Category Archives: Inspirational

Creating Beauty and Joy

concert-band-orchestra-conductor-musicMy teenagers had the privilege of participating in Honor Band at our school district this week. Our band director brings in guest conductors that spend two full school days rehearsing and teaching the kids. At the end, they put on a concert for the parents. I’m always amazed at how incredible and professional the Honor Band sounds after such a short time of preparation.

This year, we had a rather enthusiastic guest conductor who spoke passionately about the power of music in molding young minds. He pointed out that, in spite of some of the terrible things that go on in the world, it was a pleasure to witness so many young people come together from the far corners of our wide-spread district to create beauty.

I revel in the beauty of art, and I love it when one type of art form inspires another. I can go to an art gallery and see a painting, then find myself imagining a story to go with it. Or, I’ll make a craft that gets my creative juices flowing again when they’re stuck.

For me, music is central to my ability to weave a story.

When I was in high school, my English teacher required us to write in a fiction journal daily (something other students moaned about, but I relished, oddly enough). Once, she turned on some beautiful music, and a vision of a forest and a hunter swept over me until I was writing as fast as my pencil could fly. It was an incredible feeling, to be inspired like that.

I like to create “soundtracks” for the book I’m working on by collecting songs that convey the same mood I’m trying to create in my writing. If I’m having trouble finding the motivation to drag myself to my writing corner, all I have to do is turn on that soundtrack, and suddenly the words are flowing through my fingers.

I’ve often maintained that music is a type of magic. Certainly, it has a lot of power over me. It gives me courage, makes me silly, or cheers me up when I’m feeling sad.

Since we have four girls, the drama around my house can get pretty intense sometimes. One day, my teenager cheered up the younger girls by playing a silly YouTube cartoon song about unicorns and rainbows. It worked like a charm. I’ve had the dubious privilege of hearing that silly song over and over again, any time someone feels upset.

But I’m okay with that, because it makes us all happy. And that’s what art does best, I think: it brings joy into our lives.

 

That Feeling of Relief

So, the feeling of relief…it is pretty amazing, right? Take the following examples:

  • Sitting down with a gaming controller after a long day.
  • Taking off shin guards after a soccer game.
  • An ice-cold drink of water after mowing the lawn on a 100+ degree day.
  • Pulling a foot out of one of those tight ski boots after a long day on the slope (this could also be replaced with a too-tight bicycle cleat after a long ride).
  • That first plate from your favorite buffet after a day of fasting in eager anticipation.

imageI could go on, but hopefully you see where I’m going with this. As I thought about what I wanted to write for this post, I couldn’t help but consider my own current mindset. You see, I just finished Ragesong: Alliance, and that beautiful ‘I can finally sit back for a minute’ feeling hit. It was a huge relief.

With my current schedule, I am usually able to churn out one or two books a year. It isn’t a lot, I know. I learned a long time ago that failure to prioritize can lead to some pretty hairy situations, however, and it is always worth avoiding those. In the example of my writing, I found a schedule that works for me…more or less.

So, here I sit, excited for tonight. After the kids go to bed, I can relax and unwind in the best way possible. That’s right! I’m talking about video
games (where did your mind go, people??). There is nothing better than sitting down for a nice binge session on video games when you feel you completely deserve it. Alliance is in the hands of my editor and I get to dust my hands off and wait until it comes back.

Here’s the thing. For the past several months I have been struggling to stay on target with Alliance. I would find things to occupy my time that kept me from writing in the evenings. Stupid things, like: video games, Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, etc… In short, I was finding it extremely difficult to stay focused. The downside (and upside) was that I had readers hitting me up to know what was going to happen next. In all sincerity, I love it when this happens because it shows that a reader is invested and they care. It is extremely motivating. So, like any good procrastinator, I grounded myself. I would not allow myself to enjoy in any late night gaming sessions until after I finished.

Oh boy, it was grueling at times! The only use my poor ps4 received for the last several months was when I would watch a movie with my kids. It was tough, but since I wanted to play, I was able to focus more and I was able to finish the book. I will say, that I can’t remember enjoying a gaming session quite as much as the one I had the night I sent Alliance to my editor. It was SO great!

