Technology , Spirituality and Creativity

This is a funny confession, but technology inspires me both creatively, and spiritually. 

I used to live in a tiny bubble that was comprised of my immediate neighborhood, my city, occasional forays to other cities.  Now, thanks to technology, I’m connected to a vast web of people, through my blog, email, and social networking.  I’ve got ghostwriting clients in LA, students in Nashville, and friends all over the world.  People say technology is the death of intimacy, but I say the opposite.

There’s no escaping it–we’re all connected. Quantum physicists tell us that everything we do impacts even the tiniest atoms of matter.  Technology proves this to me, over and over again, every day.  Because I have physical evidence of our interconnections through technology, it is much, much easier for me to believe it in a spiritual manner.

As above, so below, the ancients say.  As technology, so spirituality. 


Strong Verbs and Other Good Words, Part Three: The Word Book

In part one of this series, I talked about strong verbs.  Part two featured a rant essay about the thesaurus.  And now we come to part three, which is about the word book.  It could also be titled, write the word down, stupid.  (For those of you youngsters, or people with short memories, I'm riffing off the slogan that won Bill Clinton the election, way back in the days of yore.  The slogan, "Its the economy, stupid," was posted on election headquarters walls to remind workers what the key issue was.  The more things change, the more they stay the same. Except this time I'm pretty sure that Obama doesn't need reminding.)

Anyway, strong verbs and word books.  Carrie's Graduation and Images of Word Book 041
Carrie's Graduation and Images of Word Book 045

Behold, images of my very own word book:  I know, I know, the photos are not the best, but I am proud of them nonetheless, because I so rarely manage to illustrate posts with photos.  They are clear enough, I hope, for you to get the gist.  My word book is a cute little (5 by 8 ish) purple binder with A to Z tabs and in it I write down, wait for it, words. 

The genesis of my word book stems from my MFA years.  One of my mentors, Melissa Pritchard, gave a lecture in which she talked about a word book that she had begun years ago and now could not live without.  I had a writer's crush on Melissa and vowed to emulate every single thing that she did, ever.  And so I started my own word book, not having the first clue what hers actually contained.  I just liked the idea of having a book full of vital words that I carried with me everywhere.

At first I laboriously wrote new words in my word book, looked up the definition, and then wrote that down, too.  A nice idea, and I do love all the words I've defined in my book.  And even though it is fun to leaf through and admire the words, I find this approach is not terribly useful.  After all, how do I know what word I'm looking for?  I have to confess that this wee problem made me set aside the word book for a few, gasp, years.

But since I've been on my Verb Safari, I am reconfiguring the word book.  Mostly now I'm using it to write down verbs.  Strong verbs, weak verbs, verbs based on nouns, verbs I made up, verbs that don't make any sense.  The best way to find good verbs is to start becoming aware of them.  And once you find them, write them down.  Make your own word book.  Write them on index cards (my new favorite way to keep track of ideas).  Write them on scraps of paper, throw them in a basket, and look over them every once in awhile.  Doesn't matter where you write them, but do it.   And while you're add it write down other words that catch your fancy, also.  You'll find your verb use and your vocabulary improving drastically.

So that's it, my three-part series on verb use.  If you find any good verbs, share them with me, would you?  I'd appreciate it.

How to Ferret Out Strong Verbs and Other Good Words

Big Word Hunting, Part One: What is a Strong Verb?

Have you ever read a novel and been impressed with the originality of the author's use of verbs?  One of the hallmarks of good fiction is the use of strong, original verbs.  Yet how does one go about finding these verbs when our daily lives are most often assaulted with weak variations of "to be" from every angle?  When I read a novel full of good verbs I sigh heavily and lament that I am not a good verb finder.

But of late I have deduced that my inability to find good verbs is a result of laziness.  I hate when that happens and I discover that something I thought was a congenital trait is actually because I am slothful.

Why laziness?  Because it takes more effort to pull out the thesaurus and look up a word then it does to hit Shift F7 and use the lame Word synonym finder.  And because it takes consistent exertion to look for verbs in your daily travels and readings, and most important, when you find them, write them down.  It takes energy to drag yourself out of the rut of using plain, ordinary words and passive verbs.

