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Creativity and Relativity

“Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought.” –Albert Einstein

This makes it sound as if anyone can be creative. Isn’t it funny how it took a genius like Einstein to tell us that you don’t have to be a genius to be creative? Instead, creative genius depends on the ability to combine random, unrelated ideas in new and useful ways.

Einstein believed the air was full of ideas. It’s up to the writer to yank those floating ideas out of the stratosphere and into a manuscript. Sometimes we expect good ideas to parachute down to our page. These are the days when pigs will fly faster than ideas will fly. The more we chase creativity, the more it eludes us.

There are some surprise ways to “find” creativity though. Studies show that ideas come after you stop straining for them. Keep in mind this is AFTER your hard work of research, not instead of. Einstein developed the Theory of Relativity, so he knew a little something about creativity. Just look at his hair-do. You’ll see that he studied so hard that he wanted to pull his hair out. But that’s not when his theories were developed. His theories came to him whenever he played the piano. In the middle of a song, he would run upstairs and lock himself in a room…for two weeks.

After you’ve studied your limit, which will most likely be less than two weeks, it’s time for a nap or something mindless to occupy your time. This is when the good ideas become buoyant and begin to float around. Your job is to be ready-ready to record these brain flashes. And that’s what they are, just flashes. Grab them while you can and expand on them later. Don’t judge them, just accept them.

When plucking an idea from the sky, you might be able to relate it to another one that at first appeared to be miscellaneous. It’s this capacity to transform old ideas into new insights which makes you feel like a genius. The connectivity of existing ideas makes a person creative. The ideas were there all along. And so was your creativity, by the way.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($2.99)

Can You Read Me Now?

“Hello? Are you still there?

Your best friend is strangely silent and not offering her usual “uh-huhs” in the middle of your ever-so-interesting drama. You only thought you were telling the world’s most interesting story. In reality, you’ve unknowingly spoken into a vacuum for the past five minutes when the cell signal dropped off. You lose your sing-songy voice and look around sheepishly, hoping no one noticed your talking to yourself.

Hang up and try again. This time, you’ll listen for it before you begin speaking. You’ll listen for that comforting background noise that assures you that your story is not falling on deaf ears. It’s that slight hiss as if air is flowing through duct work that we long to hear. White noise is no longer necessary for mobile phones, but has been added by the cell phone companies to keep us talking. How funny is that? Nowadays, even companies are installing white noise devices throughout the office so that employees feel comfortable talking aloud. No one likes an awkward silence.

It turns out that no one likes awkward strings of written words either. We’re done with multi-syllable words and never-ending daisy chains of flowery prepositional phrases. Eyes are more relaxed while reading material with more white space.

We’ve always been taught that a paragraph must contain three sentences and a sentence must have a subject and a verb. Not anymore. See what just happened?

Also, a paragraph doesn’t have to contain three sentences. You are free to indent a paragraph wherever you please to make something stand out, like I just did.

Blogs and ebooks especially make good use of white space for better readability. Bullet points, bold print, and highlighted words differentiate this white space and make the print stand out better as well.

We prefer the short and succinct to relay the message, but for some reason, don’t like all caps. Exclamation points are out of style too. They’re considered almost cheesy as if in a live studio audience with an “APPLAUSE” sign flashing.

We’re supposed to get our point across, but pretend that we’re not trying to do it. Readers recognize when you’re trying too hard. Subtlety works wonders and enhances the white space.

I’m not sure punctuation rules will ever change, but I am sure that the rules will be broken. If it increases readability, then so be it. The next time your written page looks like a word marathon, hang up and try again. Increase the white space.

Can you read me now?

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($2.99)

Characters: Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em

Last weekend, my neighbor and I went to a garage sale in the pouring rain. To us, this meant prime time shopping with less competition. While we were browsing, I spied the former mayor of our town surrounded by a swarm of other shoppers. He talked up a storm in the middle of the thunderstorm. Then he said, “I’d better go. When I talk too much, I get in trouble.” For him, this was an understatement. I remember a big stink in the community about possible tape recorded conversations while he was mayor. It was a regular Watergate in our small town of make-believe Mayberry. Although he was the former mayor, he still caused a commotion and people still wanted to hear what he had to say.

