Wednesday, October 31, 2007

With a Song in My Heart

Sorry I've been out of the loop. It's because I haven't been home for quite awhile so I haven't been able to post. Tonight I'm posting on the "off" day. Isn't Halloween always some kind of an off day?

Over the past several weeks I've been carrying a project around with me that has been very cathartic and inspirational. I would encourage all of you to try it.

Taking one of those tiny "put in your pocket" church hymn books and a notebook, I've been copying lines out of the hymns that have some special meaning to me. Then I am combining the various lines without adding any extra words and making some kind of message or talk out of the words found in the hymns. There is an accompanist who is working up background music to play while I read the text.

There is great power in the words of the hymns. Sometimes I sit weeping as I write lines like: "Prayer is the contrite sinner's voice returning from his ways, while angels in their songs rejoice and cry, 'Behold, he prays!'"

Many times I find hidden treasures in the unfamiliar hymns, or in the un-sung verses of the familiar songs. "Restore my dear Savior the light of thy face. Thy soul cheering comfort impart. And let the sweet longing for thy Holy Place bring hope to my desolate heart."

Why am I doing this? I really have no idea. Nobody asked me to do it. I just wanted to see if I could.

I think we've basically come to the point in many of our lives where we need an excuse to follow spiritual promptings. We want an assignment to justify taking time out of our busy lives to feast upon things of the spirit. I am a very busy person, but I find if I heed the spiritual nudges, I receive an uplift and more energy to deal with all the necessary things I have to do. And so right now I am copying lines out of the hymns and feeding my soul.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Jilted Writers Contest

Just for fun, I'm running a Jilted Writers Contest. Send in your best (or worst) rejection letter. Winners will receive wonderful prizes like bookmarks. See my blog: for details. So far the entries are hilarious.

But if yours is a tear-jerker, don't hesitate to send it, too.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Though My Talents May Be Small

One of the many things on my desk--that actually belongs there--is a framed quote by President Hinckley, from a talk called I Believe. One part of the quote says, "My talents may not be great, but I can use them to bless the lives of others." The quote goes on, but ends like this: "I believe in the principle that I can make a difference in this world. It may be ever so small. But it will count for the greater good. The goodness of the world in which we live is the accumulated goodness of many small and seemingly inconsequential acts."

I read this over often as I set out to do my work. Because the majority of my writing is non-fiction, and designed to teach people things, it's something I like to keep in mind. My talents are considerably less than President Hinckley's, and sometimes I find myself wondering if there is even enough to make it worth the effort. But every now and then I get an email saying I helped. I may only be helping a small number of people, but as President Hinckley said, it's the accumulated small acts that add up to the good in the world. So my little morsal of encouragement or advice can be added to all the other morsals, or even the giant batches of help, and together, we writers are making a difference to someone.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Well Behaved Women Don't Leave Home Without It

Don't leave home without what? Your business card. You can print them on your own computer or order inexpensive ones from various websites. Or you can go the custom route and spend $ on them. Whatever your style, never forget to have a few on hand.

I have met interesting people on planes and at dinners and all kinds of events and as we become acquainted and I tell them I'm a writer, they ask the inevitable question: "What have you published?" Fortunately, I can answer that with two concrete titles now, and hand them my card. It took years to reach this point. But don't wait until you are published to act like a published author, and don't apologize for not being published yet. Have a card ready that announces you are a writer, because you are.

If you are published, be sure to list your titles on your current business card. It's easy for someone to forget your name or book title unless it's in writing.

I recently attended a writers workshop (more on that in a future blog) where the presenter was excellent. Her subject was on being professional, and how to organize a killer PR plan (and a career plan as well).

