Sunday, May 31, 2015

TSS - May 31, 2015

I heard on the news this morning that Kansas City has experienced only 4 days of sunshine the entire month of May. Yesterday, the high was 62 degrees! I now know I am not meant to live in London nor the Pacific Northwest :) I need more color than gray, overcast skies.

While I might be complaining a wee bit, I know the weather is just a bit of an inconvenience here in Kansas City. I am praying for those in Texas who have endured so much worse this past week (and grateful my family in Houston continue to do well).


I am reading quite a bit of writing 'how to' books, which I will discuss a bit later, but I am trying to work my way through the historical fiction novel, A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable. So far, I have mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I am thoroughly enjoying the non-fiction storyline. Mme de Florian led a colorful life in the 9eme arrondissement during la Belle-Epoque. She fled Paris in the late 1930s, never to return. When she died in 2010, the apartment was discovered - with everything left in tact. This portion of the narrative is told in diary form, and I love imagining I am right there with her - walking the back streets of Paris, meeting the artists of the day, witnessing the grand society of the time.

On the other hand, I am not quite as fond of the modern day story. April Vogt is a PhD graduate and furniture specialist. She has been called to Paris to authenticate the furnishings for the auction house. Her marriage is on rocky ground, however, and there is the possibility of a Parisian love interest. The story is written well enough, I just don't find it as compelling as the life and times of Mme de Florian. I find myself skimming through these chapters in order to quickly return to the journal entries.

I will certainly finish the novel, but I'm curious if any of you have read it. If so, what is your opinion of the two story lines?


I am always amazed how the slightest shift in paradigm can completely change my outlook.

As many of you know (and I'm sure are tired of hearing...) I have struggled with calling myself a writer. Some days I experience confident determination, and other days I am overcome with oppressive self-doubt. Because of this, I am erratic in my writing endeavors. I know I need to practice to improve, but it often seems pointless. I am definitely lacking in self-accountability.

However, last weekend I had an idea.

I am an academic at heart. I will always complete an assignment on time and to the best of my ability. So the solution to my writing problem seemed clear: register for a class to help keep me accountable.

I am not yet prepared to spend the money for graduate classes (nor am I ready to share my writing with others), but I do have several books on the subject sitting my shelves at home. I spent some time reviewing them, and then I developed a syllabus for a my own writing class.

I have structured the class to follow a typical college level course, that is, three hours spent in the classroom and another six-to-seven hours spent on assignments. The class will focus on fiction as well as creative non-fiction, and I will continue to develop my own Works in Progress (WIP) while completing textbook exercises.

Some might find this system too structured, but I love it so far! I am excited to write and I try to find a bit of time each day to further my studies.

I plan to share the class in a bit more detail in a later blog post, but for now I will list the books I am currently using as texts.

How to write fiction "texts" include:
  • Anatomy of Story by John Truby. A wealth of information here. I have only read the first couple of chapters, which focus on a story's premise, and I have several exercises to complete before I read on.
  • Screen Writing Tricks for Authors by Alexandra Sokoloff. I have read her blog for several years, particularly because I enjoy the way she analyzes popular movies according to the three act - 8 sequence structure.
  • Story Engineering by Larry Brooks (and his second book, Story Physics). I have also read his blog for several years and thoroughly enjoy his no-nonsense writing style that is filled with writing wisdom. So far I have only read through the chapters that deal with Premise and Concept.
 How to write memoir "texts" include:
  • The Power of Memory by Linda Joy Myers, PhD. Such a powerful book. I have read the first four chapters and have numerous exercises to complete, as well as ideas to add to my current work in progress. This is the perfect book for me at this stage in my process
  • The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith. I have actually read this book twice before - it is that good. I will be using this resource more in the revision stage than in this first draft process, but it is a delightful read anytime. Her sense of humor and personable style make me feel as though I am having a one-on-one conversation with the author.
Of course, writers are also readers - and I have several books to read in each genre. Reading published authors and analyzing their works will only help me improve my craft. Hopefully I will also be able to share my thoughts and impressions of these books in future blog posts.


