Writing Conference Tips


This morning I found some notes I took at the annual South Carolina Writers Workshop held in Myrtle Beach in October, and reading over my scribbled notes brought to mind the great time I had and the information I learned. From the time I arrived on Thursday evening until I parted company with my new friends on Sunday, it was a wonderful experience. Or rather, it was a series of one memorable experience after another. The three days were instructive, inspiring, motivational, and downright fun.

My primary job as a volunteer was to work at the registration desk, but I basically filled in where needed. For instance, I helped Kia stuff attendee bags on Friday, and I helped Kim and Kathryn with the silent auction winners on Sunday. While the best part of the conference was probably getting to know and rub shoulders with some amazing people, it was also great to learn so many tidbits about writing.

Time and space prohibit a rundown of everything so I’ll just hit some of the highlights of Friday. That morning, I attended a couple of informative sessions, and these are some things I learned. Most had to do with societal change and believability.

Often grandparents writing children’s books sound like grandparents. I knew exactly what the speaker meant by this. Lately I read some negative comments on Face Book about the Junie B. Jones books, and guess who they were written by? A grandparent. A grandparent who’s out of touch with the way children perceive the world and the way they talk today. This grandparent also criticized the language in the Junie books and went on to say that it’s no wonder children speak  the way they do when they read “crap” like this. I’m wondering if exposure to grandparents’ language is more likely the culprit in this case.

Technology is tricky because it dates a book. While I know this, I don’t know exactly how to change it…or whether it’s even a bad thing. Is a person using a land line phone, a cell phone, or a smart phone? Language dates a book too, and examples such as “wassup” were given. Too, words like netbook, apps, and Skype weren’t even in our lingo ten years ago.

Although societal changes and advances in technology alter the way people communicate with each other, character motivation stays the same. Basic psychology isn’t going to change, but the methods used to reveal character are different. One presenter told about a spooky guy who lived in her neighborhood when she was a child. One Halloween, he built a casket, placed it in his front yard, and lay naked in it. When a brave and curious child tentatively opened the lid for a peek inside, he grabbed her and pulled her into the coffin with him.Today this predator would be online. This grabbed my attention because according to psychologists, online solicitation of children is becoming more common.

Before breaking for lunch, the presenter shared some other tidbits. When you edit your own work, try to find out what your quirk is like colons, commas, no paragraphs, or using a word or expression too much. When I heard that, I couldn’t help but think of Pat Conroy, one of my favorite Southern writers. In My Reading Life, Conroy admits that he has a problem with wordiness. He can’t help his verbosity, however, and says he was stung by a wordsmith, his mother, at a very early age. Is there a Conroy fan anywhere who could deny that his voice is unique and that his long winded style works for him?

The last tip was my favorite. Why? Because it works! If you’re stuck, go do some laundry, and when you come back, your writing will be crisper. It doesn’t have to be laundry. It could be a walk around the neighborhood, lunch with friends, or an episode of NCIS. The point is to get away from the work for a bit.

Wow. The more I write, the more I realize that I learned that weekend. Stay tuned. I need to take a break and will share the rest of Friday’s information  in a day or two.

Denver and Mr. Ron

In my lesson on charity this morning, I included a reference to a recent novel chosen by my book club, Same Kind of Different as Me, and I decided to review the book here. This is actually a revised version of a review I posted at Amazon.com a couple of weeks ago. Truthfully, it took two years and two attempts before I was hooked by this book. When my son-in-law Charlie gave it to me and described it as “wonderful,” I began reading it right away. I stuck it out for two nights, but I couldn’t get into it for some reason.

“Where did the author come up with such a character as Denver?” I wondered. Could anyone have such a poor and miserable life? I knew that poverty, homelessness, and prejudice were serious issues in our society, but I just didn’t want to be reminded of it right before falling asleep. Plus, the dialect annoyed me. Did the author really have to make people from the South sound so illiterate and backwards? Then Ron entered the picture, and while I thought the accounts of life in the 1960s were pretty interesting, I began to get irritated with this character too. Was the reader supposed to believe that someone would wear matching plaid shirts and shorts, black knee socks, and brogans to a college football game in the 1960’s?