One of her suggestions was that when you meet specific goals, you should reward yourself. This reward needs to be something you wouldn't ordinarily do for yourself.
So, forcing myself to go to the front of the room to introduce myself and thank her for her presentation, I told her that when my book comes out November 1, I am going to send flowers to myself. She said she loved the idea, would suggest it in her next workshop, and what was my book about? I told her the title and then . . .
The presenter next to her (a publicist) joined the conversation and said she'd seen my bookmark in the lobby and had wanted to find me and did I have any more materials? I just happened to have a press kit in my room down the hall. So I returned with it and she said, "Do you mind if I use this as an example when I present this afternoon?" I said "Please do, and please point out where it could be better." What an opportunity!

She also said "You have a killer title!" which pleased me immensely. I can't claim that it's original, though. "Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys" is an old folksong. I borrowed (stole) my title from it.
Well, as fate would have it, the presenter scheduled in the slot before her went WAY overtime that afternoon, so she had to shorten her presentation significantly and never got to comment on my press kit. But she did mention my bookmark, and with it in her hand for a few minutes, she waved it around as she emphasized various points. Hey, free publicity! And then she asked if she could take my materials home with her (to New York) and email some feedback, as she hadn't been able to address them during her limited time? Well, yes, of course! Hey, free advice from an expert!

I am not one to introduce myself to people, especially people who are from New York, or who are famous in any way. The old shyness overcomes me and I miss opportunities! But by displaying my bookmark (thanks to the kindness of the event's organizer) and forcing myself to approach a presenter, my upcoming release got a bit of attention that money can't buy.

So do carry business cards on your person, keep bookmarks (mine are homemade and unfortunately look like it, but I did my best) and press kits handy. You never know who you will be prompted to meet, or who will be sitting across from you at the table (in my case, it was an independent bookstore representative and a representative from Hastings, both of whom had heard of my book, thanks to the conference).

I don't often quote Dr. Phil, but I believe he is correct when he insists there is no such thing as coincidence. And another piece of encouragement comes from Harvard's Dr. Laurel Ulrich Thatcher, who coined the phrase "Well behaved women seldom make history."

Step out of your comfort zone. You won't regret it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ten More Ways to Know You're a Writer

by Patricia Wiles

(Lori's post is so true for us! I couldn't resist sharing a few of my own quirks.)

10. You dream in stories, and when you wake up (even if it's the middle of the night) you grab something -- anything -- to write the dream down, because if you don't you'll forget it.

9. You have rituals you must perform or objects you must have on your desk in order to write. (I have my "Remember Who You Are" token from Terrie hanging on my desk at work, and I start my day with a soda and a bag of pretzels.)

8. Your friends are either imaginary (because they're in your mind) or invisible (because they're on the internet).

7. You may not recall the terminology used to describe proper grammar when writing, but find you know as if by instinct when something "sounds" right -- or when it doesn't.

6. You become so focused when working on a project you forget to do important things like eat lunch, feed the cat, blow out the candles you lit for ambiance, remove the laundry that's in the dryer ...

5. When you get a rejection letter, you cry. You swear never to send your story out again. You decide to pack up all your writing books. Then, a couple of days later, you realize if you just tweaked a couple of elements in your submission ... and before you know it, you're stamping another SASE.

4. You spoil movies and TV for your non-writer friends. When a character gets a book published and it goes on the market right away, you laugh and say, "That's so fake. That's not the way it is AT ALL." Then you proceed to tell them all about the submission and rejection process. Like they even care.

3. You realize a good book is the result of a good relationship between the author and the editor.

2. You get excited when a new office supply store opens in town.

And, the number one way (at least for me)...

1. You clean out your closet and find you still have copies of The Writer you bought in 1996, and you realize that after all these years, you still haven't given up hope -- and you're still writing.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ten Reasons Why You Know You're a Writer

By Lori Nawyn

10. You don’t know when your spouse will be home but you know exactly what time the mailman will arrive.

9. Your neighbors want new living room furniture. You just want a comfortable desk chair.

8. You find yourself stopping past bookstores and libraries that aren’t on the way home.

7. You buy computer paper and ink cartridges in bulk.

6. Your friends want to go on extended, exotic vacations. You just want to spend time alone with your computer.

5. You’ve learned to carry on conversations with family members and type at the same time.

4. You’d never think of spending hours in front of the TV but you don’t find it abnormal to spend days at the computer screen.