I have continued to focus on this 2015 word of the year - and I am fortunate writing brings such delight to my life.

But aside from writing, I have also found delight in other pursuits, like morning walks (although the rain has postponed several of those this month) ... making a few greeting cards (although I would like to make a few) ... knitting colorful dishcloths, occasionally taking photographs, and scrapbooking.

I finally edited the pictures from the European trip and had them printed. I organized my colored cardstock and even created a two page spread of Sorrento plus a few journaling cards for future layouts. 

I am hoping to organize life enough to start blogging about the trip; I would love to share the experience (and a few of the pictures) with all of you.

Stay dry my friends... and I hope this week presents several reading (and writing) opportunities for you :)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Fake It til You Make It

I am not fond of the phrase Fake it til you make it.

I understand the concept - we must first conceive before we can achieve - but I take issue with the semantics.

To me "fake" means untrustworthy. A fake friend is not loyal. Fake jewelry is cheap. Someone who is faking is essentially lying.

I do not want to be fake. I want to be authentic. But is my authentic self a writer - or just a writer wannabe?

This week I realized if I want to become a writer, then I first need to act like one.

Rather than faking it, however, I am choosing to imagine myself an writer: what she looks like, how she lives, what she does... and then I will do those things. Consistently. Until I actually become an author.

Because I have a difficult time with self-accountability, but I respect an academic syllabus, I am beginning this process by taking a 3-credit hour class. I am going to read the writing books sitting on my shelves and actually do the exercises at the end of each chapter. A typical college course involves three hours of class time and about six hours of homework. I will therefore plan to dedicate 9-10 hours a week to my writing career.  I imagine an author devotes that kind of time to her craft.

I currently have two works-in-progress: a non-fiction memoir and a middle grade novel. Besides the book exercises, I plan to work on one or both of these each week as well. For now I do not have a deadline for completion - or even a weekly writing goal - but I'm sure that will come in due time. While a writer simply writes, I imagine an author determines to complete projects and is not content with just journaling and writing prompts.

I also need to develop a confident answer to the constant question: what do you write? For I imagine an author would not simply smile meekly and admit she is still trying to find her niche.

For now I write, but I imagine myself becoming a writer in the not-too-distant future.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

TSS: May 10, 2015

On this Mother's Day we in the Midwest are drenched!  It has been raining for days, and my lawn is sprouting mushrooms.  Oh well... this week we should begin drying out and I am anxious to see sunshine again.


I promised myself I would read more fiction in 2015... maybe next week.

I did, however, begin Dani Shapiro's second memoir, Devotion.  I have only read the first 50 pages, but I know this will resonate with me even more than her first memoir, Slow Motion.

The other book I completed this week was Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows.  Oh... My... Word... If you have any interest in photography, this book is an absolute MUST READ.

Vivian Maier lived her entire life in obscurity.  She was a nanny by trade, but her passion was photography.  She made a living watching others' children; but her vocation was to capture everyday life on film.  The camera was her diary, and she "wrote" every day.

While this kind of daily record is the norm today - our smart phones capturing selfies throughout the day and posting to social media on a regular basis... Maier was considered eccentric.  She never left the house without her camera, and in the course of her lifetime took over 100,000 pictures (all on film!)

She never desired fame.  She never considered entering a photography contest.  She rarely shared her work with others.  Instead, she used her camera to relate to life around her, finding significance in the ordinary - recording life of the mid-twentieth century which we can now view and recall memories of our own childhood.

I enjoyed the photographs, but I adored her passion.  How I wish I could set aside what others think of me, and instead just pursue "art" for the sheer pleasure of it.


As I mentioned last week, Scrapbooking is my focus this month.

And so far during this first week of May, I discovered something rather interesting.  As much as I adore research and analysis, I have  done very little in this arena.  When I became a Creative Memories consultant in 1998, we were basically the only game in town.  In my mind, there was no reason to look outside the company, and I fared well as an independent representative.

