Category Archives: Preambles to Writing

Tips for deciding on names for your characters

Here are a few writing helps for you today, especially for finding names for the characters you are creating in your marvellous stories.

If you strive for authenticity in your stories, you might also want to consider the accuracy of the names you choose for your characters in certain time settings. I found a name/age calculator that could be of help to you in selecting a name that was/is used in the time frame of your story. It sets a wide range but focuses on the median – the midpoint when the name is most commonly used. GO HERE to find the NAME/AGE CALCULATORThis calculator is based on American names and notes that names before 1940 are estimates.

I also found a site that helps you select a name according to themes or qualities of your character. GO HERE to find NAME THEMES.

If you are looking for a unique name, perhaps from mythology or the Bible, or even a musical name for your character, GO HERE to find UNIQUE BABY NAME IDEAS.

To help you come up with a character by name and personality GO HERE to THE CHARACTER NAME GENERATOR.

I hope you have fun with these and find them to be helpful.

I’ve added the above links to my Writers’ Helps, Quotes & Workshops’ page. Look under Writers’ helps when you need them for your stories.

Do you have any suggestions for coming up with suitable character names that are not listed here or on my Writers helps page?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! 🙂

 

Writing, researching, & more waiting

I was talking to a writer friend today. She writes novels and is published. I haven’t completed the one I started six years ago during NaNoWriMo. She doesn’t write picture books. I am waiting/hoping to get mine published. It’s a waiting game no matter what you write.

She reminded me to not compare myself to other writers. I needed that reminder – again – because I have been thinking about my picture book submission earlier this week, and that many other writers submitted their manuscripts around the same time. Mine will get read but I will be astonished if it is accepted. Why? Because, I thought, the others will be better stories or more suited to the publisher’s interest, than mine. Through the process of elimination mine will be rejected. I thought, but I don’t KNOW. I’m waiting. My friend is waiting, too, for the next step in the progress of her latest novel.

She said if she were to compare she could be insecure because of my writing. WHAT! No way! Because, she told me, I write multiple stories in one year while she writes a story in about three years.  hmmm  My reply to that is it takes longer for her novel because of the length of her in-depth story and all the research she does for it. No matter if it’s world-building or just capturing a moment or incident, it all takes time and effort to create worlds or scenarios and scenes. It’s all writing. It’s all creative expression. It’s all work. And it’s an exercise in patience – definitely not one of my strengths.

I think writing a good novel (one that gets publish ) is an amazing and exciting accomplishment. I’d love to do that, but I don’t yet know if that is within my abilities. For now I am concentrating on picture books because that’s more where my passion lies in my writing. I have to stop comparing. I have to be who I am as a writer.

Look at this fabulous image I found on Twitter:

writing research

 

 

She’s a history professor from the future. She said to just carry on as if she’s not here.

Researching your topic is a very important part of writing your story. Even for the picture book I recently submitted, I researched what the characters would be interested in eating. I like things to be accurate.

I am usually very visual, so as I write a story I see it unfolding before me like a movie. I’ve been told that is quite common to writers. I hear what the characters are saying and what is happening around them, and often what they are feeling and thinking. In fact, here’s another oddity about me — in real life I often see the words people say to me in conversation. I see the words spelled out before me, in my mind’s eye. I wonder if that is an advantage for me in my writing … or if I am just strange. 🙂  

Questions for you:

  1. Do you visualize when writing stories? Do you when people talk to you, the way I see the words spoken to me?
  2. Do you research for your stories, or do you not bother much with the little details? 

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! 🙂

 

 

Writing and waiting

It’s been a hard summer for me as far as writing goes. I’ve been in a funk, a writing depression, a walled-in place of little inspiration. I realized I was/am experiencing burn-out from a combination of things, burn-out exhibiting itself as low-grade depression and writer’s block. That’s no fun!writer's block

 

 

 

… until a week ago, on August 23, when inspiration hit!