3. Some people fantasize about meeting celebrities. You fantasize about meeting editors and publishers.

2. You analyze all your conversations with family and friends to see if there are any good snippets of dialogue for your WIP.

1. Your fear of rejection has nothing to do with romance.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Words have lives of their own

by Terrie Lynn Bittner

There is a section in my first book that was done somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The book’s target audience got it, and often said it was both funny and true. A reviewer, however, took it seriously and was offended by it. Because I hadn’t labeled it tongue-in-cheek, as I had a section on stupid questions, and because I have a quirky sense of humor that often escapes people, there were those who didn’t get it, and therefore missed the unspoken message of the segment.

In a conversation, you have an opportunity to solicit feedback and make on-the-spot clarifications. When we write, or when we speak in a formal setting, we often don’t. Our words stand alone. It doesn’t matter what we said, only what people think we said. Recent debates over a General Conference talk last week make this issue very clear. People heard the exact same talk, and some were excited and motivated, while others were hurt or angry. They heard the talk in context of their own personalities, lives, and beliefs. The speaker had a motive, a purpose, and a message, but couldn’t control what people took from the talk.

As writers, this is a good lesson for us. There are many ways to say most things. There is no way to be certain every reader will hear our information or message the way we meant it. Words take on their own lives when they reach the reader and we can’t control it. We can try to anticipate it, however. As we make a lifetime study of words, we can try to learn not just the dictionary meaning of the words, but the emotional meanings of the words as well. For some, junk food is a lovely phrase, filled with thoughts of treats and happy indulgence. For others, the same term is filled with evil thoughts of people who don’t care about health. When we choose to use the phrase, we have to anticipate our target audience and how they react to the concept of junk food.

Make a list of ten words and then try to imagine how a variety of people might view those words. If you’re writing a novel, hand the words to each of your characters and ask them to explain the words to you. As you become more aware of how words, concepts, and ideas affect various people, you can increase your ability to communicate completely with your readers. We’ll never become perfect, but we can improve.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Are you lookin' for a fight?

If you're a writer, you'd better be looking for a fight.


Because every good story needs conflict.

If you want your reader to care about what happens in your story, the reader needs a reason to care. Conflict forces your character to choose sides. Conflict makes your reader think about what side she would choose if she were that character. It gets her involved in the story and makes her want to turn the page to find out how the character is going to handle the problem.

Life is all about conflict. If your story doesn't have meaningful conflict, it's not going to be relevant.

Don't shy away from conflict. There are conflicts in friendships, conflicts in families, conflicts in communities. It may be hard for us to write about conflict when we have been taught all our lives to be peacemakers. But if we don't allow conflict to occur in our stories, we're essentially removing our character's agency, allowing them to exist in a world where we save them from unpleasant outcomes. (Does this sound familiar?)

I've had many opportunities as a newspaper staff writer to observe conflicts from different points of view. It might be helpful to you to attend city or county government meetings or court sessions just to listen, observe, and take notes. When parties disagree or there is a problem to resolve, how do the parties involved handle it? How visible are their emotions? Did the outcomes meet their expectations?

Some conflicts have a polarizing effect. Take the meeting I attended today, for example -- a discussion about whether or not a board of health has the authority to enact a community smoking ban.

County government leaders say the board of health should not enact the ban, believing it's a job for elected officials. However, the elected officials don't talk as if they want a ban; squeaky wheels in the community say it's just another example of government trying to strip away the rights of the people.

On the other hand, you have the board of health. The members are convinced second-hand smoke is bad for the community, and can back that up with scientific evidence. They've been reluctant to act, or maybe just taking their time, exploring all avenues before making a decision.

