Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to Become a Writer in 30 Easy Steps

Lately, many people have asked me how I do it.  How do I write, balance work and home life all so effortlessly?  Okay, nobody has actually asked me that, but I'm sure you're dying to know how to become a semi mediocre writer, right?  I know it seems highly interesting and glamorous but I am here to tell you that it is indeed quite the opposite.  I have compiled a list of things that I find helpful in the writing process. 

1.  Put the kids to bed.  This only applies, obviously, if you actually have children.  It also only applies if they live with you and you are the adult in charge of such things.  In my house, I am the one who herds them to bed each night.  Children can greatly impact the creative process.  While, they provide a great resource for ideas and material to write about, they also prohibit actual writing.  They are highly distracting and provide many, many reasons and excuses for you not to write.  Don't let them stand in the way.  Have your fun time and then put them suckers to bed. 

2.  Get the necessary electronics ready.   For me, I use my laptop, Kindle and phone.  I write on the laptop, stream music and/or read the Kindle and text the proper sources as I write.  Sounds confusing, I know, but follow me here.  As I write, sometimes, I need an extra perspective or idea, in which case I will text a friend or relative.  My laptop isn't necessarily fast, so I can't stream music effectively from there and write at the same time, so I use the Kindle to stream music.  Music is an absolute necessity. Additionally, I usually have a book going on the Kindle, in case I need a break or inspiration. While on the laptop, I generally have about 5 tabs open, all crucial to the creative process.

3.  Brainstorm ideas.  This part is easier said than done.  I reference my writer's notebook which I carry with me at all times to jot down ideas and inspiration as it arises.  Sometimes, if I don't know exactly what I want to write, I go to the notebook.  Right now, I have about 9 different things that I want to write about but it all depends on the day and my mood.  Sometimes I'm not in the mood to write a serious piece.  Sometimes I'm not in the mood to write something funny.  Sometimes, I look at the notebook, scrap all the ideas and just start free styling it. 

4.  Start writing.  I usually don't give my pieces a title until I am completely finished writing.  I might put a generic working title just to save it as a draft.  *Note*  I hardly ever start and finish a piece in one sitting.  Generally, I write for about 20-25 minutes and walk away.  Usually to get snacks, a drink or read.  Sometimes, I get ADD and clean something, but that rarely happens, so don't get too excited Dalai Dad!  Some pieces have taken me several weeks to write.  Sometimes, I come back to a piece and completely scrap it because I realize it's crap and I start over.  Sometimes, I get off track and the writing goes in a completely different direction than I had originally anticipated, kind of like this one is so far.  This is more of what I was thinking it would turn out like:

5.  Get off track looking at Pinterest, Facebook or Twitter.

6.  Get back to the writing.  Write a few sentences and realize you were going to read a link that you saw earlier on your favorite blog. Go there and choke-laugh at how brilliant they are and realize how lame my post is.  Hmph.

7.  Go look up how to be a good writer and get distracted by reading something you saw on Huffington Post.

8.  Pull yourself back to the writing.

9.  Wait, is it effect or affect?  Google that.

10.  Oh, just got a Facebook notification.  Got to check that out. 
11.  Look at what is new on Facebook since you were last on 20 minutes ago.

12.  Find an interesting link on making a tasty casserole.  Cruise that blog drooling at all the other recipes. 

13.  Hmmmm.  Feeling a little peckish.  Go forage for a snack.  Oh, cookies!

14.  Eat half a package of cookies.

15.  Ok, seriously, back to the writing.  Gaining steam, add several more important points to the piece and polish off the editing.  Brush the cookie crumbs off your lap and close up shop for the night. 

16.  Don't publish it yet!  Wait a few days and come back to it.  Give it time to marinate.

17.  Next day.... obsess over the piece.  Agonize over the phrasing you used.  Think of a metaphor for that one part.  Oh, that's good, write that down!

18.  Two days later..... Regret eating the cookies because now you're out of cookies and who can write without cookies?

19.  Four days later.....edit and revise.  Critique that sucker like it's going on the front page of the NY Times.  Read it 982 times and obsess over the same commas and sentence structures every time.  Change it, rearrange it.  And then change it back because it was right the first time.  Trust your gut.  Yeah, your gut.  Damn cookies.

20.  Agonize over whether or not you really want to publish it.  Will they like it?  Does it make you seem like an idiot or asshole? 

21.  Scavenge for some peanut M&Ms or Junior Mints to mull it over.  Chewing helps you think.

22.  Read it 15 more times and finally decide that the piece is brilliant and screw them if they don't like it.  Hit the publish button.

23.  Ferociously shove peanut M&Ms in your mouth as you watch the analytics tell you how many people haven't read it yet.

24.  Oh, three people!  Three people read it.  That's probably your mom, a faithful friend that follows because they feel they have to and probably your own click.  Oh well, it's three, right?!

25.  Decide to check out the book you're currently reading, social media or watch TV, checking your account every 15 minutes for comments, likes or (dare I say) shares. 