Perhaps at this point you might be asking, what, exactly is a strong verb?  Let us take a look:

  • All variants of the verb to be are weak verbs.  (Sorry, to be it is a harsh judgment, but it must be said.)  Poor old to be is so over-used that it does not pull up any fresh imagery (or any image at all).  To be is the work horse of the verb world, and work horses age early and get tired and sick and feeble. So send your to bes out to pasture and find some young fresh fillies, or colts if you prefer.
  • Verbs with an ing ending are weak verbs.  Yes, I know, the justification for using the ing ending is that it indicates time passing.  Such as "I was reading while I waited for the train."  However, a simple ed ending accomplishes the same thing in a crisper fashion:  "I read while I waited for the train."  I have a tragic propensity to fall in love with ing endings and so once in awhile, I must whip myself soundly and rid my manuscript of as many of them as possible.  Put those ing endings out in the back 40 with the workhorse to bes, where they can have AARP parties together.
  • Verbs based on nouns are strong verbs.  A fun verb exercise is to sit in a room, look around and start naming every noun you see.  What you'll discover is that many of our most beloved verbs are based on nouns. And in the process of turning nouns into verbs, you might stretch your mind a bit to discover some hot new verbs. 
  • Strong verbs stand alone, on their own two feet.  They don't need helpers like had, or would, or any other words that exist mostly to suck up to the handsome strong verbs.  For instance, "The policeman had run so fast he was out of breath."  How about "The policeman ran so fast he was out of breath," instead?  You get the gist.  Banish the helper verbs.  They can rent the room next to the AARP verbs and hold a wake for themselves.

In part two of this diatribe series on verbs, coming tomorrow, God and goddess willing, we will discuss the wonders of the thesaurus.  Until then, have a look at your current writing project.  What kinds of verbs do you see?

Another Way to Get Publicity

Publicity for me, that is.  Here's the deal.  Drumroll please….Wordstrumpet is now an Alltop blog!

What is Alltop, you ask?  They call themselves a "digital magazine rack" and since I am a magazine harlot as well as a Wordstrumpet, I like that description.   What this means is that they gather up a bunch of sites for your reading pleasure.  Or, as they so eloquently put it, "in other words our goal is the 'cessation of internet stagnation' by providing 'aggregation without aggravation.'" 

And since the folks at Alltop are "highly subjective and judgmental" (their words, not mine) about who they include, I am thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to be a part of it. 

How does it work?  Head on over to the writing page at Alltop and you'll see several feeds listed, including mine, down there at the bottom.  Also listed are the headlines of the five most recent posts, which you can then run your cursor over to get an instant preview to see if you want to read it.  Cool, huh?

I'm heading over to get one of their kick-ass badges to put up, but first I need to thank Frank Marafiote, who got me going on Alltop in the first place.  Thanks, Frank!

Lasagne for Lewis, Pineapple-Upside Down Cake for Emma Jean

Pineapple_upsidedown_cake_9I've just finished making a pan of lasagne for my son's birthday dinner tomorrow.  (Brief aside: on Twitter, the spell check wanted me to spell it lasagne, which I thought was correct.  Here on Typepad, the spelling gods insist it is lasagna.  But I sticking to my e ending.  I like e endings.)

I'm sort of famous for my dislike of cooking, but lately I've been trying out new recipes (cooked pineapple and cheese–thank you, Candace), making old favorites I'd forgotten about (apple, celery, and walnut salad), and creating new dishes (brown rice, black beans, burger, onion garlic, other interesting things I can't remember.  My Mom would call this Icebox Cleanup.)  Fall is in the air and it makes me want to cook.

I've always seen cooking as one more thing that is taking me away from writing, one more thing to rush through so I can get back to what I'm working on.  I've been known to set a pan of some slapped-together concoction on the stovetop and wander away to get back to my work–only to return to find the food a burned mess.

Ah, the writing gods are harsh masters, demanding such fealty that we scribes have time for nothing else.  Certainly not for cooking, or any other hobbies.  Alright, I do knit–but it is a rare occasion when I actually finish something.  Writing always beckons before I have a chance.  And then there's the fact that it is difficult to knit or cook while reading, and let's face it, reading is a critical aspect of writing.

But I'm starting to think I've been missing out.  People always yammer on about how grounding and relaxing cooking is and I roll my eyes and tell them cooking bores me, implying, of course, that I have way better and more important things to do.  And the thing is I admire people who cook.  Deeply admire them.  I think that people who cook are very likeable.  They cook to feed others, to please others, to make others happy, right?  So most cooks are very good people, except those snotty ones who will only use a certain kind of cheese from France and the finest olive oil and all that crappery.