This brings us to the critical point. At today's meeting, a state health official told the board that according to a legal opinion, health boards do have legal authority to enact a smoking ban.

Naturally, county government wants the board of health to back off, to say they're not going to enact a ban but allow the magistrates to decide.

The board of health can be pretty certain if the ball is put back in the fiscal court, the court won't pass the ban, considering there are some very vocal magistrates listening to a few very vocal constituents.

But, really now, why should the board do this? They're convinced of the dangers of second-hand smoke; 14 counties in the state have already gone smoke-free; and, in one of the most recent situations, the ban was enacted by that county's board of health, has not been contested in court -- and that county's ban, according to the legal opinion, is lawful and valid.

In that room today, there was no middle ground. People spoke either for or against the ban. But I'll be honest -- I'm eager to find out what happens next. Will the board decide to enact a ban or not? Will they cave in to the elected officials or will they do what they know is best for the community?

Someday -- I hope sooner than later -- our newspaper readers will be turning the page to find out.

Put your characters in a meaningful, relevant conflict, and readers will be turning the pages of your book -- not so they can skim to the end, but so they can savor your story, eager to learn the outcome.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Tricking Time

By Janie Van Komen

Nobody really has "time." The concept of owning time simply doesn't exist. Time is kind of like a pet that has to be trained or a child who doesn't want to do his or her jobs. Time will find a million things for you to do with it and try to entice you into each one. It will occupy your space here in this life with diddly nothingness.

It must be harnessed and disciplined, but just like the child who doesn't want to go to bed or clean his room you can find ways to trick time.

Each day a person looks out in the morning and takes some kind of inventory of the day's events. Some of us have more control over these events than others do but regardless of your current status of time organization what you have to do can and will take up all your time. It's kind of like when I had my sixth child and I said to my husband. "I wish I had appreciated how much time I really had when we only had four children."

My husband's reply was that I really didn't have more time then. He then said, "Okay if you think you had more time when you had four children then pretend like you had to take care of two more children so that we had eight children for a period of time and they have gone home now and so you are down to six."

"That's ridiculous," I said. My husband agreed and told me that no matter how many children I had they would always take up all my time.

As I pondered this statement and realized the truthfulness of it I realized that whatever I was doing could take up all of my time. If I ever wanted to do anything other than what was required of me I would have to find a way to fit it into the cracks.

What I wanted to do was write. I made a commitment to myself that I had to write something every day. I must admit that there have been days that the only thing I wrote was my name as I signed a check for this or that. However, I have learned how to take advantage of time snippets.

I always have a notepad with me. If I am working on a particular writing project I jot prompts into my notebook, things like; the last paragraph I wrote on the computer; ideas for articles I am going to explore; who I need to write a letter to; etc etc.

At home I have the various things I am working on placed in strategic locations around the house. I try not to put everything away when I'm not using it. If I have to get my writing out of a box, drawer, or closet I am less likely to jump in for five minutes here and there. I have found creative ways to disguise the stuff so that it doesn't look like a lot of excess clutter.

While I wait for kids to get ready for school, sports, or something else I write. Sitting in the car waiting to pick somebody up from school, doctor appointment, or a bank teller who is busy, I write.

I don't watch television unless it is some specific program I have planned for in advance. I don't spend a long time talking on the telephone. I'm not a very good friend. I am very selective in the friends I do things with because friendship can be very time consuming.

I read while I walk on my treadmill or ride my stationary bicycle. (I've tried writing while doing this but I can never read what I have written.)

I make writing dates with myself. A writing date consists of going someplace to write. Sometimes I go to the library, sometimes it's a nature park, sometimes it's Barnes and Noble, but wherever it is I decide how much I want to write while I am there and try to stick to my commitment.

I make deals with my family. If they will let me write for X amount of time then I will do whatever the bribe is.