26.  After a few days, decide that writing is not really worth the time and effort so you decide not to do it anymore.  Nobody really reads it anyways, right?

27.  Three days later, run into an old friend at the grocery store and they mention how much they love reading the blog.  "Such great things there.  I feel the same way.  Very insightful, thanks I needed that, Dalai Mama," they say.

28.  Smile and say thanks.  Tell your heart to settle down and fist bump yourself for being awesome.

29.  Decide that it's not a waste of time and reassure yourself that people do enjoy your writing.

30.  Start planning your next piece. 

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

King of Right and the Kingdom of Wrongville

If you know me well, you know that I am highly sarcastic and I can spout off a fictional story in the blink of an eye.  Today this happen between Dalai Dad and I during a funny disagreement over something petty.  In my sarcasm and story-making, we both laughed at the scenario of him being the King of Right and that I was a villager in the Kingdom of Wrongville.  We laughed about it and both decided that it definitely needed to be written. 

We respectfully love giving each other a hard time.  We thrive on it and have always enjoyed this constant back-and-forth of teasing each other.  Our dance goes like this:  He dishes out some ridiculous rant of monumental proportions and I oblige in a sarcastic retort.  I shovel out a grandiose exaggeration of what he just said and sprinkle in some smart-assery.  Then we both laugh and agree that we are both friggin awesome. 

Dalai Dad has always asserted that not only is he an asshole (his words not mine!), but he is also always right.  This has been an ongoing joke for YEARS.  In fact, I remember one time he actually WAS wrong and admitted it.  So, my smart-assery skills led me to write that one down on the calendar.  But today, it happened again that he was the King of Right and I was, indeed, the villager in the Kingdom of Wrongville. 

In addition, Dalai Dad and I can be quite competitive in such instances.  I asserted that the story of the King of Right must end with him learning a valuable lesson but of course, he disagreed.  So I made a bet with him.  We play this stupid puzzle game online and I bet him that he couldn't beat my score.  The deal was if he beat me, the story doesn't end with a lesson learned, but if I won, the King of Right would learn a lesson.  He won so it's gonna be a crappy story.  So here it is: 

There once was a King who lived in a castle of Right. He sat upon his throne and looked down onto his subjects of the Kingdom of Wrongville. They looked to him for the answers to everything. For he was, above all else, a purveyor of being right. He knew all, did all and lived in such a way, that he was always right.

The townspeople below him came to him with questions of life; questions of mercy and understanding. He answered their questions and then beckoned they leave at once. When he shooed them away with his royal scepter, his flashy jewels glistened in the light.

While he reveled in the glow of always being right, he grew weary of having to answer all the townspeople's petty, tiresome questions. He longed for something more; something challenging and different.

Then one day the King beckoned for the Royal Advisor to seek a companion for him, a bride.  He wanted someone to keep him company and entertain him.  So, being a loyal subject the Royal Advisor went into the Kingdom of Wrongville and went to every cottage seeking a bride for the King. 

After many hours of knocking on doors and talking to townspeople, the Royal Advisor finally asked the local clergyman, "Why is it that no one wants to be the bride to the King?  He has so many things to offer!  This bride would be afforded all the luxuries of the castle!  She would have the best of gowns, the finest jewels and all the riches she could ever imagine!"

To that, the clergyman simply replied, "I am afraid, sir, that the villagers think the King is a jerk."

The Royal Advisor was shocked and amazed at the clergyman's honesty.  He bid him good day and continued in his search.  As the sun was setting, the advisor realized that he would be unsuccessful in his mission to find the King a bride to keep him company and entertain him.  And just as he was unhitching his horse to head back to the castle, the advisor noticed a beautiful young lady.  She was quite breath taking. She had flowing brown hair and a sweet, innocent look about her.  She smiled, carrying a basket of flowers as a small crowd of woodland creatures followed her as she sang and picked more flowers. 

The Royal Advisor knew just then that this young lady was perfect!  He approached her and asked her if she would like to become the bride to the King of Right.  She smiled politely and agreed.  Delighted, the Royal Advisor helped her gather her things and took her to the castle at once. 

As they entered the castle, the young lady of the Kingdom of Wrongville met the King for the first time.  They talked and laughed and disagreed on many things.  But they liked each other.  And while the young lady was always wrong and the King was always right, the young lady had just enough sarcasm and a great sense of humor that she was happy and the King was entertained.  They spent many days disagreeing and giving each other a hard time.  She entertained the King with her silliness and being wrong all the time.  And the King constantly impressed the young lady with his rightness.  She reminded the King to lighten up every once in a while and on occasion she even threw eggs at him to make him laugh.  Over time the King became a pretty chill dude.  Even though everyone else thought the King of Right was a huge jerk, the young lady thought he was just perfect and in spite of it all, they lived happily ever after. 

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Mr. Rogers, We Need You More Than Ever

During his acceptance speech for a Lifetime Achievement Award, presented at the 1997 Emmys, Fred Rogers astounded and humbled the glitzed audience by asking, "Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are? Those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life. I'll watch the time."