My point in all of this is a confession of sorts.  Part of the reason I've started cooking is that the heroine of my novel is cooking.  Emma Jean has recently informed me that she loves to bake (pineapple-upside down cake and cookies to present at her readings) and cook (I don't know what yet).  I'm happy that Emma Jean has told me this because she is a kick-ass, larger than life character, and kick-ass, larger than life characters are sometimes difficult to write in a sympathetic manner.  But because Emma Jean loves to cook, particularly for others, this will make her more likeable.  Right?  Right? 

And so I have some catching up to do in the cooking department.  Hence the lasagne–everything from scratch–for Lewis.  Try as I might, however, I could not convince him that he needed to choose pineapple-upside down cake for his birthday dessert.  I'll just have to bake it another time, seeing as how it is Emma Jean's specialty.

Photo of Pineapple-upside down cake by Mark Pellegrini, used under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.5 license.

The Writing Loft Recap

I promised a run-down of the recent orientation weekend my partner Terry Price and I put together for the Writer's Loft, at MTSU in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Terry and I took over the program last March, (geez, it seems much longer ago than that) and so this was the first orientation on our watch.  We were delirious with excitement over how it turned out, mostly because of our wonderful presenters.

The event started on Friday morning with a three-hour workshop given by Darnell Arnoult.  People who live in Nashville, North Carolina, and really anywhere across the south are familiar with Darnell's workshops which are so full of information and inspiration I could sit through day after day of them, even if she said the same thing over and over again.

In her workshop, "Writing Out of Chaos, OR How to Write a Better Story than You Know," Darnell presented the specifics of her system for writing a novel.  She believes avidly, as I do, that story comes from character, and that the first draft is a learning draft.  Where Darnell departs from common creative writing wisdom is in her insistence that one can write a novel without knowing much about the plot or having to tackle it chronologically.    She advocates getting to know your characters by setting them in motion through exercises that she suggests.  And one thing I love about Darnell is that she is adamant that you can get a lot of writing done in 15 minute chunks.  You can complete a character exercise in that amount of time, or write the beginnings of a scene.

Darnell also has an exercise that she does called "Finding Fiction in a Photo," which is a very useful idea generator.  She passes out photos and asks you to choose one and then she has you literally stare at the photo for five full minutes.  Just sit there in silence and stare at it, taking in every detail you possibly can.  Then she has a whole list of questions that you can answer about the photo.  Things like List five observations about the scene in the image, List five physical characteristics of the person you've chosen in the photograph, what is the person's full name? and so on, through over fifty questions.  (of course, we only got through the first few questions in the workshop.)

The total of all of this was that I came away re-energized to work on my novel, and I've been working on it, to the detriment of all my other writing projects ever since.

I'll have more info about the other Loft lectures and workshops in the coming days.  Meanwhile, enrollment in the Loft is not just for people who live in Nashville.  We videotape the entire weekend, and since the heart of the program is one-on-one mentored writing, you can do it from wherever you live.  Check our website for more info, or email me at the address listed at the top of this page.

I Confess

I cannot tell a lie, because you have no doubt noticed, but I am a blogging slacker.

Two weeks ago I headed to Nashville for the Writer's Loft fall orientation.   This was a big to-do because it was the first actual orientation that my partner Terry and I planned since we took over the program.  And, I am happy to report, it was a rip-roaring success.

So much so that I got completely re-inspired to work on my novel again.  Not just working on it, but working working on it, if you know what I mean–keeping the file open on my computer, working on it every spare moment, obsessing about it all the other moments, stealing time from paying work.  That kind of working on it, which I love because its been too long since I've been in this space.

To my credit, there has been guilt.  Lots of it.  So much that it finally drove me to cautiously log onto my Typepad account.  So here I am.  I've not gone anywhere, just deeply into the novel.

Here's the good news–I took copious notes while sitting in the workshops and lectures that inspired me so much and my plan is to write blog posts about what I learned.  Um, never mind that that has been my plan for the past week, since I returned home.  I'm going to do it.  I wrote this post, didn't I? 

I also have a pile of reviews to post on my companion site, Bookstrumpet.  So stayed tuned, there is much more to come.  Really.  Trust me.  I promise.

And now excuse while I go look at what I wrote this afternoon on my novel.

