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Judge Dread

Until recently, I dreaded being a contest judge. However, once I earned my PRO¹ status, I sucked it up to help my chapter with the Linda Howard Award of Excellence. We had the happy misfortune of more entries than expected, and not enough judges.

What I didn't expect was how much I'd learn from the experience.

  • It turns out that I've picked up a lot about writing in the last year (though I still have a long way to go), and even though I'm not an expert at applying it, I can often spot the good elements and the problems in others' writing. Being a CP has been instrumental in teaching me the art of critique (still learning that, too).
  • Judging is good insight into the quality of other writers' prose. It's easy to assume that everyone else is light years ahead of you in the writing game, but the reality is that contest entrants fall all over the scale. It's helpful to get a gut check.
  • Judging is more time consuming than I expected and is forcing me to manage my writing schedule so I have time for the hour (at least) needed to read and score each entry.
  • It helps to have been on the other side of the judging and to know what contestants are looking for. My chapter put on a class to discuss that very topic, and it was a good reminder, but I wouldn't recommend judging to anyone who hasn't been on the receiving end of a score sheet before.

Judges have the opportunity to nurture and teach. To provide both help and encouragement. I only hope that I can live up to that ideal.

¹PRO status is granted by RWA to members who have submitted at least one completed manuscript to a publisher or agent, but have not yet been published.

The Daily Squirrel: secret

Loving Robbie Howe was foolish. All the girls swooned in the presence of the quarterback, track star, and honor roll student. How could you not love the tall blond with the lopsided smile and friendly charm? But since the night he'd changed her flat tire after soccer practice, her schoolgirl infatuation had grown into something more.

And now, somehow, the whole school new about it.

She dropped the schoolbooks in her locker with a loud thud and turned away right into a broad chest. When she looked up, Robbie's crooked grin stopped her heart and she struggled for air.

“I hear you have a secret,” he said, his deep blue eyes never leaving her face.

Oh God. Her cheeks heated and she fought back tears of embarrassment. Her legs wouldn't cooperate with her desire to run.

“I have one too,” he said. Then he leaned forward and kissed her.

Suddenly, running was the last thing on her mind.

Knocking down blocks

Yesterday I hit a block. I tried repeatedly to start a scene, and just couldn't make it happen. My people (characters) thought the scene was boring and they wanted nothing to do with it. They were right.

What finally pulled me out of my state of stumped was Shirley Jump‘s Rule of Six. I'm taking her course right now, and I highly recommend it. Basically, making a list of six ideas for a scene forces you to dig deeper than the easy (read: uninspired) ideas that come off the top of your head. You can apply the rule of six to any part of your manuscript (e.g. scene goals, character motivation, book title, you name it).

So, instead of stewing in my head, I finally sat down, made a list of six goals for the scene, and came up with something totally unexpected. The new scene is not only more interesting (my people cheered), but it set up several future scenes where I'll introduce a new character, and begin weaving in background for turning the book into a series.

Such a simple tool, yet so powerful. The key is sitting down to do it.

What tools do you use to overcome writer's block?

P.S. For more of Shirley's wisdom, join her Just Write It group.

The Daily Squirrel: shoes

Jenna slid her foot into the spiky heels and stood up. The world looked different from her new height. She towered over the saleswoman and looked down upon the peons rummaging through the sale racks. In these shoes, she could do anything, be anyone. Her confidence soared.

Chin up, she strode forward with the grace and dignity of a princess, flipped her long hair back, and smiled at a cute guy as she…wobbled on the miniscule heel and landed on her ass between the sneakers and the baby shoes. So much for grace and dignity.

A Serial Committer

I'm a serial committer. Like Einstein, but without the astounding genius. What the heck is that, you ask? A serial committer is someone who gives themselves completely to what they're working on…until they move on to something else. Basically, it means I function best in a project-oriented environment.

I realized this about myself fairly early on, and sought to find jobs that demanded that type of temperament. Programming. Yep. Teaching. Yep. Manufacturing. Double yep. I even got my certification in Project Management.

The thing was, as much as I love moving every few years (you know, that pesky Air Force thing), it makes career advancement difficult. I didn't seriously consider writing until I quit my job, got bored, and remembered how much I liked crafting prose.

Turns out writing is a great fit (well, except that I'm not getting paid yet)–since it is by nature project-based–and even meets some of my other ideal career requirements:

  • Keeps my brain actively engaged and challenged
  • Requires me to constantly learn new things
  • Uses creative problem-solving
  • Career advancement is tied to performance and skill (combined with determination and a lot of luck)
  • I can work when I want, where I want, and wear what I want. (Like working 7-1 on your couch in pajamas? No problem.)
  • I work for myself. Like any self-employed person, I (will) have clients rather than bosses. Yes, you still have to give them what they want, but I'm in charge of when and how I do it, as long as I meet their requirements and deadlines.
  • It's fun, and I'd do it for no pay at all. (Good thing, since it could be a while. <g>)

What are your ideal job requirements? If you're a writer, what makes it the right career for you?

The Daily Squirrel: gum

The boy on the other side of the locker door stared her down and sucked in his gum with a series of loud pops. Kate flinched with each ear-splitting crack, but her gaze didn't waver in spite of her legs of jelly.

“Hand over the money, Four-eyes,” Dean said with a sneer.