I was talking with one of my daughters about a frustrating, exasperating, tiring situation that’s ongoing (not as a caregiver) and that affects a few of us in the family. Pausing to consider it a moment, I said … “hmm … that could be a story for a picture book!” Shortly afterward I sat at my desk and wrote a very rough first draft of that story idea. I don’t have a satisfying ending for it yet, mainly because there has not been one found for the real-life situation, so that’s something I’ll have to dream up as is fitting for a picture book. I’m happy, though, because it is my August draft for 12×12.

And writer’s block was moved aside.

That’s always good news. Other good news happened today, too.

I’ve got some manuscripts which I haven’t submitted anywhere yet. It’s hard not ever hearing back, or getting rejection replies, so I think I was just not ready to chance it again. In 12×12, members were offered a special opportunity to submit to a publisher looking for new work, with the promise ALL would be read and our work would not be left in the ‘slush pile’. This evening (Aug 30) I took a chance and submitted the story I wrote in February. I did it! It’s gone, I received email confirmation that it was received, and now my wait has begun. If they are interested in working with me I’ll hear back within five months. If not … *sigh*

waiting quote

 

 

 

 

 

In the meantime, I have to get out my other work and get more of them submission ready. And continue writing new stories, of course. That will help fill in the time while playing the waiting game. I need positive creative distractions to keep myself writing.

How are you at waiting? 

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! 🙂

Stress & burnout: a post by Kristen Lamb

This afternoon I read the following post, which says so much of what I feel. It’s a good reminder of things I knew, but also addresses burnout. It’s such a good post I am reblogging it for your benefit, from:
We Are Not Alone —  Kristen Lamb’s Blog

Stress & Burnout—How to Get Your Creative Mojo Back

Image courtesy of Eflon via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Eflon via Flickr Creative Commons

The past few years have been just brutal. My grandmother who raised me was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and it was just one crisis after another and it just never…freaking…let…up. I felt like I was in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu being crushed all the time, but not allowed to tap out. Then, on Independence Day (ironically) my grandmother finally passed away.

I really never appreciated how much her declining health was impacting me until she was gone. It was like I was wandering around in a fugue state only aware that my knees hurt. Then out of nowhere a hand lifted off the 500 pound gorilla and I could breathe again. I never noticed the gorilla, never noticed the lack of air, only the knee pain.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 10.57.04 AM

So now I am in the process of rebuilding. I plan on taking a couple days off to just rest and get away from all the work that piled up for me to do. Hit my reset button, so to speak. But I figured blogging about this might help some of you who are struggling, too.

Burnout can come from all directions—family, job, marriage, illness, death. Sometimes we are not even aware how hard we have been hit until something radical changes (for me, a death). We are the frog being slowly boiled alive, oblivious that maybe we should jump out.

Writer’s Block

The words won’t flow and you think you might have worn out your thesaurus function looking for another word to say “the.” You might be your own worst enemy.

Writing can be therapeutic. True. But, our creativity can also be one of the first casualties of too much stress, which makes sense when we really study what is happening to us when we’re under too much pressure.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 10.58.00 AM

Biology 101

Have you ever wondered why you can’t remember half of what you said after a fight? Wondered why it seems the only time you can’t find your keys is the day you’re late for work? Been curious why you said the stupidest comments in the history of stupidity while in your first pitch session with an agent?

Yup. Stress. But how does stress make perfectly normal and otherwise bright individuals turn into instant idiots?

Basically, the same biological defense mechanisms that kept us alive hunting bison while wearing the latest saber tooth fashions are still at work today. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work in tandem to regulate the conscious mind. Sympathetic gears us for fight or flight. Parasympathetic calms us down after we’ve outrun the bear…or opened that rejection letter.

In order for the sympathetic system to do its job effectively, it dumps all sorts of stress hormones into the body—DHEA, cortisol, adrenaline—to enable that super human strength, speed, and endurance required to survive the crisis. The problem is that the human body thinks in blanket terms and cannot tell the difference between fighting off a lion and fighting with the electric company.

The human brain is divided into three parts:

Cerebral Cortex—higher thinking functions like language, meaning, logic.

Limbic/Mammalian Brain—used for experiencing emotions.

Reptilian Brain—cares only about food, sex, survival.