At first, I simply enjoyed the night for what it was. Kids in bed, the wife NES_controllerwatching T.V. in the other room and me, sitting on the couch with a controller in hand watching the opening cut scenes for MGS5. Now, as I sit back and consider that euphoric feeling, I realize it wasn’t just the gaming. It was the fact that I could sit down and play without a shred of guilt because I had accomplished something I was proud of. I knew that in that moment, there was nothing more I could do for my book, and I really felt I had earned that time.

Upon coming to that conclusion, I tried to think about what I can do to experience it again. Because, honestly, there is nothing quite as good as a guilt-free evening of doing something you love without the nagging feeling that you should be doing something else. So, my question to myself was, ‘what can I do to experience it again?’ The answer of course comes by way of lists. Why? Because…lists.

  1. Set worthwhile goals – Half of the reason I enjoyed the reward as much as I did was because I felt like I had accomplished something truly worthwhile.
  2. Set reasonable expectations – I was already through with a good portion of the book. I knew that my goal obtainable. I was not setting myself up for failure by trying to do too much.
  3. Find what works – Withholding something enjoyable not only gave me motivation, but I also found that I enjoyed it all the more after taking time away. ‘Absence doth make the heart grow fonder.’ There’s a lot of truth to that.
  4. Enjoy the reward – Give yourself time to enjoy the fruits. Don’t rush on to the next project so fast that you can’t sit back and take joy in what you have done.

In life, we do a lot of things in life that aren’t easy. I found that occasionally those tasks can become more manageable when we are properly motivated. Not to mention, the end result can make a fun experience even more incredible. I’d love to keep writing…but I’ve got games to catch up on before the PlayStation Holiday rush hits. So, until next time, folks!


J.R. Simmons
– Author of the Ragesong Saga

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Publishing: Cut Yourself Some Slack

I have a confession. I have a bad habit of comparing my productivity to other writers, and, darn it, if I don’t always come up short! Basically, I write during my spare time, which a busy household of six and work doesn’t leave a whole lot of (Yuck! That comes across as whining. Well, let’s call it for what it is: justified bellyaching. ;-)).

A few weeks ago, I finished the first draft of the fifth installment in Cassidy Jones Adventures. It took me nearly two years to write. Now, you’d think I’d be celebrating that accomplishment. But, no, not me. I enjoyed the triumph for about 30 seconds, before feeling anxious and guilty about the book not being published yet, because I should have had it done, like, over a year ago, and now I’m soooooooo far behind (Who am I behind? I don’t know.). But I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve totally blown it, because Miss Prolific Pants had managed to publish five books in the last couple of years, and Mr. Churns-Em-Out-Like-Butter must have published at least a dozen! How many book covers grace his Amazon page now? Fifty? Gimme a sec. I’ll go count, again…

I have to ask myself: When did this become a race? Oh, I know! When I started comparing myself to other authors, and when I inflicted self-imposed deadlines on myself (I’m a nightmare boss.).

Needless to say, I have ceased to enjoy the journey. My goal now: regain that joy. The only way that I can fathom accomplishing this undertaking is to take a deep breath, close my eyes (so they’re unable to count all of those book covers), allow a story to come alive in my mind, and write it, without letting my gaze stray to the date on the upper corner of my laptop.

Some of you are even worst off than I am. You have a story tumbling around your head that you won’t let your fingers set free on a keyboard, because there just isn’t enough blasted time in a day! Remember, there isn’t any such thing as an aspiring writer. You’re either a writer, or you’re not. So just do it. Write, even if you’re the tortoise (Wait! This isn’t a race. I forgot.). Keep at it, bit by bit. Eventually, you’ll have the satisfaction of typing “The End.”

Elise Stokes lives with her husband and four children. She was an elementary school teacher before becoming a full-time mom. With a daughter in middle school and two in high school, Elise’s understanding of the challenges facing girls in that age range inspired her to create a series that will motivate girls to value individualism, courage, integrity, and intelligence. The stories in Cassidy Jones Adventures are fun and relatable, and a bit edgy without taking the reader uncomfortably out of bounds. Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula, Cassidy Jones and Vulcan’s Gift, Cassidy Jones and the Seventh Attendant, and Cassidy Jones and the Luminous are the first four books in the series.

