Writing: Sow the Seeds & Watch it Grow

IMG_7784.JPG

At some point in time, you’ve probably heard about the four stages of competence. If you haven’t, in a nutshell, it’s the process one goes through while learning a new skill. I first learned about the stages when I left the Pediatric ICU and took a job working in the realm of education. I believe it applies to writing, and the process goes something like this:

 

Stage 1:  Unconscious Incompetence 

“I don’t know that I don’t know how to do this.”

Stage 2:  Conscious Incompetence

“I know that I don’t know how to do this, yet.”

Stage 3:  Conscious Competence

“I know that I know how to do this.”

Stage 4:  Unconscious Competence

“Yahoo. I know and can do it effortlessly.”

 

As I think back to the early days when I first sat down to write, I can still remember exactly how it felt to be so blissfully ignorant. It was such a good feeling. (Or so I thought.) Then realization hit. Hard.

Say what? Yup. Poof. There went the bliss.

Now, replacing the euphoria was yet another massive learning curve, one I’d have to muddle through while releasing a rivers worth of blood, sweat, and tears.

Yes, the learning curve is huge. The list of rules seemingly keeps growing longer and longer. It’s no wonder stage two is reportedly the most difficult stage to conquer.

I call this the “mistake and self-judgment” phase. It’s riddled with internalized phrases like…

Why am I bothering? Will I ever catch on? Geez, maybe I should throw in the towel and move on.

Stage two is the phase where people often give up, but it’s also the time when an incredible amount of growth can happen. It’s important to understand that mistakes are a natural part of learning. From them, we make adjustments and eventually find ourselves, on occasion, saying, “Yeah, I think I’ve got this.”

I still see myself existing somewhere between stage two and stage three, which can be rather daunting since I can now find things that are wrong with my writing but still can’t seem to figure out how to fix them.

As a reminder that many things often start from seed, I recently followed the instructions on a packet I picked up at the Grand Canyon and hope to grow my own Joshua Tree. In the beginning, it takes a lot of sunshine, and I have to keep adding water to the bowl. Just like my writing, the seeds I poured onto the soil will either stay dormant or, just maybe, they might grow.

If they don’t, it’s no big deal. I’ll adjust and try again. One day, with a great deal of persistence, I might even find myself enjoying that blissful feeling as I work between stage three and stage four.

IMG_6542.jpg

 

See you next month for my post, Christmas is Coming.

Until then, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. This writing gig isn’t ain’t easy!

🙂

Advertisements

The City by the Bay with Friends Along the Way

Recently, my family and I did something we’d never done before. We planned an actual vacation that didn’t revolve around travel baseball or returning home to visit with family and friends.

With three votes cast, a drive down California’s Pacific Coast Highway became the focus of our trip, which would start off with a visit to . . . “The City by the Bay.”

Quick, turn on your phone’s flashlight and cue Journey!
“When the lights
go down
in the city
and the sun shines on the bay…”

IMG_5023

 

And now cue the sounds of a record needle being pulled violently across an album.

Why?

Highway 1 closures.

HWY1.jpg

 

I read the news and stared at picture after picture of the massive mudslide that wiped out a huge section of the road. Thankfully no one was hurt. But the road closure was a sure sign our trip down Highway 1 wasn’t meant to be. However, there is always beauty to be found with a change of plans. And had heavy rains not pelted California over the winter, I most likely would not have gotten to meet an amazing author friend—Alison Henderson.

Unfortunately, because we were having such a lovely time, I didn’t stop to think about getting a picture. We’ll just have to meet up again and fix that!

And get her to sign a book for me since I love her stories. Today, I thought I’d share one of my favorites with you.

 

51UzxtAvx3L.jpg

Boiling Point takes place in Chicagoland.

It’s the second book in the Phoenix, Ltd. female bodyguard series. And I can tell you this story is a fast-paced, fun contemporary romance, featuring a pair of undercover bodyguards working at cross purposes, a selection of unlikely suspects, and a robotic sous-chef named GRAMPA.