I believe that writers (and people in general, for that matter), could benefit greatly by truly understanding stress and the affect it has on the mind and body. A brain frazzled to the breaking point physiologically cannot access information contained in the cerebral cortex (higher thinking center). Thus, the smart writer must learn to manage stress.

And for the purpose of this blog, I am referring to bad stress so there is no confusion.

Modern life may not have as many literal lions and tigers and bears, but we are still bombarded with their figurative counterparts all day, every day. When stress hits, the body reacts within milliseconds.

Welcome to Stress Brain

This is me right now *head desk*

This is me right now *head desk*

The sympathetic nervous system floods the body with hormones, increases heart rate, pulls blood away from digestive and reproductive systems, etc. And, most importantly, it diverts blood supply to the mammalian and reptile brain at the expense of the cerebral cortex. Apparently the body feels your witty repertoire of Nietzsche quotes are not real helpful in lifting a car off your child.

Thus, since the mammalian brain is in high gear, this explains why it is not uncommon to experience intense emotion while under stress. This is why crying, when confronted or angry, is very common. It is also why, once we calm down, we frequently wonder why we were so upset to begin with…mammalian brain overtook logic.

This is also why the gazillion action figures your child leaves littered across the floor suddenly becomes a capital offense two seconds after you accidentally set dinner ablaze. Your emotions have taken front and center stage and knocked logic into the orchestra pit.

Another interesting point…

When the sympathetic nervous system prepares us for fight or flight, our pupils dilate. The purpose of this is to take in as much information about a situation as possible. The problem is that, although we are seeing “more” we are actually seeing “less.” The body is totally focused on the cause of the stress. This is why, when we’re running late to work, we see every clock in the house, but cannot seem to find our car keys.

This also explains how, once we take time to breathe and calm down, those keys have a way of magically appearing in the same drawer we opened 763 times earlier (while screaming at the kids, the dog, the cat, the laundry….). Poof! Magic.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 11.06.15 AM

Once we understand and respect stress, it seems easier to give ourselves permission to go on vacation or truly take a day off. It is a matter of survival. When bad stress piles up, we physiologically are incapable of:

1) Being productive.

That book proposal will take 15 times longer to prepare because you keep forgetting the point you were trying to make in the first place.

We will wear out the thesaurus function on our computer looking for another way to say “good.” Face it. Stress makes us stupid.

2) Making clear decisions.

We won’t be making decisions from the logical part of our brain, so eating everything in the house will actually seem like a good idea.

3) Interacting in a healthy way with our fellow humans.

The new trees for your back yard might never get planted because your husband will be too busy plotting a way to bury you under them.

The most important lesson here is to respect stress. We must respect its effects the way we should alcohol. Why do we make certain to have a designated driver? Because when we’re sober, we think clearly and know that driving drunk is a very poor decision. Yet, the problem with alcohol is it removes our ability to think with the higher brain functions. Stress does the same thing. It limits/obliterates clear thought.

That’s why it is a very good idea to have people close to us who we respect to step in and 1) force us to back away and take a break, 2) convince us to take a vacation, get a pedicure, go shopping, hit the gym 3) give us a reality check, 4) take on some of the burden, 5) run interference with toxic people.

Like great violinists take great care to protect their hands, we writers would be wise to do the same with our emotions and our minds. So when the stress levels get too high and you start seeing it seeping into your writing, it is wise to find a way to release stress. Take back the keys to your higher thinking centers! Take back that cortical brain!

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 11.01.32 AM

Exercise, read, pray, meditate, watch a movie, laugh, do yoga, take a walk, work in the garden. Most of all…write. But do a different kind of writing. Write without a care in the world. Ever wonder why experts advise us to do freewriting when we hit a wall?

Seems counterintuitive, but it is actually super smart when you think about the biology lesson we just had. If we can just write forward, without caring about the clarity or quality, we often can alleviate stress rather than fuel it. This freewriting can calm us back into the cortical brain so later, when our head is back on straight, we can go back and clean up the mess.

Which is exactly what I will do…after I go for a walk.