People like him-you either love them, or you don’t. They’re memorable characters who cause things to happen around them. They light fires everywhere they go. Sometimes the sparks ignite something big, and sometimes, they just leave the scene and everyone around them smoldering. One thing is certain: they’ll be remembered.

When you write, this is what you want. You want characters to make an impression. It irks the reader to flip back pages and even chapters to hunt for the introduction of a character in order to recall who that person is and where he came from. Make your characters stand out by having them do something naughty or out of the norm. It’s better than being blasé, bland, boring, or just blah. And when you do, make sure they pay the consequences. In the ex-mayor’s case, his penalty was not being re-elected. He still had a grand following though, and was the center of the garage sale attention. For my neighbor and I, this meant even more prime time shopping.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($2.99)

Chip on the Shoulder

When I was a teenager I stayed grounded–grounded as in punished and made to stay home on a Saturday night. One time I was even grounded for having no common sense. When I asked Dad how long I was to be marooned in my room, he said, “Until you get some sense.”

I persisted, “Can I have a timeframe? How long will that be?” This didn’t help plead my case. Mostly, I was grounded for having a ‘chip on my shoulder.’ That’s ‘70s slang for a rotten attitude. Urban dictionary describes it as “someone who has a self-righteous feeling of inferiority or a grudge.” Surely that wasn’t me. (The grammar police would say, “That wasn’t I.”) You see, I still hold some of those chips.

The last writer’s conference I attended hosted many talented writers. Interspersed within this group, were also many talented writers with chips on their shoulders. You could spot them from across the room. Some would say that it takes one to know one. When asked questions about their magnum opus, these writers responded rather smugly or defensively. It took deeper conversations before the shoulder chips could be chiseled away. Look out! You never knew where these chips were going to fall. They could fall on you if you weren’t comfortable in your own vocation or writing abilities.

It’s not attractive to have a chip on your shoulder. So how does a writer prevent this from happening? First, you have to have a mission-a book in the works or a daily word-count goal. In other words, you have to write if you want to call yourself a writer. Next, you have to stop looking at other writers as if they are your competition. No one can write your story except you. No one. Believe this and competition becomes a non-issue. But here’s the clincher: those inner nattering voices that tell you that you’re not good enough or cut out for this writing thing. Stare those fun suckers down, down to the floor next to your writing desk. The little demons need to be grounded. Teach them to think twice before trying to steal your joy.

The last time I had a chip on my shoulder was after making a decision to homeschool my children. A real voice, albeit well-meaning, said, “You wouldn’t do that to my grandbabies.” Another real voice said, “If Shelly Miller can homeschool, I know I can.” That voice belonged to a mother who moved forward to homeschool her own children successfully, so good for her. As for the first voice, I heard it again last week upon the college graduation of our daughter, the oldest of the grandbabies. This time, the loving voice said, “That’s our granddaughter, graduating summa cum laude with the highest honors. And she was homeschooled!”

Just when my peacock feathers puff up and the birth of a new chip begins, I have to consult spellcheck for how to spell ‘summa.’ And here lies the last trick in avoiding a chip on the shoulder: Maintain humbleness although nobody ever gets used to the taste of humble pie.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($2.99)

Guerilla Marketing

A long time ago, the “M” word meant something good. When we were dating, my now husband used to tease me with the “M” word while dropping to one knee. “Will you m-m-m-make me a sandwich?” My heart fluttered with the almost proposal. Yes, I wanted to marry him, but not so much make him a sandwich. I finally got the “M” word I wanted to hear and we’ve been married almost 25 years…and I’m still making those sandwiches.

Nowadays, the “M” word scares me. It’s far worse than making sandwiches. Today’s “M” word stands for marketing. You’d be hard-pressed to find an author who both loves to write and market books-maybe someone else’s books, but not his own. I picture book marketing as pedaling boxes of books from the back of my trunk with a sign that reads: Buy my book. The meek writer in me would rather place the book into a reader’s hands and say, “Here, just take it.”

I am both the marketer and the writer, yet I’m not comfortable with one of these people. At some point, this becomes silly. One neighbor even had to order my book online because I was too timid to take her money and dig into my stash of books (And you know there’s always a giant stash). Thank Heavens Write, Baby, Write is only available in ebook format so readers have no choice but to order online. I temporarily solved that marketing dilemma.