Oh, one more thing–I was having some computer issues last week.  Like big ones.  Like my beloved Vaio melting down type problems.  Its okay for the moment, but I'm in the market for a new one.   I'm so tempted by the Macbook.  So very, very tempted.  I've resisted the whole Apple cult for years and now I feel it ensnaring me.  Help me, PC users! Not a big fan of Dells, but I've loved my Vaio.  I would like it to be less than astronomically expensive.  So if anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear it.  Has to be a laptop–it goes with me wherever I go.

Link Round-Up

By the time you read this, I'll be in Nashville. And even though I have learned how to send a post to this site from my Centro, just in case the giant Centro God in the sky deems that feature unavailable this week, I've collected a few of my favorite Wordstrumpet links for your reading pleasure.

No, they aren't from other blogs, they are from this one.  You think I really want you wandered away from here?  No, I need more traffic and lots of it.  So don't wander away, spend time on posts you may not have had the opportunity to read.

And sign up for my newsletter while you are at it.  (Its that cute box to the right.  At least I think it is to the right.  I have to stop and think about it every time.)

So here goes, a selection of posts for your reading pleasure, in no particular order:

A reminder of my obsession about David Cook.  How quickly we move on to other things.  But no doubt I will buy his CD when it comes out in the Fall.

Springtime in Oregon.  Nothing better.  Except for maybe fall in Oregon, days so beautiful they make your heart hurt.

Ah, LA.  You gotta love it.

I don't know, I'm silly that way, I just love to write.

And finally, lest we forget, why I'm in Nashville.  C'mon and join me, y'all.

One more thing–if you're bored, Bookstrumpet, my sister site has all kinds of great reviews on it.  I've got a great staff of contributors who write about all kinds of interesting books.  Check it out. 

Story

What's the difference between a novel and a story?

A story is shorter.

Funny joke.  I know, I know, don't quit my day job as a writer to to become a comedian, right? 

The truth of the matter is, a short story is a lot shorter than a novel, and that makes all the difference.  For starters, every word and every sentence must count in a story.  That doesn't mean that you novelists get to slack and not worry about words and sentences, it just means that stories are more like poems in that every word must count.

A story also has to reach a pinnacle of some sorts.  Of course, a novel must also, but the novelist has 300 or so odd pages to accomplish this while the short story writer might have 20 if she is lucky.  In a story, either the character changes, or he reaches the "last chance to change" as the famous editor Rust Hills called it, and decides not to change.  Something happens over the course of the story (or else there wouldn't be a story) and your character either changes because of that, or decides not to change, consciously, or more likely, unconsciously.

Why am I pondering the elements of a short story?  Because I've actually been working on one, for the first time in quite awhile.  My friend and colleague Linda Parker is putting together an anthology of Christmas stories and essays, and I'm adapting a chapter from my first novel for it. 

Story is a topic that endlessly fascinates me, and because of this, I'm going to devote a feature article on my first newsletter to it.  That will be coming out next week, after I return to Nashville, and if you want to get on the newsletter mailing list, just sign up on the handy little box to the right.

Writer’s Loft Orientation Next Weekend

Yesterday I cleverly wrote a post on my new Centro phone and sent it to be published on Typepad from my backyard.  I know this is old news for those of you who have had Blackberries and Iphones for ever, but it is a major step forward for me.  I'm on the road to LA and Nashville a lot, and now, should I find myself without and internet connection, or stuck in an airport, I can check email, work on documents and even write a blog post. 

Another way to feed my internet addiction, just what I've needed.

I've been working on figuring out this phone because I'm heading off to Nashville on Tuesday.  Next weekend is the two-day orientation for the Writer's Loft, the program I co-direct with Terry Price.

The Writer's Loft is a certificate writing program that features one-on-one writing instruction that is based at Middle Tennessee State University.   Students write original work and critical essays based on their reading, and their mentors critique this work in a structured, supportive atmosphere.  You can read a lot more about it on my page about the program here.

This fall, we're doing something a little different and that is opening up the Friday portion of the orientation to non-students for the low cost of $50.  That morning, novelist Darnell Arnoult will be lecturing on, "Writing Out of Chaos, Or, How To Write a Better Story Than You Know," and in the afternoon poet Bill Brown will be presenting a workshop called, "Finding Your Pivotal Moments, Real and Imagined." 

Anyone who lives in the Nashville area and is interested in writing ought to seriously consider checking it out.  You can register directly on the website and read all about the program there, too.

I'm hoping to bring you live reports from the scene, as they say, or at least check in after the events of the day are over to bring you nuggets of writing information.  Stay tuned.