Genre: Romantic Mystery & Suspense with Humor

322 pages

I truly enjoyed this story, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

 

You can find out more about Boiling Point over at Amazon

 

About Alison Henderson

I haven’t always been a writer, but I have always embraced creativity and relished new experiences. Seeking to expand my horizons beyond Kansas City, I chose a college in upstate New York. By the time I was twenty-one I had traveled the world from Tunisia to Japan. Little did I suspect I was collecting material for future characters and stories along the way.
71Gv14nI3yL._SY200_I began writing when my daughter entered preschool (she’s now a full-fledged adult) and became addicted to the challenge of translating the living, breathing images in my mind into words. I write romance because that’s what I like to read. The world provides more than enough drama and tragedy. I want to give my readers the happily-ever-after we all crave.
I’ve been married to my personal hero for more than thirty years. After decades of living in the Midwest, we’ve recently heeded the siren call of sun and sea and moved to the most breathtakingly beautiful place imaginable – the gorgeous central coast of California. I look forward to the new stories this place inspires.

You can find out more about Alison and her books by visiting her website.

~~~

I have to agree with Alison. California is gorgeous!

Family vacations are fun. I highly recommend meeting up with friends along the way!

 

 

 

Destination Planes, Trains & …

It’s field trip Friday!

IMG_6054.JPG

Although I live in Chicagoland, we are not heading toward the city!

Say what? Aren’t all the best attractions located somewhere close to the Chicago city limits?Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 9.19.50 AM.png

Nope!

So slam on the brakes, lay down a strip of rubber, and reset your Navi system because we’re headed out to Volo, Illinois. And for a good reason.

If you followed my last post, you know my one and only son is about to fly the coop. Here’s how I see this spreading-of-the-wings thing going down: Destination Iowa State. Destination any-Formula-One-engineering internship/co-op. Destination…video chat with Mom and Dad…

IMG_5634.JPGSo, this summer we’re making the most of our time together before University move-in day comes. If you’ve figured out that my son loves fast vehicles, well anything with an engine really, then this day of fun will come as no surprise. And it is a full day, with pole barn after pole barn filled with cars. Vintage cars. Muscle cars. Fast cars. Cars for sale.

There is so much to see—planes, snowmobiles, bikes, submarines, just to name a few. With a thirty minute guided train tour, plenty of food and drink, and antique shopping also on site, there’s a little something for everyone at the Volo Auto Museum.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from our visit…

Volo1.jpg

Are these photos bringing back any memories?

Volo2.jpg

No museum would be complete without a Star Wars exhibit!

Volo3.jpg

You should definitely visit the Batmobile in honor of Adam West!

IMG_5698.JPG

For more information you can check out the museum’s website Volo Car Museum. I am not affiliated in any way with this museum. I just enjoyed our day and wanted to share.

Got a favorite destination you like to visit when you’re not writing? Post it below. I’d love to hear about it.

 

🙂

I admit it. I’m going to need therapy.

MainStreet1.jpg

I’ve prepared for this moment for eighteen years now. But in these last few hours as a mom with a senior in high school, come Saturday, I know I’m going to completely fall apart.

Sure, after twenty-four weeks of puking my guts out and an emergency C-section, I cut the cord to my only son. Really. I did.

  • Who sent their five-year-old to Wisconsin for camp? I did.
  • Who sent their eight-year-old 700 miles away to summer camp where he’s going to learn to identify bear scat and sleep in the woods? I did.
  • Who handed over the key fob on that very first day the driver’s permit was issued and taught him how to drive all over Chicagoland? I did.
  • Who dropped their sixteen-year-old off at O’Hare Airport so he can board a flight to Boston and experience a three-week engineering adventure? I did.
  • Who got exceptionally nervous when she received a picture text from her I’m-way-too-busy-to-keep-in-touch son who captioned said photo: Literally lost at MIT? I did.

 

IMG_6679.JPG

Who taught him how to make pancakes? Admittedly, I did NOT do this; apparently, he can read the box and follow directions. YES!! But wait! I taught him how to read. Therefore, I must have also taught him how to make pancakes. Booyeah!

IMG_6680.JPG

So why am I going to fall apart this Saturday at the graduation ceremony and do it again when I drop him off this August so he can begin the next adventure of his life? Because…

  • Who’s going to point out what’s wrong with commercials X, Y & Z?
  • Who’s going to have a conversation with me about the plot of the latest show we’re addicted to, and how he’s über confident the plot is following Vivaldi’s Four Seasons because, to him, “It’s soo obvi.”
  • Who’s going to destroy the upstairs bathroom and have no clue it’s disgusting?