Most aspects of marketing are out of my control. Recent tornadoes are to blame for guerilla marketing tactics. Last week, Alabama was slammed with more deadly tornadoes. As a result, book sales of Tornado Valley: Huntsville’s Havoc, took off. Of all things, sales depended on the bad weather. For this reason, the ebook is priced as low as it can go during tornado season. I want folks to read the book. Timely advice from those who have survived direct hits from three different tornadoes could save additional lives. That’s worth marketing. If it brings to light the victim’s plight and results in more aid, that’s worth it. And if it means connecting personally with my readers, that’s worth marketing too. Okay, so maybe marketing is not so bad. I’ll think more about that when I m-m-m-make my next ham and cheese sandwich.

God bless my readers who have been touched personally by tornado disasters.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at: Amazon ($0.99)

Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

“Take out a piece of paper and a pencil. Number from 1-10.” These are words every fourth grader dreads, and could only mean one thing: dictation. Just when you realized your cursive S looked funny because you accidentally turned it into a treble clef, the teacher would say, “Next sentence.”
Whenever quotes were involved, dictation was a double whammy. Do the quotation marks go before or after the period? Why couldn’t the punctuation police just make them go directly underneath? Mere millimeters to the right or left made the entire sentence wrong. Don’t get me started on the metric system.

If I could just get through fourth grade, I would never have to take dictation again. Too bad my name starts with the letter s, but surely I could get by in life without ever using quotation marks. But alas, my writing is flat without them. Conversations make characters tick and paragraphs talk. If you want your story to come alive for the reader, the people must speak, and yes, this means quotation marks.

Before hives break out from a flood of fourth grade memories, I do three things when letting my characters speak on the page. First, I put quotes around only what they say. Next, when in doubt, I always use a capital letter. Last, I indent whenever a new character speaks. For everything else, we must keep our editors in business.

Sometimes writers balk at quoting real live people in writing, and for good reason. Besides punctuation police, there are plagiarism police roaming planet Earth. Again, let the characters speak-especially because they are real. Rarely would you carry a tape recorder around (does anyone ever do this anymore?), so you wouldn’t write verbatim what the person actually said. Don’t let this stop you from quoting them.

In my first book Tornado Valley: Huntsville’s Havoc, I used a disclaimer: “Thank you to … for agreeing to be named as the real people they are, while allowing the author to fictionalize their conversations for the purpose of telling their true stories.” In each case, I received permission from the interviewees, but I wanted the reader to know too. I remembered actual conversations to the best of my ability, but the words were mine. Many words were cut with a lot of dot, dot, dots, because a tornado in your peripheral vision could spark some choice words you may not wish to see in writing.

I hope this wasn’t just ‘a tale of fourth grade nothing,’ but that you, too, will strive for livelier stories with more conversations and quotes. Besides, I heard that in fifth grade, they diagram sentences. No wonder I don’t feel smarter than a fifth grader.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at: Amazon ($0.99)

You may be a Writer if?

– You get out of bed in the middle of the night to correct a comma.
– You decline a social invitation because of a conflict…in your book.
– You get a Kindle for Christmas, a Kindle case for your birthday, and a Kindle charger for Mother’s Day.
– You gain ten pounds in one month while on the B.I.C. program-Bottom in chair.
– You own at least one cat-as if owning a cat is possible.
– You have a marital spat over something that happened in your book.
– You type on an imaginary keyboard when you’re talking to someone in person.
– You’ve had a great day if you’ve doubled your word count.
– You whip out a Thesaurus during conversations.
– In case of a fire, you grab your laptop first.
– You talk to yourself and have conversations with imaginary characters.

And the list goes on… Any of these apply to you? Guilty.

Just a little fun for today, we’ve gotta keep it real. Check out some more fun insights and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It!
Available at: Amazon ($0.99)

Are you an Indie Writer?

Are you an Indie Writer? A what, you ask? Well, you might be an indie writer if you self-publish. Think about your reaction when self-publishing was just mentioned. Was it positive, inquisitive, or downright negative? For some reason, opposing sides are established outright whenever self-publishing is laid on the table. One side puts up their dukes and gets ready to defend their authorship rights. The other side muses pish-posh, those self-publishing advocates are at it again.