What are some ways you guys deal with stress? How do you overcome writer’s block? Have you been through caregiver burnout? How did you recover? Hey, I am a work in progress too😀 .

I LOVE hearing from you!

 

A reminder: The above is reposted from Kirsten Lamb’s blog you can visit HERE.    Please visit her blog and leave her a comment, too.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! 🙂

A quote for today

I read this quote last weekend, and since I’ve been in a horrible funk I thought perhaps someone else may benefit from it as well.

“DON’T TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU; FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY. IT’S THE ONE AND ONLY THING YOU HAVE TO OFFER.” – Barbara Kingsolver

From a writer’s point of view it makes sense.  What do you think?

Remember to enter the draw for a copy of Cerdito a juicio – Pig on Trial – by Darlene Foster. You have until July 31 at 9:00 PM Eastern. 

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! 🙂

More change; Valley Sunshine

Starting near the end of last year and continuing in January of this year I shared with you my thoughts and other people’s quotes regarding CHANGE.  I felt there was marked change going to occur – specifically, but not only, in my own life.

2016 is definitely shaping up to be my year of change.

A long chapter of my life ended this week. It was so hard to let it go.

When I was in my early 30’s, and the mother of three young children (a fourth born later), I started a friendship newsletter – called Valley Sunshine – that quickly turned into a Christian one which developed into a type of ministry. I started with about three dozen ‘members’, a number that rapidly increased to over 500 worldwide! It was phenomenal to me. That’s with no advertising except word-of-mouth, except for a few mentions in others’ newsletters. (Once there was a half page article in the provincial newspaper about me/Valley Sunshine!) For over ten years that continued – run on donations – no subscription fee, with mail coming to me almost daily from all over the world, occasional phone calls, and a surprise package now and again. It was like a huge family of friends who encouraged one another. I know the Lord touched lives through that little homegrown publication; it was my joy to be part of it, and I look forward to one day knowing all He did through that humble publication. With the passing of my mother (my greatest “fan”), I took a long break from VS publishing.  A few years ago I started it up again on a much smaller scale by subscription as requested. (It remained non-profit.) Finally, this week, I sent the final issue out. It was a hard decision to come to, but a necessary one. Trying to compile that last issue I mourned the loss of this connection with people I’d grown to love, this change of calling on my life, the hard choices; however, eventually I sensed the relief of admitting it’s done – it’s run its course. I still feel the loss, and I will for a long time. But …

It’s time to allow change in my life to have its own space.

As a caregiver one’s time is used very differently, it’s taxed in a way one does not expect. The things that used to be easily addressed cannot be handled the same way. I had to accept it was time to let change happen and allow the Lord to redirect my life.

Writing in other ways has floated to the top of my life. As you may know, I’ve been interested in writing for MANY years, have taken courses and participated in various online writer’s groups. Now I’m working on children’s stories again. I have a writing coach/buddy. I’m a member of an online critique group, and recently joined an in-person writer’s group (mixed writing genres) that meets once a week. I’m a member of 12×12 and participate in PiBoIdMo and ReFoReMo. All these things are intended to help me learn and improve. Life is still busy. Writing is a huge part of that for me.

Now I’ve told you much more than I had intended to when I started this post. I was going to give you a fun quiz to do, and the above was going to be the lead-in. It just grew and grew!  Next post will be the quiz.🙂

Much love to you.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to let go because it’s time so that you can move on to other things in your creative life?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! 🙂

Inspiration at the children’s book fair

As I launch into the writing of this post I am still basking in the glow of a morning of meeting authors and buying books. This post will include more photos than I usually add so they will be sized down for your convenience. My apologies for the poor lighting. Please be sure to click on the links I’ve provided. Even if you aren’t local to these people and organizations there could be ideas you would like to emulate where you are located.

As to the above … yes, you heard read me right. I came home with more books, and these ones don’t have to be returned. Yay! In fact, I bought twelve books and a bookmark! Oh me. I DO need a new bookcase. (Ohh, HONeeeyyy!) 😉

It all began with an email from author Laura Best to let me know about a children’s book fair being held Saturday AM, April 23. Happily, I was able to get there before 9:00 when there weren’t many people crowding around yet.

children's book fair

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I arrived I talked with two ladies in the lobby who were enthused about their lovely art display they had set up there. They rent out works of art to children for only $2 a month. Beautiful work. You can see what they’re all about HERE. It’s a fabulous idea, plus they have an art program  – workshops once a month with local artists who work with the children.