Very few of us have the luxury of unlimited quantities of time to sit and languish over our keyboards with no interruptions. With a little ingenuity and a little dedication we can each find cracks in our lives where we can squeeze a little writing here and there and maybe even a chunk of an hour if we are lucky.

Keep the secret of writing in the cracks a secret so that time doesn't find out that you are tricking it to squeeze more out than it has to give.

Blogger's Night Out

By Janet Jensen

A recent Relief Society Enrichment Night (do we still call it that?) featured blogging. We had half a dozen laptops set up, logged on to a wireless server, and demonstrated blogging. Bloggers with some experience set up blogs for non-bloggers. We also took digital photos, downloaded them, and then uploaded them to the blogs. It was great fun, exploring possibilities with creative people.

Chapter One of my upcoming novel, Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys, is posted at Rachel Ann Nunes' web page:

I'm getting really excited/worried about how the book will do . . . and I know many of you can empathize.

We arrived home this morning after taking the red-eye, and Tuesday morning I take off again, to spend a week in Ohio with my three month-old granddaughter. You can see a clip of the little darling at my blog,


Friday, October 5, 2007


By Janet Jensen

Why I haven't posted this week -

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

With These Words

By Terrie Lynn Bittner

Yesterday, for no apparent reason, I found myself reading about the Tower of Babel. I think this event is the stuff of nightmares for writers. What is worse than the confounding of the language that is our life's work?

I wonder, though, if it made people appreciate the language they had. The Jaredites were spared, and I can imagine words became far more meaningful to them when they saw what happened to those who weren’t spared. Did they speak more carefully, making a special effort to use the most wonderful words they knew to communicate their thoughts? Did they use words sparingly, so as not to waste them, or did they use as many as they possibly could, anxiously afraid the words would disappear from memory if they didn’t?

And what of those who did lose their language? Did they ever look back longingly and regret all the times they took words for granted, never giving a thought to the wonderful gift they’d been given? When they gathered with their friends and family and tried to build a new language, they naturally started with the practical, but once the practical words were taken care of, what did they create next? What words were so important that they took the trouble to create them even though they weren’t essential for survival?

I love you.

I’m sorry.

I’m happy today.

Come watch the sunset with me.

I testify.

Dear Heavenly Father...

What words did they find they had to have to be human? When they figured out how to put those new words on paper, those few who knew how to write, did they choose the words they put down with reverence, knowing now how important it was to save the words and to make them matter?

Today, I’m sometimes shocked by the lack of concern for words in the world of writing. A teacher once told the class that using swear words was too easy. Any lazy writer could fill her book with swear words and pretend it was real writing, but the true challenge was to come up with words so interesting no one would even notice the characters weren’t swearing. I’m sure that wasn’t original advice, but where are the teachers who know that lesson today?

In the Phantom Tollbooth, by Justin Juster (certainly required reading for any writer), Milo is told, "In this box are all the words I know," he said. "Most of them you will never need, some you will use constantly, but with them you may ask all the questions which have never been answered and answer all the questions which have never been asked. All the great books of the past and all the ones yet to come are made with these words. With them there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn to do is to use them well and in the right places."

What words would you invent first after the necessities were done?

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Smell of Tickets is in the Air

By David G. Woolley

I'm a long time conference sign holder. I invented the sport. When I started holding signs that read "Hungry for Conference Tickets" the only other sign holders were hunkered down behind police barriers in the free speech zones. They were dressed in jeans and a black T shirt. I wore a white shirt and tie, didn't call anyone to repentance and church security allowed me free reign on church property to scare up some tickets. I got so good that between the parking lot and the front doors of the Conference Center I collected enough tickets for half the souls in the standby line none of whom had a clue about the art of sign holding.