In fact, even the connotation of the word, self-publish, draws a line in the sand. Some have abandoned the stigma altogether and declare themselves to be indie writers. Indie is short for independent, but has a rebellious ring to it, don’t you think? I’m thinking of Indiana Jones. I personally like the term for the simple reason that most folks have heard of indie movies, or indie bands, but rarely of indie writers.

Independent people like this sort of thing. It only makes sense that such persons would also like complete control over every aspect of their written works. Complete control meaning: deadlines, editing, marketing, publishing, book covers, title and chapter names, length, genre… oh, just everything. An independent author can do just about whatever she wants. However, along with that freedom comes total responsibility. Not only will she reap the lion’s share of book royalties, but she will also shoulder the full charge of success or failure for her book ventures. I can’t think of any better example of reaping what you sow. Do you think you could be an indie writer?

My latest book, WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! dives into the exciting world of indie writing and self publishing. I have my books at several locations, but the biggest player in the business is Amazon. In my book you can find more information on self publishing, or directly from Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing-KDP (ebook publishing) or Amazon’s Createspace (Print versions). Amazon publishing tools are free to use and provide indie authors with a powerful and friendly platform to get your story into the hands of readers. You Can Do It!

WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It!
Available at: Amazon ($0.99)

Featured Book of the Day – Author Marketing Club

Well, Here goes… I experienced some good success with a book promo run in the fall with a different book promotion site, but this week on April 4th, I am trying out Author Marketing Club’s featured book of the day, WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It!. I will provide an updated review of the Author Marketing Club promo performance. It’s the first time I have used the paid promotion features, but it’s always been a great site for promoting free ebooks! It’s pretty affordable promotion option with a good traffic volume level.

WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It!
Available at: Amazon ($0.99)

WRITE, BABY, WRITE – BLOG

Foreword: Just Between Us

     Welcome to Write, Baby, Write: You Can Do It! Together we will carve a trail and delve into one of the most rewarding pastimes of a lifetime, writing. The winding path transforms the traveler as well as those who share the journey.

     Many surprises await us once inside and we don’t want to miss them. We will encounter authentic and inspiring stories exposing our vulnerabilities as we stretch to the edge of perceived boundaries and push outside our comfort zones. No stone is left unturned.

     I’m betting you are past the point of grammar and spelling exercises or you would have chosen a Writing for Dummies book instead. While “conjunction junction” has its function, this book doesn’t linger on the parts of speech. You will not find dangling modifiers or onomatopoeia references here. However, you might find yourself humming along to the old Schoolhouse Rock song as we begin our journey.

     I love a heart-to-heart chat with kindred spirits and can’t resist discussing creativity, muses, and storytelling. Along with the wiles of wordsmiths and other writer’s candy that only we can get excited about, personal experiences are shared to move you towards your next step on the writing journey. I will share what has worked for me, the tried and true, but also what I am afraid to try. Fear, writer’s block, editing, and even the ‘m’ word (marketing) will be encountered on these side excursions. These are part of the overall writer’s passage too.

     The purpose of this blog is to ensure that you don’t miss a thing. Whatever writing means to you, Write, Baby, Write, is the perfect companion. The Write, Baby, Write chapters are meant to stand alone, so browse to absorb for your immediate needs and then come back for more inspiration when you reach a new point in your writing. In this Blog, I will pull out some helpful tips and words of encouragement from my book and share insights from some of our favorite authors, publishers and fellow writers!

     Reading is a luxury when we are called to write. A fellow writer can relate. Therefore, this book jumps to the meat and bones of writing with no fluff. There’s “no time to say hello, goodbye! I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.” –White Rabbit

     It’s time to write. The time is now. Stop being the deer in the headlights. Instead, stare down your fears and dare yourself to write. If you want to be a writer, declare and introduce yourself by saying, “I am a writer.” Do not clarify, justify, or downplay. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

     P.S. My hope is you will be inspired to blow the dust off the writing draft from the bottom dresser drawer, or have the courage to embark on a brand new journey to fulfill your call to write. Perhaps you need to connect with like-minded writers just to know the abnormal is actually normal. Our paths may never cross, but take comfort in knowing we are traveling the trail in one accord.

I’m always interested in other writers’ stories and journeys. I would love to hear yours! If you have an inspirational anecdote or clever quote to encourage fellow writers, please email me: shelly@tornadovalley.net

Be encouraged and challenged today! Here’s to your next book,

-Shelly