Winning Team

Here’s one thing I love about writing: There’s just no end to the number of creative ideas that people can come up with for breakthrough books. This is exactly how I felt when I heard that my friend and mentor Coach Mike Tully had teamed up with a dynamic young coach named Vanessa Sullivan to write Was It Something I Said? A Guide to Coaching Female Athletes.

What an inspired idea! Take a seasoned coach with more than 15 years of training young female athletes like Coach Tully and a gifted female athlete and collegiate coach like Coach Sullivan and have them trade insights and share their perspectives. The result? An easy-to-read guide that promises to help other coaches do a more skillful, sensitive job of managing their female teams.

Just think about all the games, all the adrenalin surges, all the wins and losses, all the opportunities for learning from mistakes and improving that are happening every day in gyms and sports fields across the country — and around the world. And yet, so much youthful energy and potential is lost or misspent because many coaches don’t understand that “Girls are different, not weaker.” But here’s the good news: There’s help at hand! And it comes in the form of a how-to guide that you can read in a few hours.

What a gift — to kids, to trainers, to parents! And it all came about because two creative thinkers who’d wrestled with a problem and found some solutions began trading ideas. Then they took their sharing a step further by pooling their experience and knowledge, and putting it on paper so others could benefit from it. From this a new book was born.

Was It Something I Said offered me three things that I really value in a how-to book:

It challenged me: It made me think about gender dynamics in a fresh new context.

It enriched me: I have a new appreciation for what both coaches and young athletes experience in forging a team and coping with the pressures of competition.

It helped me: It inspired me to think about my novel’s young heroine and ways she might be misunderstood by the men and boys around her — and how she might react to situations more realistically. It also made me think of the knight who’s training her as a kind of blundering coach — intriguing!

Amazing, isn’t it, how books can expand our horizons? For more on Was It Something I Said?, visit Amazon. Bravo, Vanessa and Mike — write on!

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Something Wonderful

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury: Always great for a shot of artistic adrenalin:

“So I collected comics, fell in love with carnivals and World’s Fairs and began to write.
And what, you ask, does writing teach us?

First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a
privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for
rewards back because it has favored us with animation.

So, while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy,
greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.

Secondly, writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that.

Not to write, for many of us, is to die.

We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle
cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout. The
smallest effort to win means, at the end of each day, a sort of victory.”

Bravo, Ray! Write on!

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Chasing Miles

It was a frosty evening outside, but there was plenty of heat and light at a freewheeling performance and audience give-back by poet and actor reg e gaines. Hearing reg isn’t just inspiring, it’s energizing: words and ideas tumble around and play together in the fields of the imagination. Catching lightening in a bottle isn’t easy, but here are a few sparks to help light your own creative fires:

Be open: Being an artist, a writer, isn’t about ego. It’s about being open, being receptive, being alert to the world and what it’s offering you at every moment.

Embrace conflict: Whatever you’re writing — a poem, a play, a scene — find conflict whenever you can — it’s the fuel, the juice, that moves a story forward.

Recognize the artist in others: It’s a tough world, a rough-and-tumble marketplace, a crazy quilt of commercialism out there for writers and other creatives. One of the ways to respond to it all is to make it a point to recognize and acknowledge your fellow artists: make them feel welcomed and valued. Reg does this with a grace and generosity that I admire greatly: He turns any room of people into an instant artistic community.

Give what you know: As writers, whatever stage we’ve reached, we’ve all learned more than we think we have. And one of the ways to find out what we know is to share whatever we’ve learned that might be helpful with others.

Stay true to yourself: Once we move out of our heads and beyond the page, we’ll always face moments and situations when we feel that we’re in foreign territory — when this happens, don’t lose sight of what matters to you and what you want to accomplish.

Work harder: As part of an artistic community, we’re all striving to improve and grow, to become better and stronger. The only way to get better and stronger is to write — and to keep on writing, even when we don’t feel like it.

Chase your own dream: At the end of his talk, reg said he’s chasing Miles Davis, which isn’t surprising, because reg’s poetry is alive with rhythm and riffs. As you write dangerously and bring your own words to life, who do you feel is worth chasing? Something to ponder as we all write on.

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Self-publishing Alert

As more and more authors opt for the self-publishing path to sharing their fiction and nonfiction, more resources and more recognition are giving this choice ever-greater credibility. This year, Writer’s Digest, is presenting its 23rd Annual Self-Published Book Awards, one of the best-established competitions in the field. Co-hosted by Book Marketing Works, LLC, the competition showcases independent authors and their books in a wide variety of genres. All books self-published between 2010 and 2015 are eligible.

Books are eligible for one or more categories: Mainstream/Literary Fiction; Nonfiction: Inspirational (Spiritual, New Age); Life Stories (Biographies, Autobiographies, Family Histories, Memoirs) Children’s Picture, Middle-Grade/Young Adult, Reference (Directories, Encyclopedias, Guide Books), and Poetry.