These days us ticket sign holders outnumber the free speech sign holders ten to one and the new arrivals are getting more creative every year. Last conference I didn't even bother to compete on the same street corner with the three 18.9 year-old sign holders begging for tickets with their poverty plea angle written in pencil lead script on notebook paper with a sappy, tug on the heart-strings sign "Drove from California all night. Leaving on mission next week. Please give us tickets." As if all the new competition isn't bad enough, the no-sign-holder-for-tickets-allowed-on-church-property policy is sure to drive an experienced scalper to the Stake President for a handout. It's comforting to think that someone on temple square is thinking of us even if they're the ones with the high-tech communications devices hidden inside the ear canal. Can't they give a tithe-paying regular guy a break? There's simply no such thing as an easy ticket anymore.

Last conference the *do-you-have-an-extra-ticket sign holders hung out on the *street-corner-free-speech-zone with the *you're-going-to-hell sign holders. *(an asterisk is, once again, an excellent word choice to let you know that the topic for my next post is The-Incorrect-Use-of-Hyphens-in-All-Their-Glory).

It was during April Conference 2007 when I found myself (not figuratively or spiritually or even ecumenically, but physically found myself standing next to one of the unhyphenated, really big, yellow with plasticized rain protection, professional quality sign holders). He had a 12 x 14 3mm card stock double reinforced mortar board with felt backing. I had a sheet of typing paper. He had 132 point font Times New Roman. I had magic marker font. He had a ten foot pole with a shoulder harness. I held mine between my fingers. The light was red. The corner was crowded with hundreds of conference goers waiting to cross. I lifted my pathetic sign and asked my unhyphenated-go-to-hell-sign-holder-neighbor if he had any tickets he wanted to unload. He shook his head no before calling the crowd to repentance.

I lifted my sign higher and said, "You sure?"

He said, "The only ticket in there is a ticket to hell."

I said, "I'll take four."

Getting into conference is easier than getting into the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert. Its also easier to pull your bottom lip over your eyes. It may be because they don't televise it (the Christmas concert, not the lip pulling). I think its because Craig Jessop gave all my unhyphenated friends complimentary tickets. This year I plan on calling more conference goers to repentance.

Two Christmas concerts ago some of us die hard choir aficionados slept out in front of door #14 at the Conference Center on a snowy October evening to beat the Internet ticket rush and get front row seats. Craig Jessop told the choir about the ardent fans waiting all night in the snow. That was us. The men with the cool listening devices didn't kick us off Conference Center property. They figured the snow would do that, but we persevered. The following year church security changed the distribution policy. I like to think I had a part in forming the new rules. Internet ticket requests only. I also like to tell people I invented it (the Internet not the ticket policy). I think the new rules reflect a fear that the line for Christmas concert tickets is going to form weeks before the conference standby line.

Last October I opened ten windows to the Internet, pointed five other computers at the church website and when the appointed Christmas concert ticket request hour arrived all I got were four hours worth of "Due to high volume, we are unable to process your request at this time."

This year, despite the anti-gambling sentiment among ticket distribution personnel, concert tickets will be awarded by lottery. Beginning October 22nd the church website accepts requests. Two weeks later, after sign ups close, a random drawing awards lucky concert goers with tickets. I have a friend who always gets lucky. Three mouse clicks and she has her tickets. Hundreds of thousands of mouse clicks and I have no tickets. Do you think a lottery is going to change my luck? I'll likely get front row seats in gambler's hell next to my unhyphenated-yellow-sign-holding buddy before I ever get into the Conference Center balcony seating. My only regret is that my unhyphenated friend will be calling me to repentance for eternity.

I purchased an encryption code-breaking program. I can print unlimited tickets for any seat in the house and email them to everyone in my distribution list. If you happen to see one of those men with a cool listening device hidden inside the ear canal hauling a 5 foot 9, 160 pound, dark complected male out of the Conference Center holding a crumpled sheet of typing paper that reads, "Will Work For Tickets", don't judge me harshly.

I should have invested in a sign with a ten foot pole!