  • Who’s going to insist the 80’s music I grew up listening to isn’t in any way too loud and should, therefore, be cranked up even more?
  • Who’s going to beat me in Family Game Night?
  • Who’s going to tell me he loves me each morning before heading out the door?

The list could go on. After all, a lot has gone on during the short eighteen years from the moment he took his first breath to now. And it has been short, seemingly flying by like a next-generation fighter jet that is obliterating supersonic speeds well above Mach 6.72, which is 6.72 times the speed of sound, or 4520 miles per hour. Fast. No wonder everyone keeps saying, “Don’t blink, you’ll miss it.”

Yes, there is so much to look forward to in life. And ultimately this is exactly what hubby and I have prepared our son for. But, among many things, I sure am going to miss our evening mealtime, which turns into thirty minutes of Wheel-watching and a focused attempt at being the first to blurt out the answer to the puzzle.

MainStreet2.jpg

Thankfully, I’ve got hubby at my side to help me solve the puzzles I can’t, friends who insist on four-hour lunches at Portillos, and my Main Street sisters to keep me busy. Now, where did I put that number so I can make an appointment for my first therapy session? Might it be 1-800-Disney?

So I’ve Finished Another First Draft…Now What?

giphy

Yup! That’s how I feel when I’ve finally made it to the end of another story.

But what happens now?

Every author has their own process they go through. I thought I’d see if I could pinpoint how I get from the thrill of finishing that first draft to nearing the point of publication.

giphy1

It certainly is quite a transformation.

But here’s my must-do list.

  1. Delete any and all unnecessary description that slows flow. I often ask myself: Does my reader really care about this little bit of info? Make them feel like they’re in the scene and move on.
  2. Combine sentences to show/tell the same thing in one rather than three while still maintaining a balance of short and long sentences.
  3. Watch out for info dumping and delete unnecessary parts that neither mean something to the plot nor move the story forward. This is the time to be ruthless. Murder those darlings!

giphy2

4. Search for cliches and ditch them. Be original.

5. Search for overused words. I have a slew of those suckers that creep into my stories.

6. Check all those ideas and thoughts that I hopped out of the shower to jot down in the notes section of my phone. Add in and fix per the list of Things-To-Do-For-BookXYZ.

7. Read the story out loud. How does it sound? Does it flow? Do my characters sound like real people? The story should sound as natural as it would if you were sitting at a pub with your bestie and simply telling her the story.

giphy3

8. Rewrites and edits—no matter how many passes it takes—are a must.

giphy4

9. Tackle opening sentences of each chapter. Same goes for mini-cliffhangers or some sort of exciting news at the end of each chapter. I really do want to keep my readers turning pages.

10. Let it sit. This is a must for me. When I let my manuscript sit for a week to a month, the time away from the story gives my brain a break. And my brain works in very unusual ways. After time, I no longer have sentences memorized. I find out if a scene is funny, or sad, or just terribly bad. At this point, I also find issues I missed because I was too close to the story. Once, I wrote an entire chapter that rhymed. What? Yup. I had no clue I’d done it. Some days I talk in rhyme without even thinking. Told you my brain is strange.

11. Read. Read. Read. If I don’t move on to another story while BookXYZ is sitting, I read.

giphy8

AND EAT! I tend to forget the importance of nutrition.

12. Shout the news that I’ve got another story for my beta reader(s) to critique. Then pray that they’ll tell me the truth.

giphy5

13. Give it all another go… one more time… giving the story everything I’ve got left in me.

giphy6

14. Write for me, not for sales!

giphy7

15. Celebrate the accomplishment. After all, writing a story is not an easy task!

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few other things I do along the way.

What steps do you go though? I’d love to hear about them.

#MarchMadness Through the Eyes of a Writer #amreading #books

Hello & Welcome!

Three things come to mind when I think about the month of March: St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago, Spring Break at the beach, and March Madness—the road to the Final Four!

Growing up in Southern Indiana, March was all about basketball. So I thought I’d have a little fun and fill out my brackets using a book to go along with each team. I put this together before the tournament started. These books have something to do with the state or region the basketball team is from. If watching college basketball isn’t really your thing, you can always dig into a good book. Here are a few of my favorites.

 

March Madness.jpg

Let’s take a closer look at each bracket…

Continue reading

Sweet & Small, The Greatest Month of All

j-m-maurerauthorHi! I’m J.M. Maurer, one of the newest members of Authors of Main Street. You may have heard about me through my writing, or our paths have crossed during some previous moment in time, or you might not know me at all. If so, we can use this time to become new friends (yay)! Whatever the case, I’m super excited to be here.