But fifteen years later my scrapbooking style has changed.  I now value the stories behind the photos as much as the pictures themselves, and I want the layouts to reflect this new-found focus.  Research was needed and I was happy to oblige.

After reading Cathy Zielske's books and studying her layout design, I was ready to delve in and create a few page layouts myself.  My idea is to marry one photograph with on personal essay in a pleasing layout design that includes paper and embellishments that enhance the story rather than take center stage.  I had a great time "playing" this week and after developing eight model pages, I think I am ready to work on personal albums that will include actual photographs and written words.

Other Activities:

I didn't do much writing the week.  A bit of brainstorming for a few articles, and of course some journaling, but nothing definitive.

I am still knitting in the evenings however, and continue to improve my dishcloth skills.  I have no idea what I will do with all of these (perhaps Christmas gifts...) but I am having fun and enjoy doing something with my hands while watching nightly television.

We are looking forward to getting away next weekend with some good friends.  We will head to St. Louis and visit the zoo, eat some great Italian food on the hill, and attend the Renaissance Festival.  I will of course take my camera and perhaps follow Vivian Maier's example of capturing a bit of life around me.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

TSS: May 3, 2015

I can't believe it is the first weekend in May!  Don't get me wrong, I am ready for warmer weather and longer days, but I wish time would slow down just a bit.  

Last week I shared my April writing challenge, mostly stream-of-consciousness stuff and not focused on a particular project.  I maintained my morning pages routine (as recommended by Julia Cameron in her popular book, The Artist's Way), I began a gratitude journal, I hand-wrote my prayers, and I kept an ongoing personal journal.  In the end, I wrote approximately 105,000 words for the month - and decided that was proof enough that I am a writer.

Since I found the challenge personally satisfying, I decided to develop one for May.  This month I will focus on scrapbooking, both as a means to document our family history, values, and beliefs, but also a way to cultivate play and creativity into my life.  

In preparation of my May challenge, I checked out several scrapbooking books from the library to jump-start my creative juices.  Most of my reading this week centered on skimming those books.  The ones I found most useful include:

Find Your Groove: A Guide to Discovering Your Scrapbook Style (by Kitty Foster).  While I could easily identify my style before reading the book (Classic, Clean Lines) ... there is an interesting quiz that covers all aspects of style (such as preference for color, number of embellishments, degree of randomness, etc).  I particularly enjoyed how the author created the same page in each of the seven different styles.

I learned that maintaining the same style throughout a scrapbook album does not mean boring or monotonous pages.  I gleaned several new ideas that I am anxious to incorporate in this month's creative moments.

Clean and Simple (volumes 1 and 2) by Cathy Zielske.  THIS is my style, and I poured over every single page!  The author is a graphic designer by trade, and she brings her talent and expertise to the scrapbook arena.  I not only "scraplifted" several page ideas to copy later, but I also learned basic design elements that I can use to develop my own future layouts for years to come.

Using a spare notebook I had lying about the house, I created my own "idea" book using the notes and images from these resources.  On days when I feel less-than-creative, I plan to reference this book for a quick jolt of inspiration.

Aside from scrapbooking, I also managed to finish Dani Shapiro's memoir, Slow Motion.  Last year I read her book, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  She referenced this memoir several times in that book, which inspired me to want to read it.

Ms Shapiro focuses on a small portion of her life in this riveting tale.  Both her parents were involved in a horrific car accident, which resulted in eighty broken bones for her mother and a severe brain injury for her father.  At that time, the author is a twenty-something struggling actress who is living a life she desperately wants to escape.  Through the tragedy of this accident, she finds the courage to walk-away from the bad influences of her current life and become the person she was meant to be.

I enjoyed the book so much that I immediately put a hold on her next memoir, Devotion.

I will not take time and bore you with all the lessons I learned through my April Writing challenge.  I will say, however, that I gained clarity on a number of subjects, and believe I have some direction for future writing endeavors.

While I would be lying if I didn't admit having desires to become a published author, I do know that if I write just for myself, I will be satisfied and fulfilled.

