Surprise Yourself

IMG_4679.PNG  Lester Burnham – American Beauty 

If one of the main questions we ask ourselves in this life is: “Who Am I?”, then one of the next important questions should be, “And who else do I want to be?” 

I find the answer to “Who Am I?”, a fairly involved one. I wear a lot of hats. I work a challenging full time job where I am still always learning and always busy. I am a mother to three young children who keep me *very* busy. I am lucky to also be a happy wife to a great husband. I’m a daughter, a sister, a friend.  All of these roles help define much of my life and keep my life very full, but I realized in the last few years that I needed a creative outlet to be fully myself.  I have long had a call to write, so I am also a blogger, a tweeter (is that a word?πŸ˜ƒ), a novice poet, novelist and writer of short stories. 

Yet, despite having written a great deal, I haven’t published yet or submitted much of anything for publication.  So, if I ask myself what else I would like to be, one big answer for me right now is – to be published! 

For this reason, amid all the existing craziness in my life, I’ve recently become a part of a group of writers making plans to launch a new blog. (Details coming soon! πŸ˜€) We are also putting some plans in place for some intriguing future projects which I will also happily share later as things develop. 

The goal of all our plans is essentially to help light a fire under all our behinds to get our work out there.  Then the goal is also to promote each other’s and our own work.  Just the initial meetings alone have helped prompt me to tackle a few things I haven’t pushed myself to do before.

While committing to this team makes my list of things to be done quite a bit longer, it is a surprising and exciting new piece of who I am and hopefully will help get me closer to where I want to be! 

What challenges are you setting for yourself?  

When was the last time you surprised yourself? 

What else do you want your life to be?  

Let me know in the comments and have a great week! 

~CJS



Pondering a Pen NameΒ 

Many a famous author – and some not so famous – have chosen to use a pen name to publish under rather than use their own name. I’ve been playing around with the idea for awhile myself, and have finally decided that I will write with a pen name, too.

Before making the decision, I listened to others discuss and have read articles and other blog posts about the topic. At the end of this post I have included a few that I thought were particularly helpful. 

There are a lot of good reasons to write with a pen name. Below are just a few of the big ones I have seen (or heard) discussed.

  • Avoiding Discrimination – based on gender bias or even the ethnicity of a name
  • Writing in Multiple Genres – having a different well-tailored pen name for each genre you write in seems fairly common 
  • Privacy – keeping your writing life separate from your real life for any number of reasons  

All are factors I considered but the biggest for me is keeping my writer self separate as much as possible from real life. I have a family (including young children) and a full time job, so a pen name works well for me. 

So if you choose to have a pen name, how do you decide on a name? I have been working this out myself! Some things I have seen suggested and considered for my own:

  • Favorite book characters
  • Favorites TV/Movies characters
  • Baby name searches 
  • Surname searches 
  • Family names 
  • People you admire 
  • Favorite Places 
  • Favorite Colors 
  • Presidents 
  • Athletes 
  • Authors 
  • Genealogy Sites 

I have a few names in final consideration stages and will share once I’ve decided on one. πŸ˜€

I still have to research all the legal aspects of writing with a pen name. I am only in the beginning stages of this part and will post again at another time when I find more details about the practical side of choosing to have a pen name.  

Below are just a few articles I looked at before writing this post – which have far more information than my post provides – check them out! πŸ˜€

Are you for or against having a pen name? Let me know in the comments & feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions! 

Have a great week!

-CJS

Compassion

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This post is my part of the #1000Speak Compassion movement on social media today, February 20th, 2015. Over one thousand have already agreed to blog about, tweet about, and post on Facebook and elsewhere about compassion, highlighting the need for more of it in today’s world. Follow along or join in!

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If you want others to be happy,
practice compassion.
If you want to be happy,
practice compassion.
– Dalai Lama

Preparing for this post, which I agreed to over a month ago, thanks to my fellow blogger, Jessica Scott, I have spent a lot of time reading quotes about compassion and kindness. The quote above is one of my favorites because I felt it captured the spirit of this movement to highlight the need for compassion in this world. Some may suggest that practicing compassion for our own benefit might be a selfish excuse for what should be a selfless act. Perhaps, but I think not.

For one thing, I don’t believe it is so bad to take care of ourselves, in fact, I feel some of us could benefit from treating our own selves with compassion. It’s okay to say “I need this in order to be happier” sometimes. It’s okay to nurture ourselves and not just others. It’s okay to acknowledge that we need to be kinder to ourselves. To do so is a big step toward brightening this world, because if we can’t love and take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to properly love and take care of others.

Also, though, practicing compassion couldn’t ever be entirely selfish, even if the goal was to simply make yourself happier. Looking for ways to share yourself with others, to help others, to understand others better, or to be kind in any way can increase your own joy while increasing the joy of another.
Even the smallest act can make a difference, maybe even causing a ripple effect, the extent of which you may never know.