I love February. For me, it’s not just about that one day in the middle of the month. No, for me, it’s all about the chocolate. Sweet. Semi-sweet. Dark. White. In my coffee. On my finger. Spread across my morning toast. And, by the way, have you ever put chocolate in your pot roast?

It is true that cocoa and chocolate have neuroprotective effects on our body. Did I tell you I’m a registered nurse? Well, fair warning to you, my future posts might get rather interesting. But back to chocolate and that wonderful morsel you just slid past your lips.

That yummy bite contains numerous substances, my favorite being the antioxidant molecules (flavonoids) that are so beneficial to our brain. In fact, our brain loves an influx of these suckers. They’ve been known for elevating mood, preserving cognitive function, improving blood flow, and decreasing the risk of stroke. There is also research that suggests the substances in chocolate play a key role in memory.

There’s an added bonus of cardiovascular health as these flavonoids also help prevent clogged arteries and raise the levels of good cholesterol. Chocolate is also full of magnesium, which helps keep our bones strong, our nerves transmitting the appropriate signals, and our energy centers happy.

Chocolate certainly keeps me happy.

Chocolate.png

So what’s an appropriate serving size?  1.5 ounces will do your body good. Any more than that and you might want to hit the gym.

***One important side note about flavonoids…they act a bit like aspirin. So if you are already taking prescription blood thinners, be cautious with your chocolate intake and follow your doctor’s orders when it comes to consuming it. Though, I doubt a small bite during what’s been referred to as “Sweet & Small, The Greatest Month of All” will harm you.

Here’s an excerpt from one of my books while you eat your bite. This is from Seeking Redemption (Book 2 in the Emerging From Darkness Trilogy). Here, Matthew has the perfect evening planned. He spends the day sending Jess riddles. Each riddle leads her to discovering the next. The evening is nearly ruined by…spoilers…but she eventually figures out where she’s supposed to meet him. They’re on a private rooftop, sitting at a table set for two.

sr-amazon

… After returning my attention to the intricately folded napkin on my plate, I stared at the masterpiece and wondered how long it took him to fold it to perfection. Forethought and time had obviously been given to it, folding it into the impressive and complex pattern that sat before me. I didn’t want to dismantle it; it was too beautiful.

But Matthew leaned forward, removed the pink flower from the center, and placed it in my hair, tucking it gently behind my ear. “Unwrap it,” he said, brushing his fingers along my jaw.

I looked at him for a moment, the upward curl of his lips and his eyes glistening under the lights of the cabana charming me. Caught within his smile, I had to force myself to return to the napkin that was folded like a rose on my plate, and coax my trembling fingers to move.

As I reached for a section to pull, Matthew sat patiently at my side, his smile so freaking beautiful. He nodded for me to continue. I pulled the corner sections apart and gasped, the hidden gift now clearly in view, sparkling in contrast against the black cloth.

Unable to move, I stared at it as Matthew stood up and reached over me, lifting the diamond pendant from its resting spot and displaying it for a moment in front of me.

“I love you,” he purred, then secured the white gold clasp around my neck and kissed the top of my head.

Surprised and cognizant of his love, I drew my hand to clasp the pendant, stood up, and pulled him into my arms.

“I love you too,” I whispered, clawing at his back and pressing my cheek against his chest. “Thank you.”

“I’ve said it before, Jess. This is me, showing you how much love your heart can hold, cherishing you like you’ve never been cherished, loving you like you never even knew you could be loved. Forever.” He pulled away, lifted my chin, and kissed me. “Forever,” he repeated, his lips brushing against mine.

We kissed until he broke contact. “Dance with me.”

It was a command, not a request, and I giggled as he stood and took me in his arms, holding me firmly as he led with purpose and style.

I’d been mostly tuning out the soft lyrics in the background, listening to Matthew instead, but as his tight embrace rocked me under the stars with the cool breeze blowing through my hair, I heard it, Savage Garden’s “Truly, Madly, Deeply”—the lyrics enchanting us during our first dance.

Following along with his subtle footwork and mentally absorbing the words, I wiped away a few stray tears as they rolled down my cheek, feeling emotional in the moment and deeply touched by the song. It was our beautiful moment, during a day that had been not so appealing at times but was absolutely perfect now.

“Forever.” The word traveled past my lips, becoming etched on my heart and stored with great meaning in my mind.

Emerging From Darkness Trilogy

IMG_3672.JPG

I took this picture at L.A. Burdick Chocolate in Cambridge, MA. It’s one of my favorite “Main Street” places.

What’s your favorite chocolate? Do you remember my name? If not, why not try increasing your daily dose of flavonoids?