When my book club chose it for our March selection, I picked it up again. “Surely there’s something redeeming about this book for so many people to love it,” I thought. I downloaded it on my Kindle and listened to it on the way to and from work. It wasn’t long before I got involved in the lives of these two men, Denver and Ron, wondering when their lives would intersect. Living parallel lives in different parts of the country, their experiences couldn’t have been more different. One was an illiterate black man who, tired of being poor in Louisiana, hopped on a train and ended up homeless in Fort Worth. The other was a white millionaire, a college grad who seemed to live a charmed existence. Married to Miss Debbie, he was a successful art dealer.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that the book was true…not based on truth, but absolutely true and told by the men who lived the stories. I’ll leave it up to you to read where and when and how their friendship began and grew. I’ll just say that the millionaire who set out to be a do-gooder philanthropist and the former sharecropper who later had a front row seat at a presidential inauguration were forever transformed by their shared experiences. Interestingly, the one who set out to give ended up being on the receiving end. He broadened my thinking too; because of Denver, I’m using Micah 6:8 as yet another guide for living my life.

As the book progresses, Denver and Ron take turns telling their life stories and their individual perceptions of the events described in the book. Each of them shares scenes so descriptive that the reader can see them and feel their essence. Whether Rocky Top, rural Louisiana, the “hood,” or the homeless shelter is being described, they all seem real. Denver’s visions of spirits, occasional scripture references, and pithy words of wisdom are as thought provoking and interesting as Ron’s big art deals and spiritual transformation.

The person who served as a catalyst for the book was Miss Debbie. Denver and Ron loved her, and so will you. Even as I type this, I’m wondering if I can persuade my husband to go to Fort Worth during Spring Break. There are some people I want to meet there…and an art gallery I want to visit.

Books Save Lives

Books have saved my life…and my psyche. My name is Jayne, and I’m a bibliophile.

My name is Jayne, and I’m a bibliophile. So are some of my friends. My children are too. In fact, I borrowed this quote from my son Paul’s blog (http://pbcrolley.tumblr.com) because I liked it so much.

“I know that books don’t save lives on the grand scale. They don’t end wars and such. They don’t cure cancer. But at the same time, books saved my life. And I know they’ve done that for friends of mine. Writing and reading bond me to other people—at its best, literature makes me feel less alone in the world. Great people, great books, great music—these are things that remind me of what beauty people are capable of creating and spreading through the world. So, maybe books do save lives—just not in a dramatic way.” Rob Roberge: The TNB Self-Interview (via synecdoche

I bought a Kindle a few weeks ago and am absolutely loving it. Where I go, it goes. I can even take to church because I’ve downloaded the Bible and the Book of Mormon on it. Today if I tire of reading my latest book delivered by Whispernet, The Motion of the Ocean, I can read bits and pieces of the other 27 books lined up at “home.” Last week Martha and I visited a book store at Edisto, and I bought six books. Six books! Isn’t that a bit excessive for one visit? Yes and no. They were gently used books shelved in the back room of the shop and so their prices were greatly reduced. Plus, I bought two of them to give as gifts.

As we were looking at the selection, I spied The History of Love, a book I’d heard described on NPR and had ordered from Amazon the week before. Martha bought it that afternoon. I wonder if she’s begun reading it yet. It’s none of my business of course. It’s just that yesterday she mentioned her obsession with books and declared that her book buying frenzy had to cease, at least until she read those she’d recently purchased. My other friends are like this too, especially Connie and Kristi.

My children love books too. While their tastes and interest vary widely, they’re all three Harry Potter fans. The girls love all sorts of fiction, and both read an array of nonfiction based on their current lifestyles, Carrie about raising children and Elizabeth about teaching and decorating. Lately, Paul seems to be reading more psychology and counseling material since that’s to be his life’s work. All of them know where to find spiritual words of wisdom too. All know where to read reminders like “Live in thanksgiving daily.”

Books have saved my life…and my psyche. My favorite book from childhood is The Little Engine that Could; because of it, I’ll usually keep on keeping on even when the journey gets rough. I say “usually” because there’s no sense in trying to control the uncontrollable. A favorite from adulthood is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, no surprise to the people who know me. Dr. Covey’s words reminded me that I and I alone am the master of my fate and that it’s fruitless and a little crazy to blame other people for unhappiness or lack or growth. This morning I dipped into Simple Abundance by Sarah ban Breathnach and was reminded that “Even lousy days possess hidden wonder.” I’m thinking of the novels I’ve read this year and how each one has expanded my horizons and yet narrowed the gap between my fellow earthlings and me. In my book club, we’ve read several books about women and their choices, and I’m amazed at how despite race, socioeconomic status, culture, and century, we’re more similar than not. We face the same battles, heartaches, joys, anxieties, and dreams.