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Writers-Get & Stay Inspired!

book-Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net(image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

WRITERS: GET & STAY INSPIRED!

Writers write, obviously, and most of the time we do it with passion, excitement, and a love for our craft. But there are times when we need a little extra inspiration . . .

Useful ways writers can accomplish this:

JOURNALING. Journaling our thoughts and feelings is a great way to cleanse the mind and give our ideas a clearer “space” to flow. Aside from personal topics, we can journal specifically about our writing, what we’re struggling with in our manuscripts, what we’re researching, ideas we have but aren’t sure about, any fears we have about our writing (maybe we’re questioning the topics we’ve chosen or our craft skills), certain obstacles we believe might be slowing our progress, things in our lives or writing careers we’d like to see changed, and on and on . . . Journaling is a great method to clear our heads, ease our hearts, and allow for new paths of clarity to show up, so that our focus becomes fine-tuned once again.

ENGAGE IN OTHER TYPES OF ARTISTIC EXPRESSION. Drawing, painting, sculpting, scrap-booking—really anything that engages our creativity in a visual way—helps awaken our muses. Some may want to create art inspired by something they are writing about specifically, such as a character or setting. Some may want total freedom to create whatever comes to mind. Either way is fine, as is any style of artistic expression. Even doodling works wonders to keep our fingers moving while our minds are allowed to relax and find new inspiration.

TALK IT OUT. Bantering, brainstorming, talking out our story ideas in a free-style way with a writing buddy or two can lead us to solutions we might not otherwise have found. The trick is not to get too serious (at first), letting anything/everything flow freely, so that we can eventually arrive at the real “heart” of our projects with a new/deeper outlook. As an alternative to working with a buddy, writers can also go solo by using voice recorders (voice recorder apps work great) to talk things out on their own until those golden ideas click into place. I do this while taking a walk or driving (nowadays nobody ever thinks you’re talking to yourself).

WATCH A MOVIE. Structure-wise, movies and books share many of the same rules. For extra insight, watch a movie in the same genre in which you write. Pay attention to when and how the story-structure points occur (inciting incident, first plot point, midpoint, climax, etc.), observe the settings shown, the focus of the camera on particular objects, listen carefully to dialogue between characters for uniqueness or interesting styles of banter. Writers can learn a lot from cinematic art, and it’s definitely a fun way to get inspired.

READ. Perhaps the most effective way to re-charge ourselves as writers is to read. Read books in the genres you love—the ones that get you excited—no matter if they match the genres you write in or not. The point is to inspire and re-ignite your passion for the written word. Reading helps us stay in the world of “story” while also helping us to relax. It allows us writers to stop focusing so hard on our own manuscripts, and at the same time, fills us with motivation that we can take back to our writing. Whenever anyone asks me what one thing I would suggest for writer’s block, my answer is always: READ!

Want more tips? Check out my board over on Pinterest with tons of articles, quotes, pictures, etc. to help Writers-Get & Stay Inspired!

 

head shot image extra crop colorChristina Mercer is an award-winning author of fiction for children and young adults. She is also a once-upon-a-time CPA and the author of Bean Counting for Authors. Christina enjoys life in the foothills of Northern California with her husband and sons, a pack of large dogs, and about 100,000 honeybees.  WebSite | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

 

 

Dealing With the F-Word (Failure!)

Failure.

The word can evoke as many strong reactions and emotions as another F-word that isn’t appropriate for polite company.

Why is that? We fail every day. (I just missed my mouth with an almond because I was concentrating on my computer screen too hard. Fail!) Yet, the prospect of failure can cause the very thing we’re trying to avoid, or even keep us from starting something we might find incredibly rewarding.

Happy funny messy eater

I believe the fear of failure is instilled early. Parents are so afraid of damaging their children’s self-esteem, we’ve created things like participation awards and have graduation ceremonies for kindergarten.

Boy painting

Now, while these things have a certain cuteness factor to them, what they don’t teach us is how to fail, or more importantly, that it’s okay to fail.