I recently participated in another Twitter campaign for practicing Acts of Goodwill. Joining on this particular day was almost entirely about me having fun. It made me smile that day. I paid for someone’s meal in the drive through behind me. I gave money to a charity. I made my husband’s favorite type of dinner. Will any of these little acts make a big difference? Most likely no, but I felt good all day for the little things I did. But even though I really did those things for me, the person in line behind me hopefully had a small reason to smile. Some child in some community in another part of the world may have access to water in part because of the small amount of money I shared. My husband hopefully was reminded that I love him and like to make him happy, even in small ways. So, selfish or not, practicing giving and caring for others helped someone, while also making me happy.

And don’t we, all of us, need a bit more happiness? I would argue that we do. So spread a spirit of compassion! Practice random acts of kindness! Nurture others and yourself, too! Increase others’ happiness and your own in the process. πŸ˜ƒ

Below are a few of my other favorite quotes on compassion and kindness that I’ve seen this last month or so.

Thanks for reading!

CJS

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.
– Henry James

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.
– Dalai Lama

By compassion we make others’ misery our own, and so, by relieving them, we relieve ourselves also.
– Sir Thomas Browne

Be kind whenever possible.
It is always possible.
– Dalai Lama

And in a recent episode of Downton Abbey ( which is a new addiction ), the Dowager Countess of Grantham says to her granddaughter, Lady Mary Crawley (who was being rather heartless to a grieving sister):

“My dear. A lack of compassion can be as vulgar as an excess of tears.”

Adventures in Editing

I would say that one of my favorite parts of writing has always been the excitement of starting new projects. It hasn’t, so far, been in editing what I have written. But I am working on it. πŸ˜€

Having committed to writing every day, I find I have started a lot, but haven’t truly finished much. This new year, while committing to write every day again, I have also committed to finishing the book I have been fooling around with but haven’t pulled together. I need to get it truly finished.

Unfortunately, I am in a bit of a tough place with my current work in progress right now.

In an effort to move forward with editing this novel, I have started submitting to my critique group for some much needed feedback. One major challenge of submitting for feedback is that the earlier chapters are such a mess. I’ve scrapped some of the original opening and rearranged others parts. Simply put, it needs a lot of work.

My most recent submission for critique was a “chapter” that had elements of an original introduction (which I had actually scrapped at one point but that had some key points I didn’t want to just leave out) mixed in with a rather poorly developed scene. The submission read more like notes on a chapter than an actual chapter, as one of the group astutely pointed out.

While I was aware of some of the bigger issues, I submitted for critique anyway just to get them further into story. The group pointed out a lot of the issues I knew were there, some with more diplomacy than others, but they also made a few very helpful observations that I hadn’t thought about before.

The issue that really concerned me, though, was the direction they felt the book is headed, as it is not at all the direction I am headed.

As a result, I’m afraid a major component just needs changing because this is not the book I am wanting to write. Now I am feeling a need to make some more cuts and to make some bigger changes to the beginning and to a few key concepts.

The good news is, that as hard as it always is to have people read your unpolished work, offering up the work can result in some helpful insight. Insight, like in this case, that can lead to an edit you might not have realized you needed to make.

Now the task for me is deciding how to fix it and to move forward. πŸ˜€

Have a great week everyone!

~CJS

Confessions of a Jimmy Fallon Junkie

I have a confession. I have fallen into a new addiction.

YouTube videos of Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon.

I cannot help but smile or laugh out loud when watching the videos, especially the games he plays with celebrity guests. I stumbled on this new addiction because someone posted a video “Water War with Chris Hemsworth” on my Twitter feed and then I ended up binge watching every video uploaded from the Jimmy Fallon show ever. Ok perhaps that is a slight overstatement, but, you get the idea. πŸ˜ƒ

One video, though, did more than make me laugh, it really made me think. It seemed a perfect illustration of how people feel it okay to behave or speak about someone when you think they may not see or hear it. It made me think of things people say online especially.

The video is about a baseball player I have never heard of, sorry I am not a baseball fan, but the clip explains it well about who he is and why NY fans might not like him. The show sets up a chance for fans to boo this player before the big game when the player returns. What the fans don’t know is that the player is actually right there and can hear. He then comes out and the people see him and their reactions are great.

Watch clip of Fans Boo Robinson Cano

How great are their reactions when they realize what they are doing/saying is essentially right to the guy’s face? Would they have done the same if they had known that in the first place? I doubt it.

I then wondered if people would say some of the hateful, ugly, and abusive things you often see said on Facebook or Twitter in posts or comments if they were having to say those things to the person’s face? I doubt it. I would think you would see far less of it in any case.

So why would people say such things online? Of course another funny late night host has tackled this topic to great hilarity in the bit Mean Tweets on Jimmy Kimmell Live, but I thought this was a great way to see the difference.

So, you see, my new Jimmy Fallon YouTube watching addiction has been educational
for me. Yep. Can you hear the justification there?

These clips aren’t educational at all but hilarious and some of my favorites. Enjoy and everyone have a great week!

Jimmy Fallon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Stephen Merchant Lip Sync Battle – Stephen Merchant doing Single Ladies = awesome. Jimmy Fallon is always funny. Joseph Gordon-Levitt just kills it in Tiny Dancer.