Without looking away from him, she shook her head. “No.” The bullying had gone on long enough. Someone had to stand up to Dean and his gang. Fear prickled her neck, and set an erratic beat within her chest, but she stood firm. “No.”

This Blog Needs a Man-Eating Jellyfish

Jane Austen and creatures from the deep? Hmm.

I have family in town, but here's a fun article from the author of “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters”, Ben H. Winters.

This Scene Could Really Use a Man-Eating Jellyfish
How I wrote Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.
By Ben H. Winters

The Daily Squirrel: gun

His gun lay only inches from his fingertips, but he couldn't reach it. Sweat slid past his ear as he relaxed his shoulder and stretched his arm until his finger grazed the muzzle. Sending up a silent plea of desperation, he willed the gun to come to him.

It didn't obey.

Arnold cried out in frustration, his breath coming in short gasps. His head throbbed and the room swirled around him as his shoulder protested his efforts. He couldn't remember why he needed the gun, but he knew it was urgent.

Ozzy, George of the Jungle, and the dough boy

I turned 25 today…well, in my head. I may be a bit older than that, but really who cares, right?

Here are a few others who share my birthday:

  • Daryl Hannah – We're both blonde, but she's about a foot taller and several million richer than me.
  • Brendan Fraser – You know, the hottie who turned dorky after cavorting with mummies.
  • Charles Pillsbury – Who doesn't love a good crescent roll?
  • Katarina Witt – We were both born in Germany, but she's fluent in the language, and, alas, I can only muddle through it.
  • Ozzy Osbourne – Neither of us is a vegetarian, though I'm not partial to doves or bats myself.

Memorable events on this day (besides my own birth, of course):

  • 1818: Illinois became the 21st State in the Union – I've been there
  • 1828: Andrew Jackson was elected President – Never met him
  • 1965: The Beatles released the album “Rubber Soul” – The only song I recognized by title, besides “Michelle”, was “Drive My Car”, which wasn't even on the American version of the album.

Good SagBad Sag

Happy birthday to all the December 3rd babies.

The Daily Squirrel: wish

Eight candles stuck out from the fluffy white frosting, already dripping wax from their flaming tops.

“Make a wish,” her mom encouraged, holding the camera up to her eye.

Daisy squeezed her eyes shut and pictured her heart's desire vividly in her mind. Opening her eyes, she blew out the twelve candles in one breath of air. Poof! Everyone in the room disappeared and she was left alone with the palm tree-shaped cake. Daisy gasped, and then her mouth spread into a slow smile.

That was fast.

Writing on the run

By nature, I'm stuck in a chair all day in front of the computer, or brainstorming on paper, but the irony is that some of my best ideas come while I'm in motion.

If I'm stuck on a scene, or struggling for new ideas, I've found the best way to open my brain is to go for a run. Other mindless activities work as well, but running is my personal favorite, and it has the added bonus of burning some calories.

I think part of the value is that while running, I can't focus too hard on anything. My mind wanders, and ideas flit in and out, but my subconscious mind is more active. I'm not “forcing it”.

The only drawback is capturing the ideas before they flit too far away. I use my handy iPhone recording feature, but I used to repeat the idea to myself all the way home, or try to spin it into something larger and harder to forget.

It works for me. What works for you?

Emotional intelligence

My CP is constantly harping and nagging…ahem, I mean gently reminding me about the need to infuse my writing with more emotion. And, she's right. In my head, the characters are going through such turmoil and angst, but I often forget to pour that emotion onto the page for the reader to see.

Some of this probably stems from the dominance of my left brain. Hello? Programmer/engineer here. I once looked back through an old diary that I kept sporadically in middle and high school. It read like a catalog of events rather than an emotion-filled life. BO-RING.

Fictionalized example: “XY [the boy I had a crush on for five years who never noticed my existence] started dating XX today. I broke my finger at soccer practice, and then we had lasagna for dinner.” Seriously? Aren't teenaged girls supposed to be the queens of drama?

Good grief. What am I, a robot? When I think back on those moments, many of them were very emotional for me. Why the heck didn't I put it on paper? I'm sure I could analyze the reasons for you ad nauseam (yes that's spelled right), but I'll spare you.

What my diary should have been like: “XY smiled at me yesterday when I loaned him a piece of paper in Chem. He's so gorgeous. I wish I was brave enough to flirt with him, but he only likes the popular girls. My heart cracked in two when I found out he's dating XX. I wanted to throw up because she's such a bitch and he deserves better than her.”

Sigh. All I know is that I'm now combing through Counting on You and Floater, looking for those important scenes where my writing fell flat.

My stomach is clenching at the thought, my head spinning with ideas as I eagerly scroll through the pages…

The Daily Squirrel: wedding ring

Mike pawed through the dresser drawer like a dog digging a fresh hole. The bride's ring had to be in there somewhere. Sweat dripped down his forehead and stung his eyes. Ben had trusted him for the first time in years, and he'd screwed it up. Again. Socks and underwear flew through the air, littering the floor and the bed as Mike dug deeper. Finally, his hand closed around a small, velvet box stuck against the back of the drawer. He let out the breath he'd been holding and collapsed to the floor, the box tucked tightly against his pounding heart. Even if he had to sleep with it, the ring would not leave his sight again until he put it into the groom's hand.