I coached youth soccer for many years and one thing I always told my players was that mistakes are good things, because they give us an opportunity to learn. Blind luck can sometimes produce a perfect result the very first time we try something, but luck isn’t reproducible. It’s only by practice — trying and failing and trying again — that we can truly master something. Even then, we are often still subject to failure.

Soccer, in fact, is what inspired this post. I was watching the Copa America championship game this weekend between Chilé and Argentina. Lionel Messi, who plays for Argentina, is arguably the best player on the planet — possibly the best player ever — yet, the game went all the way through overtime without a score for either side. When that happens, a winner is decided by a series of penalty kicks. One player places the ball on a spot, twelve yards from the goal, and has a single kick to score against the opposing goalkeeper. Now, the goal is eight feet high and twenty-four feet wide. It’s a lot of space for one person to cover and the kicker scores a goal most of the time. Piece of cake for the best player in the world, right?

Not this time.

Messi missed his penalty and Argentina went on to lose in the shootout.

The story, and lesson, however, don’t end there. How did Messi react to his failure: the first time he’d ever missed in a penalty shootout?

He RETIRED!

Yes, the pressure on him was enormous and the loss was devastating, but his failure was not the sole reason for the outcome. Other players had chances to positively impact the game and the result during the match, but they, too, failed.

Is this how we wish for our children — or ourselves — to respond in the face of failure? To quit? To give up?

How do we overcome failure?

1: Own It.

Recognize your mistake and own up to it. When confronted with failure, our first instinct is often to deny it or shift blame.

Car crash

Resist this impulse, take responsibility, and…

2: Embrace Your Opportunity to Learn

Dissect and diagnose your failure. Where, exactly, did things go wrong? What can I do to achieve a better result when I try again? Many times we will need help from an outside source with this examination. Asking for that help can often be as difficult as the failure itself, but benefitting from someone else’s experiences is usually less painful in the long run than making all the mistakes yourself! Then…

3: Define Success Before You Start Again

This sounds like it should be step one, but I think we need to try something once to establish just how difficult a task it is before we try to set goals for ourselves.

Hypothetically, let’s say a budding, not-so-young writer discovers a book called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and sees the success J.K. Rowling had with it, then says, “Heck, I can do that!” and sits down to pen his first novel. Well, I think we can all agree that’s a recipe for failure if we’ve ever heard one. I certainly wouldn’t know anyone who has done that. *Rolls eyes and mutters*

Regardless of how easy something looks, we have to remember one key detail: If it was easy, everyone would do it. If everyone isn’t doing it, then perhaps it isn’t as easy as it appears at first glance. Why do you suppose 80% of the populace thinks “they have a novel in them if they only had the time to write it.”? If they actually sat down and tried, most would quickly reassess the difficulty of the task.

So, set goals which take effort to achieve, but aren’t so lofty as to be impossible to reach straight out of the gate. And stop to reassess often to determine if outside help might be required, or if the bar for success needs to be adjusted.

It’s been about seven years since I published my first book, which took nearly ten humbling months to complete, and I’ve written five more, plus one novella (ghost written for someone else) to date. I’m still failing and learning from those failures and I’m sure I’ll continue to do both. Ms. Rowling’s top spot hasn’t come under much threat from my direction… yet! But, I’m not about to give up and retire.

And I hope Mr. Messi reconsiders his decision and continues to offer his services playing the beautiful game for Argentina in the future. I, for one, will mourn the loss if he does not.

_____________________

TuckerPenny1010smAlan Tucker , author of The Mother-Earth Series (A Measure of Disorder, A Cure for Chaos, and Mother’s Heart), as well as a new science fiction series, beginning with Knot in Time, is a dad, a graphic designer, and a soccer coach. Mostly in that order. He’s had a lifelong adoration of books, beginning with Encyclopedia Brown, progressing through Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx, and continuing on with the likes of Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine and Naomi Novik, to name a few.

“I wanted to write books that I’d enjoy reading. Books that I hoped my kids would enjoy too!”

Visit his website for more information about his books. View maps, watch trailers, see reviews and much more!

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