raw material isn’t imported into the processor.

Is he talking about you?

What is the cost of living together?

What is the cost of living together?

For instance, I read this commentary from Regis Nicoll the other day called “The High Costs of Living Together.” It included this gem:

In 1969, although the vast majority of people, 82 percent, reported having had sex before marriage by age 30, only 21 percent felt that was morally acceptable.

… Over the next 40 years, as public acceptance grew three-fold (to 63 percent) and (more) people (94 percent) admitted to having “done it,” there was far less social pressure to restrain it or keep quiet about it.

This sea change in attitudes and practices can be attributed to two things: “no-consequence” sex and a morally-compromised Church.

… With roughly 80 percent of the U.S. populace Christian and 94 percent admitting to pre-marital sex, that means that a lot of Christians—very likely the majority—are guilty of sexual sin.

Woah … right? I know a lot of people who will take offense at a study like this. But that’s what makes great fiction!

Is that giving you ideas? (Story ideas, guys, story ideas.) It sure did me. My oeuvre, the framework within which I write, includes marriage, fidelity, trust—and all the antonyms of those, of course. I took the entirety of Nicoll’s piece and fed my imagination with it. Who knows where it may lead, but now that information has been uploaded and is available. (And also stored electronically.)

Fill your well

The point is there are ideas for fiction everywhere if you open your eyes, your heart, and your mind to them. If you read something that sticks with you—good or bad—file that away in your Well of Ideas. Maybe you’ll use it, maybe you won’t. But you for sure won’t use it if you don’t have it stored away.

Obviously our world is ever in need of the transformative power of story—and of Story. What ideas have you picked up from news sources and used in your stories?

Want to play?

Screenshot from Jan. 25, 2014, FOXNews.com home page

Screenshot from Jan. 25, 2014, FOXNews.com home page

Go to the front page of your local paper (or to the home page of CNN or Fox News or your favorite online news source) and read the main story—no cherry picking. Choose one fact or one quote or one idea from that story as your idea seed and freewrite a paragraph or two in the comments.

Here’s my example. I wrote this on Jan. 25 based on a story found on FOXNews.com. The story has changed since that day and my idea seed is no longer in it, but it’s still a good example.

My idea seed: The scene was “believed to be secure” police said in a tweet issued at about 12:36 p.m. Here’s what I came up with:

Ethan was dead. True. He’d been an effective triggerman. Also true. But there were others. Many others.

Captain White’s tweet that the mall was “secure” made Gaston—almost—laugh out loud, but he did not “LOL. When he laughed, and it was rare, it was real not some fake social construct. But that “out loud” part was a luxury he couldn’t allow himself right now. Later? Most definitely.

Stupid twerkers. Ethan got a few, but they’d be back prancing through the mall in their tight clothes and loose morals soon enough. It was “secure,” after all. White said so. Truth. 

So not true.

And then he did chuckle—but quietly. After all, the shoppers trapped in his store from the lockdown were still shook up and hyper aware—no sense in giving them something odd to remember if the police did questioned them.

They’d soon enough embrace again the fragile cloak of security they thought protected them. True, always true.

So, if you want to play leave a comment. Or, if you want to talk about where you get your ideas fromhow you fill your Well of Ideasleave a comment.

Well image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and cbenjasuwan.
Couple image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Ambro.

Mike-9Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as the editor of CHEFS Mix Blog for CHEFS Catalog he is enjoying his playground. Previous playgrounds include being the Managing Editor of the magazine ACFW Journal and the ezine Afictionado for seven years. He also plays with words as a freelance editor and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, worked in corporate communications, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Originally posted on Novel Rocket

Quote It! Billy Joel

“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. billy-joelIt’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.”

–Billy Joel, who so far has had 33 Top 40 hits in the United States, all of which he wrote himself, is also a six-time Grammy Award winner, a 23-time Grammy nominee, and has sold more than 150 million records worldwide.