Is there a book that changed your life? Tell me about it.

Insight on the Beach

I’m teaching a lesson on prayer in a little while, and preparing for it has reminded me of the power and necessity of prayer. In the words of Marianne Williamson, prayer “gives inner peace in ways that neither intellectual understanding, credentials, money, sex, drugs, houses, clothes, nor any other gifts of the world can.”

We can pray about any and everything. If we have something to say, God is ready to listen. If we’re awake, then He’s awake. We are His children, and He’s always standing at the door (in a manner of speaking) ready to let us in. In fact, sometimes I think our desire to pray is the result of His call to prayer because there’s something He wants us to know. Our responsibility is to ask for guidance, inspiration, help, strength, or enlightenment and THEN LISTEN to what He has to say.

Recently, I was “laid low” by some remarks of one of my children. My heart was broken, and I was besieged by deep sadness and a literal aching in my chest. How could this have happened between us? How could she have said these things to and about me? For the first time, I realized how easy it is to take good relationships for granted. I went for a walk on the beach and had another talk with God. I didn’t have to get on my knees or use any fancy language. All I had to do is walk and talk silently. “Thank you. Help me, please. What am I not seeing? I need Thy wisdom and enlightenment, and I need it now.” Here’s what happened. Even as I was having this inner conversation, I thought, “She thinks ….” Yes, I could have thought it on my own, but I’m convinced that those words were sent right from God.

After my walk, I wrote my daughter and told her that if that’s what she thought, it was surely not the case. Soon, she replied and affirmed my suspicions. There’s more to the story than this, but we’re working our way back to each other. I’ve asked that Heavenly Father infuse this and all other situations in my life with His light and understanding. I’m listening, and I know He’ll make it clear.

One of the many blessings in my life is that my children also understand the power of prayer. I love being able to remind them to “pray about it,” regardless of what “it” might be. There’s nothing too little or too big that we can’t take it to our Maker in prayer. “Have you inquired of the Lord?” is another one of my favorite questions, and I love being able to ask it without any of them looking at me as if I’d flipped my lid.

 This post could go on and on, but I’m going to bring it to a close with part of a prayer that comes from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Send me the right thought, word, or action. Show me what my next step should be. In times of doubt and indecision, please send Your inspiration and guidance.” Beautiful, huh? I’m just wondering why we don’t do it more often. But then, that’s a topic for another day.

Get Moving!

Just a couple of quick thoughts about how Elizabeth, Carla, and I plan to use ME from this day forward. We were sitting around talking about size and shape and the impact that just a tiny bit of exercise could make on both. This is a topic that comes up quite often since we seem to eat more and move less when we’re on vacation.

I don’t have the time or inclination to get into the tremendous value of the E word (exercise) today, but I do want to mention that we all three agreed that it’s the secret to weight control, overall fitness, energy level, disease resistance, stress reduction, and even confidence level. We also agreed that sometimes it’s near nigh impossible to work in a fitness routine when life is so BUSY.  “Still,” I insisted in my diatribe with these young women, “You can do something. Just move!”

Movement and exercise are vital for both physical and psychological health, and I’m as sure of that as I am sure that the sun’s going to come up tomorrow. We sat there staring at each other for a few minutes, and then I lowered the boom (so to speak).  I asked them if they’d ever heard the phrase, “If it is to me it’s up to me,” and neither of them had. Elizabeth giggled and then asked me to repeat it.

“Hey, think of it like this. ME stands for Movement/Exercise, and if it’s going to happen, it’s up to me to get moving.  It’s up to ME and for Me.” I think they liked my little acronym, and I hope they read this blog and get moving. ME, Ladies…ME.

The 30-Second Rule

While in Myrtle Beach over the weekend, we visited Barnes and Noble. How I love a good bookstore! This one is within walking distance of our little pied-à-terre (using words like this for the benefit of Martha and Jim) at Seagate. I gravitated towards the bargain books and was torn between one with pictures of China, one about feng shui, and one by John Maxwell entitled The Maxwell Daily Reader. DH reminded me that I could always come to the bookstore to look at the China pix and that I already had about a dozen books on feng shui, so I opted for the Maxwell daily reader. By the way, I only have about ten feng shui books, not 12.