Wheel of Impressions with Kevin Spacey Because Kevin Spacey is greatness.

BattleShots with Chris Pine Poor Chris Pine hilariously loses this game.

I could go on and on, and believe me I have, but I should get back to writing and away from Jimmy Fallon clips. #Addictive – which calls for just one more clip —-

Hashtags with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake

Scrivener, Where Have You Been All My Life?

Several months ago my writer friends suggested I pick up Scrivener, a writer’s software, much like an organizational toolbox, that offers a wealth of handy tools to get that novel started, cleaned up or finished.

I bought the software not long after, but then saw there was a pretty intensive tutorial they advised taking before getting started. I needed to set time aside to focus on the tutorial, so it got shoved to the side for awhile.

Just last week, thanks to an unexpected day off with my twins who were sick, I finally made the time to do the tutorial. It took me more than a few hours to go through it all since I was multitasking a bit, but I was super excited to see all the in and outs of the software. I then spent the rest of the day (and late into the evening) putting my current WIP into the software.

I went from having an almost 80,000 word document that had major holes and some scenes out of order to a project in Scrivener that has about 20 different scenes or chapters. Breaking the draft into workable pieces is by itself going to help me edit this crazy first draft. Editing just got far more manageable for this novice.

But I learned from my tutorial, and from putting my draft into the software, that there are a lot of great features. Below is a short list of some of my favorite features of Scrivener and why I think this will help me get this novel finished. Then, hopefully, it will also help me get the next one done far more efficiently! :)

1) Corkboard: Each scene or chapter or section you create can be viewed in several ways, but one of the neatest is the Corkboard. Each scene/chapter will have an ‘index card’ with the title (or whatever you chose to display) “tacked up” on the virtual Corkboard. I can pull up my Corkboard and see all the chapters and pick which one I want to jump to so I can get started on that scene. Or I can easily move them around if that placement isn’t working. I haven’t set up a dedicated writing space to put up a real Corkboard but have often thought it might be a good idea. Super cool. But something else I need and am not good at…

2) Outline: Scrivener also will take the scenes I’ve put in and display in an outline form. Sweet! You can make that outline as simple or as detailed as you like. I don’t have an elaborate outline, but I love how this takes what I’ve put in and lets me play with it a little in outline form. Maybe this will help a pantser like myself get back on track!

3) Split editor: I love that I can have one chapter open in one part of my split screen, then have current chapter open in another part of screen as I work. If I want to reference what a character said in an earlier chapter when writing a new scene I can have it open at the same time. I can search multiple chapters while keeping the current one open where I am writing. This is far easier than how I was working with multiple documents in addition to the one long master draft. I believe there are a lot of ways to manage and manipulate the spilt editor view but I am still learning. There are so many possibilities!

Speaking of lots of possibilities and having a lot to learn, I will have to do an update to this post once I have spent more time working in Scrivener. For now, I am very excited to explore and discover how this new tool can help my writing.

Do you have Scrivener? Love it? Not love it? Do you have another brilliant software or organizational tool you use for your writing? Feel free to share in the comments. :)

Have a great week!

CJS

Off to a great start!

My last blog post asked for some advice or thoughts on what I should do next (following my first 365 day challenge). Some of you replied on this blog, some on Twitter and some IRL (in real life – over the phone or in person). I appreciated all feedback. :)

Everyone seemed to agree that committing to write every day again was a good idea. I wholeheartedly agree. I definitely have grown as a writer as a result of the initial challenge. Therefore, I am declaring today Day 1 of my new 365 challenge. Cheers to getting back on track! Thanks for the encouragement. :)

Consensus also seems to be that I shouldn’t rule out the opportunity to try new things and write as I feel called to write. New poetry, new short stories, some flash fiction – all were supported suggestions. I will definitely allow myself to explore.

Building the blog also seems a key part of my writer development and challenge. I will continue with a once a week commitment on Mondays, but I may add more days (like tonight’s) randomly or expand my schedule later. I would also like to plug a future blog project you should see coming soon, with a group of local writers where we each will have a blog day during the week. I’ll let you know once that is up and running. :)

I also have a few upcoming blog events I’d like to mention as well: 1000 Speak in February and April’s A to Z Challenge.

1000 Speak blog for compassion on Feb 20th was suggested to me by Jessica Scott and I am very excited to be a part of the project. Essentially the idea is to have many blogs dedicated to the idea of compassion the same day- on February 20th, the day of compassion. You can follow the blog, Facebook page or on Twitter (#1000Speak) if you would like to participate.

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I am also looking forward to participating in the April A to Z Challenge again. I did my first challenge last year & it was both great fun and a great way to find new blogs/meet other bloggers. I believe that Monday will be the first day to join the list and getting on early does help get more traffic to your blog, so go check it out! :)

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I am excited for this new daily writing challenge and for continuing to build a blog voice here and on the new blog project. I am also excited about making some big steps forward on my writing projects, and will share with you in my next post what is helping get me there.

Talk to you soon, and in the meantime, I am writing. :)

CJ