As a writer, I’ve always felt a connection with music. It plays while I write, heck it plays while I’m not writing. There have been times in my life, when God has ministered to me through music.

And like Joel, I believe music has healing properties. I’ve seen how music has revitalized the elderly in nursing homes–how it has comforted those who are bereft. I’ve experienced being brought back from the edge by a favorite song, or a favorite memory my brain links to when that song plays.

Music routinely ushers me into the presence of God. “Revelation Song” by Jesus Culture, for instance. Both Coram Deo projects by Charlie Peacock, or the City On A Hill projects by Marc Byrd, Steve Hindalong, and Derri Daugherty, also do it for me.

But it’s not just music from the Christian genre: “Misty” by Johnny Mathis, “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers, and “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys have gripped my heart and inspired me.

How has music affected your life? Do you listen while you write?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com, where he often takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Quote It! Robin Williams

RobinWilliams“You’re only given a little spark of madness, you mustn’t lose it.”

– Robin Williams, Academy Award-winning actor (Best Supporting Actor, Good Will Hunting, 1997) and multiple Grammy-winning performer

Regardless what you think of Robin Williams’ body of work (I think it is mostly hilarious), it can’t be argued that he ever lost his “spark of madness.” From the early days of his fame, appearing as the alien Mork in a multiple-story arc on the television show Happy Days, through Mrs. Doubtfire and Awakenings, he has consistently sparked.

That spark, which he urges us to never lose, is what makes him–and more important, his work–memorable. He isn’t afraid to push beyond merely funny to borderline manic (remember the Genie in the Walt Disney flick Aladdin?).

A creative person’s “spark of madness” doesn’t have to be comedic. Stephen King’s spark may be his ability to see, and imagine, scary things within the perfectly mundane. Patsy Cline’s spark may have been her talent for inhabiting the songs she sang.

I’m not sure what mine is. It may be seeing gold where others see only tin. Regardless, our “spark”, I think, is where we are most fully using our gifts–with abandon!

What’s your “spark of madness”?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor right here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com, where he often takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Believable character change

For Christmas, I love making sugar cookies with cookie cutters. It’s fun to slather colored powdered-sugar frosting for that extra layer of sweetness over those recognizable holiday shapes.

ChristmasCookie2Even though frosted differently, those cookies all look the same. There’s not a lot of difference between my cookies and the ones my kids create. And they taste exactly the same—sweet perfection.

One of the challenges we face as writers is creating characters who don’t look like all the others. Characters who aren’t stamped out of the same dough everyone else is using.

God changes lives—just not mine

I was reminded of this during a recent sermon. Our pastor at Springs Community Church, Eric Carpenter, had just begun a series called “Practical Atheist,” focusing on Christians who believe in God, but live as if He doesn’t exist. (Based on Craig Groeschel’s book, Christian Atheist.)

At the beginning of the sermon Carpenter said, “It’s like when we say we believe in a God who forgives, but refuse to accept His forgiveness personally or refuse to forgive others. We believe in a God who changes lives, but don’t believe we can change in meaningful, deep, abiding ways.”

That’s when I thought of the characters in my current manuscript.

Are they cookie-cutter Christians, cruising through life with a few bumps and scratches that are easily covered by a new layer of “holiness” frosting? Or are they authentic Christians even while living real, flawed lives?

And if they aren’t, what would my book be like if they were?

Creating misery

My characters—and yours—need to suffer, and not just a little. I need to find each one’s core weakness and exploit it. Then exploit it again and again and again.

ChristmasCookie1We need to find the point in each character where they’re a practical atheist—where they don’t fully trust God or haven’t completely made Jesus their Lord, even though they outwardly claim otherwise. And then we need to make them miserable in that exact area.

When we do that, we can help the character—and the reader—find their way back to God or more fully turn their weakness over to His strength.

And that’s when our characters step out of the cookie cutter and start to live and breathe. That’s when the story we’re telling becomes transformational—for the author and for the reader.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor right here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com, where he often takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.