Anyway, I want to share the gist of today’s reading concerning the “30-second rule.” Maxwell reminds the reader(s) that we’ve been taught of the importance of good first impressions and that when we first meet others, we try to make ourselves look good. Reverse that process, he advises, and you’ll find this practice rewarding when you realize the positive impact it has on on others.

This does take some time and effort, however. You don’t want to be glib and full of fake flattery. Sincerity is important. Suggestions include thanking someone for something he’s done for you or for a friend or family member, praising someone for an accomplishment, or simply complimenting another on her appearance. It’s not hard, but it does require effort. It also requires that you step out of your comfort zone.

I think one reason I like this way of thinking so much is because I see it ALL THE TIME in the works of great and/or influential people. There must be something to this, right? For instance, each morning Benjamin Franklin reportedly asked himself what he could do for others that day, and in the evening he asked himself what he had actually done. Thomas S. Monson, President of the LDS church, focuses on service to others and encourages members worldwide to do, say, think, act, and live in loving, giving ways.

So what have I done so far today? Absolutely nothing. The day is young, however, and I plan to rectify my narrow-minded and selfish focus soon. In fact, I think I’ll start in my next class…and maybe I’ll donate some money to the humanitarian aid fund of the LDS Church to help the victims of Haiti’s earthquake.  In the short run, I can text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross relief for Haiti.

First things first. I’m going to post this in hopes that you’ll follow Maxwell’s, Franklin’s, and Monson’s advice. Then I’m going out in the hall and pay someone a compliment.

Do It Anyway

If you read the blog entitled “Guiding Word,” you know that some friends and I choose a word at the beginning of each year to serve as a guide for our thinking, feeling, and acting. If you haven’t read it, you should. Ha Ha. I’m feeling pretty upbeat this morning, perhaps because of the gift of extra morning time. Church begins at 12:30 for those of us in the Camden Ward this year, and generally speaking, my mind works better during the first part of the day.

But I digress. The purpose of this post is to talk about Christy’s word a few minutes: Courage. It’s something we all need a double dose of from time to time, and her post about it is so inspiring that I can’t stop thinking about it. Check it out at http://christypeake.blogspot.com.

Her post reminded me of a book entitled Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. Dr. Jeffers says that people see fear in the wrong way, and that it’s actually a green light to keep going. Trepidation is undeniably real, but we just need to push forward, to feel the fear and do it anyway. Sure, security and routine are safe, but can’t they be a little risky?

Jeffers believes that the killer fear is that you won’t be able to handle something, and she suggests practical ways to help you get to the point where you know you can handle anything that comes your way. You must practice positive thinking every single day until sooner or later the positivity you create will begin to seem more real.  

We all know this already, but there’s just something about Jeffers’ writing that makes you really take heed to what she’s saying. She says we need energizing everyday, and that just like eating breakfast energizes and fuels our body, reading inspirational quotes and books fuels our psyches. Take control of your mental inputs, Jeffers advises. Say things like, “I am a confident person in every situation.” Never be fearful of mistakes. Lighten up and be happy that you had the experience…that you tried.

Wouldn’t be awful to come to the end of your life and still be thinking coulda, shoulda, woulda.  From teaching Human Growth and Development, I’ve learned that the #1 regret of elderly people is that they DIDN’T give things a try, that they let their fears hold them back. By that time, it’s too late to make that call, start that business, write that article, or fly around the world. I don’t know about you, but I will not be one of those people who says on her death bed, “Sure wish I’d taken more chances.”

Jeffers offers a perfect example of how she worked through humans’ #1 fear, rejection.  These are her words lifted right from her website:  “It took many, many rejections before my first book, FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY, was finally accepted by a publisher. The worst rejection letter I ever got was that “Lady Di could be bicycling nude down the street giving this book away and nobody would read it.” Can you imagine being told that? I bet that publisher has regretted that snide comment hundreds of times. What if Jeffers had listened? What if she had given up? What if she had felt the fear and stopped?

I want to be more like Susan Jeffers and Christy Peake. I’m going to feel the fear and be courageous enough to do it anyway. What about you? As they say, life expands or contracts according to one’s courage.