One Grand Prize winner will receive:

An $8,000 cash prize
A trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference
Promotion in Writer’s Digest (March/April 2016 issue)
Writer’s Digest editorial endorsement sent to major publishing review houses
A one-year membership to Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA)
Promotion in a special sales catalog, providing national representation via 60,000 salespeople reaching non-bookstore markets
A Marketplace Readiness Assessment of cover, pricing, category, market and packaging
A guaranteed review in Midwest Book Review
A consultation with Book Shepherd Judith Briles

First-place winners will also receive a cash award and a variety of marketing and promotional benefits.

Early bird deadline: April 1, 2015. For entry details, visit: WritersDigest.com. Write on!

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Simple Storyboarding

When J.K. Rowling was writing her now-legendary Harry Potter series, one of the tools she used at some point was a version of storyboarding: She mapped out her chapter outlines and plot points using vertical columns on a sheet of paper. This gave her an at-a-glance visual road map that she could follow as she was writing.

Storyboarding is a technique that’s always been widely used by script writers. It’s a great tool if you’re a visual person, as a friend of mine noted. She’s started using index cards to map out the plot of her story and pinning them up where she can see them easily.

I’ve done this myself with chapters of my novel. Index cards or large PostIt notes are perfect for this because you can write plot points and/or scene descriptions on them and then add additional notes as ideas crop up. You can also move them around easily, which allows you to play with the order of scenes in a chapter, for example.

One writer who uses storyboarding all the time is Janet Evanovich. Since the characters and relationships in her series are well established, she uses storyboarding instead of outlining as a tool to manage action and plot. As she noted in a Writer’s Digest article, “When I’m plotting out a book I use a storyboard — I’ll have maybe three lines across the storyboard and just start working through the plot line. I always know where the relationships will go, and how the story is going to end. When I storyboard, they’re just fragments of thoughts. I write in three acts like a movie, so I have my plot points up on the preliminary storyboard. Another board I keep is an action timeline. It’s a way of quickly referring to what happened a couple of scenes ago. The boards cover my office walls.”

Storyboarding is more scene-oriented than an outline: it allows you to create a blow-by-blow map of your action points. It can be a great tool if you are wrestling with a plot and if you need to see how the arc of your story is progressing. Whether you find outlining to be helpful or not, creating a storyboard can be a fun way to get your story out of your head and onto your wall and the page. Write on!

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Love Wins

By some strange accident of fate, David, Alex and I found ourselves high above Manhattan in a small jazz club that looked out over sparkling lights and the city on a frosty winter’s eve. We were there to hear a small jazz quartet led by Jimmy Greene, a gifted saxophonist, teacher, and composer. He is also the father of Ana, a beautiful six-year old who lost her life at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown.

The event we attended wasn’t just a musical performance by Jimmy and the other members of his quartet. It was also a tribute to his daughter Ana’s life and spirit. During the program he and his fellow musicians played several songs featured on a CD he created for and about Ana called “Beautiful Life” which in Jimmy’s words, “attempts to paint a picture of how she lived — lovingly, faithfully, and joyfully.”

“Beautiful Life” includes the work of many artists who came together to support Jimmy Greene and his family — and to help him share his abiding love for his daughter. Ana is heard on the album along with some of her friends. Some of the proceeds of the recording will go to several charities in her honor.

Listening to Jimmy Greene speak about his daughter through words and music was a joyful experience shadowed with sorrow. And reading the story of Ana’s brief life and the path Jimmy Greene took as he took unspeakable pain and transformed it into beauty and uplifting music made me feel more deeply than ever how important it is for us to speak our sorrows.

When we give voice to our sorrows through words and stories, through songs and music, and other forms of art, we give ourselves hope and give others hope as well. We reach past our own pain to let others know that their pain isn’t a solitary burden, but one we all share and carry, though we each do so in our own way and for many different reasons.

This, to me, is one of the greatest gifts of words and writing. As C.S. Lewis once said, “We read to know we’re not alone.” When we write, whether it’s a story or a beautiful tribute to a beloved daughter, we send a message out into the world and we never know where that message will be carried or what lives it will touch. Jimmy Greene touched me with his music, but also with his words. He ended the note on his album cover with two simple but powerful words: “Love wins.” Write on.

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Wise Words

In honor of Washington’s birthday, also my wonderful husband David’s birthday,
here are some words of wisdom to guide us:

“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”

“It is better to be alone than in bad company.”

“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

“Make sure you are doing what God wants you to do–then do it with all your strength.”

“A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”

“My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.”

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to appellation. ”

“In politics as in religion, my tenets are few and simple. The leading one of which, and indeed that which embraces most others, is to be honest and just ourselves and to exact it from others, meddling as little as possible in their affairs where our own are not involved. If this maxim was generally adopted, wars would cease and our swords would soon be converted into reap hooks and our harvests be more peaceful, abundant, and happy.”

Let’s take inspiration and fortitude from George — and write on!

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