So I am anxious to take the next baby step on this writing journey... which includes maintaining a more consistent blog schedule.  I enjoy this format and writing for an audience.  And I am grateful to those of you who choose to read it.

To that end... I did write one other post this week, Saturday Snapshot.  I hope to incorporate photography more into my daily life, and this post talks about the lesson learned while taking a walk through my neighborhood, camera in hand.  In essence, I learned that we must not only be ready to Seize the Day... but we must also be willing to slow down and Savor the Moment.  In other words, I need to learn to live in the present.

The Week Ahead:
I promised myself that I would return to my morning walk routine once warmer weather arrived.  Well, the time has come.  I was a bit overzealous on Friday and have nursed sore muscles over the weekend.  However starting tomorrow, I hope to get back into the routine of walking 2-3 miles at least five days a week.  I always feel better afterwards... it is just getting over the mental block of putting on those running shoes.

Scrapbooking is of course a priority - culminating with a monthly crop at my house on Friday night.

I am drafting a blog post for Gateway of Hope ministries on the theme of Balancing Life... which will be posted the following week.

I hope to begin a character sketchbook to help me flesh out more well-rounded fictional characters.  I have not given up on NaNoWriMo 2013 middle-grade book, First Impressionism, but I need to hone some basic skills before I am ready to revise.

Our Kansas City Royals continue to do well, and I try to watch them play when televised.  To help pass the time, however, I started knitting.  I am not brave enough to tackle anything complicated, but I do enjoy knitting cotton dishcloths in a variety of color combinations.  If any of you knit and know of equally simple projects... I would love to hear!

And perhaps between rain storms (forecasted for 4 out of the 5 weekdays) I can take myself on a photo safari and work on those camera skills.

It is a full week filled with lots of good fun.  I hope you are equally excited for this first full week of May.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Snapshot Saturday: Seize the Day - Savor the Moment

I want to improve my photography; I want to feel comfortable with the camera and capture mood as well as subject.  And I know to achieve that goal, I must practice - A LOT.

Practicing a skill requires conscious intention to move away from the comfort zone, which quite frankly is .... comfortable.  While trapped in the zone, I don't have to worry what others think of me ("who does she think she is, walking around that camera?"); I don't have to compare my efforts with others (which never measures up); and I don't have to confront my imperfections.

Two weeks ago, however, I decided to take a few steps outside that zone.  It was a sunny, warm day - perfect for a walk around the neighborhood to capture Spring's rebirth.  The redbud trees were stunning against the vivid blue sky, and colorful tulips gently waved from their flower beds.

This picture was one of my favorites.  The couple are meticulous about lawn care, and I always enjoy seeing their latest decorative scheme.   These lilac bushes were beautiful, and the homeowner didn't mind me taking a few photos; he even offered me a cutting or two to take home.

This morning I walked by the same house.  In just two weeks the purple blooms had faded, and the only visible color was a deep, dark green.  Pretty, yes... but not stunning.

I'm glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and Seized the Day.  I captured some nice photographs of my neighborhood at the peak of spring's vivid colors.  If I had waited just a few short days, I would have missed it - for the landscape changed and will not provide that kind of beauty for another twelve months.

To Seize brings to mind images of snatching or  grabbing - a quick decisive moment.  Yes, it is important to notice the extraordinary in the midst of humdrum routine.  And we must also be willing  to grab that fleeting opportunity before it disappears.

But I also think we need to Savor as well - to slow down and fully appreciate the moment.  For me, at least, I am too often looking for the next opportunity to grab, rather than basking in the present.  Yes, I snapped the photo, but did I really take the time to admire the beauty of the lilacs?  Did I touch the delicate blooms, did I inhale the aroma, did I view them from all perspectives or just the one that was most convenient?

Seize and Savor.

Don't rush through life failing to notice the beauty in the ordinary - and don't procrastinate when opportunity presents itself.  Live in the present.

These are all valuable lessons I learned when I stepped outside my comfort zone and went on a neighborhood walk with my camera.

**  To view other Saturday Snapshots, please visit  West Metro Mommy Reads, the host of this weekly meme.

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