At one table I met a lady representing the Valley Community Learning Association. She was happy to tell me a lot about it and suggested that if I were interested I could become involved in the family literacy program, helping people learn to read, including refugees who have recently come here and are learning English. They need the help. I think I would need more patience – like my mother had. It’s something to consider, though. You can check it out here.

I was delighted to be able to spend some time talking with many of the authors, and they all are such nice people – talented, inspiring, friendly, real, honest, and lovers of what they do. I came away invigorated and excited to write again. 

Laura B & Jan CLeft: Laura Best, author of Bitter, Sweet (see interview and review) and Flying With a Broken Wing (review and interview)

Right: Jan Coates, author of A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk (see interview  and review); Rainbows in the Dark (see review); and other books I purchased today that I will show you below.

 

 

Here are photos I should have shared with you long ago of Laura at her reading of Flying With a Broken Wing.      See, Laura? They are good pictures of you.🙂Laura

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I got a chance to meet the lovely Starr Dobson whose first picture book I reviewed. Of course, I had to buy her second one, and she asked if I wanted a picture taken with her!  Okay.  :)  Thank you, Starr.

Starr DobsonStarr Dobson & me

I don’t know why I didn’t take pictures of every author I talked with, or at least whose book(s) I purchased. Not thinking, I guess.

Meghan Marentette & Carolyn Mallory

Here are two ladies with whom I had an enjoyable chat, and one invited me to a local writing group I didn’t know  existed! They meet once a week. Thanks, Carolyn, I am seriously considering it.

Left: Meghan Marentette

Right: Carolyn Mallory

 

 

Now, look at all the books I purchased today:

  • The Power of Harmony – by Jan Coates
  • Rocket Man – by Jan Coates
  • The King of Keji – by Jan Coates
  • Sky Pig – by Jan Coates
  • Gertrude at the Beach – by Starr Dobson
  • Fire Pie Trout – by Melanie Mosher
  • A Gift of Music: Emile Benoit & his Fiddle – by Alice Walsh
  • Fiddles and Spoons: Journey of an Acadian Mouse – by Lila Hope-Simpson
  • Forensic Science: in Pursuit of Justice – by L. E. Carmichael
  • How Smudge Came – by Nan Gregory
  • Painted Skies – by Carolyn Mallory
  • The Stowaways – by Meghan Marentette

The Power of HarmonyRocket ManThe King of Keji

 

 

 

Sky Pig

 

 

 

Gertrude at the BeachFire Pie Trout

 

 

 

A Gift of MusicFiddles and Spoons

The Fiddles & Spoons cover is different from on the copy I bought today, but it’s the one on Amazon and other places so I used it.

Forensic Science - in pursuit of justiceHow Smudge CameI’d previously met Ron Lightburn, the illustrator of How Smudge Came, when his own book was released. (review)

Painted SkiesThe Stowaways

 

 

 

 

 

I was pleased to meet Lindsey Carmichael who is the Atlantic Representative for CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators & Performers). She is a sweet lady, and the many books she has written are quite amazing. She said she tried fiction but finds it harder to write than non-fiction. As you see above, I bought one of her books about a topic that fascinates me.

A fun bonus is I got to add to my bookmark and postcard collections.

bookmark from book fairpostcards from book fair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This fair opened my awareness to more about writing – that being a writer is very OKAY, that I should try writing non-fiction because I haven’t done that yet and it might work for me, that there is a writers’ group close enough for me to visit – especially tempting since I’ve now met someone who participates in it, and there are such fabulous books out there!  oh, I already knew that, but I found so many new ones! And I now own a few more. :)  Gotta love that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our trip to the Children’s Book Fair. I certainly did.  :)  Thanks for coming along.

What inspires your creativity and helps nudge you forward?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! 🙂