At first the audience watched and waited as he carefully checked his watch.  Realizing that he was serious in his request, the audience became silent and as the cameras surveyed the room, you could see misty eyes, smiles and looks of fondness from the audience members. 

I'm sure they weren't expecting to reflect upon their childhood in this moment of celebration and paparazzi that was the Emmys.  But, Mr. Rogers had this effect on people.  He had a gentle way of reminding us of what is truly important.

As I think about that very same quote, it makes me happy and sad to think of those people that helped to shape me into the person that I am today; those that are still here and I see on a regular basis and those that are no longer here to see my life's accomplishments and how they impacted my life.  When I think about that quote, I can't help but think of my family, of course, but it's also hard to forget the impact that Mr. Rogers, himself, had on shaping me into...well...a good neighbor. 

In my childhood, TV was limited to whatever was on one of the four channels and PBS happened to be one of them.  Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was a staple in my growing up.  Besides Sesame Street and the occasional Saturday Morning Cartoons, it was the only children's programing available at the time.  But, I admit, Mr. Rodgers was always my favorite.

He had a certain honesty, innocence and sincerity about him that I felt I could relate to when I was six or seven years old.  He taught me that I was unique; there was no one else in this world like me and that was just fine.  He taught me to always follow the Golden Rule and treat others the same way that I would like to be treated.  He taught me how to be a good friend and care about others.  He taught me about how to share and express my feelings, even when things were scary. 

He spoke slowly and deliberately so that children could understand and comprehend his message.  He introduced me a world that was safe and free of scary, hurtful things.  He showed me how to play fair, share, and follow the rules.  He introduced me to ideas like asking how things worked, how to be curious about the world around me and encouraged me to seek discovery on my own.  He taught me the power of my own imagination. And above all, he set a great example of how to be a good person.  A good neighbor.

He praised us, told us he was proud of us and encouraged us to be ourselves.  He provided a safe haven and gentle reminder that there still is good in the world. 

I know that there are Mr. Rogers naysayers out there because I have heard the comments in the past.
"Mr. Rogers was weird. Strange.  Unbelievable. Too innocent or wholesome. "

To them, I say...Is it so strange that a person could be genuinely happy and gentle in their personality?  And how sad that others think it weird?  Yes, he was innocent and very wholesome.  But aren't our children also innocent and wholesome?  What would be so wrong with them spending their TV time with a person that was able to connect to their innocence?  Wouldn't you rather your child hang on to that as long as they can?  I think Mr. Rogers provided the exact emotional nurturing that children needed.  He gave us security, acceptance and self pride. 

I think Fred Rogers is exactly what we are missing today.  Maybe if we had more people like Mr. Rogers, children would be going outside to play instead of sitting in front of a screen for 3-4 hours a day.  Maybe if we had more role models like him, we wouldn't see such an increase in social problems in our children. Maybe if we all tried a little harder to lead a good example like Mr. Rogers and praise our children for the good and encourage them, we would see a positive affect on our society as a whole.

Our children are growing up way too fast.  And when I say that I don't mean they are growing up too fast as in days, I mean as in becoming more apathetic, resistant to simpler things in life and becoming miniature adults too soon.  Too often do we see 10 year olds dressing and acting like they are 16.  Too often do I hear a 7 year old say something such as action figures and dolls are "for babies."  When did having your own phone, computer or Facebook account at 9 become the norm? 

We have got to slow down with all of this because if we don't, we are just exchanging our childhood innocence for Uncle Grandpa and SpongeBob.  I don't know about you, but I would much rather my kids have the values and respect that Mr. Rogers demonstrated than the screaming, disrespectful idiots that we invite into our living rooms every day. 

I think we should all try to remember the lessons and values of Mr. Rogers and we should be passing those onto our own children.  The challenge to myself and to others:

1.  Think before you speak to a child. 
2.  Be deliberate in your message. 
3.  Provide encouragement.
4.  BE a good role model. 
5.  Listen to them.  Talk to them.  Ask them about their day.  Ask them what was their favorite part or a part that wasn't so fun.
6.  Tell them you are proud of them.  Even if it's that you are proud that they used good manners or did a chore without being told, give them something to be proud of every day.
7.  Encourage them to use their imagination.  This may require unplugging them from the screen for a while but imagination and play is how young children learn about the world.  They need it. 
8.  Encourage them to self monitor their own behavior and feelings.  Teach them to follow the Golden Rule.
9.  Teach them what it means to be respectful and kind.
10.  Show them how they are part of a global community beyond their own doorstep.  Show them how kindness within the community helps other people.  Teach them to share kindness.
11.  Provide them with responsibility.  Children of all ages can participate in helping others.  They can help empty the trash, pick up their toys, or feed the dog.

I think if we all tried a little harder to take a more deliberate approach to interacting with children, like Mr. Rogers did, we could see huge changes in our society and communities...maybe even our neighborhoods.

"We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say, 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes."
—Fred Rogers, 1994
quoted in his obituary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

photo credit: Matt Bargar via photopin cc

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