Finding Time When There’s No Time to Find

How do you find time when there is no time to find? Surely this was one of those questions the Ancients asked their oracles. Today, we’re still wondering the same thing. Time management tools and plans abound, yet we still find ourselves muttering, “I don’t have time.” Of course we do. If we have the breath to utter that we don’t have time, obviously the present time is something we do have.

What we really mean to say is that we don’t have time to do what we want to do or what we know needs doing. It’s this ‘me’ time that gets lost in the shuffle, the time that matters to us. For me, my ‘me’ time is the ‘write’ time or finding time to write. This is what I want more of-not the ‘I need more time to do chores’ kind of time.

Outside of paying for a chore boy, a cheaper way of finding more time is to milk the time we do have. Milk it for all it’s worth. Thankfully, multi-tasking was last millennium’s trend which I’m relieved went out of style. If anything, multi-tasking created more attention deficit disorders or made current ones worse. I’m suggesting that instead, we eek out all 60 seconds of every minute. The Urban Dictionary defines eeking out as “letting your leg hairs grow long enough so it doesn’t hurt as much when you eventually shave them.” How’s that for a word picture?

Even I could think of a better definition. To clarify, we all have what could be called wasted time. Whether it’s the car line, the grocery line, driving time, waiting for the bus time, kids at karate time, daughter’s dance lessons, or what have you. I’m proposing that we find more ‘me’ time from our wasted time. Most of us can claim to have plenty of wasted time, so why not sneak some ‘me’ time out of it? In fact, our wasted time could be the only place to find it.

I waste a lot of time in the car, so this is when I use the time to write. No, not while driving-that would be considered multi-tasking. When the gear is in PARK, I am safe to write. Sure, I battle wasps with the windows rolled down, but a wasp sting is nothing compared to socializing with other soccer moms. During oodles of practices, which are wonderful physical and social time for my children, but wasted time for me, I write. I can write and still watch my children compete from my vehicle while keeping two things in mind: never park behind the soccer goal if auto insurance has already replaced the windshield, and secondly, sometimes the only thing separating a pit bull from a soccer mom really is lipstick.

Think about planning some ‘me’ time during your wasted time. Eek out those seconds. Who knows? They could even be found while shaving or putting on lipstick.

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

Blog Days of Summer

When I last looked, it was eleven days, nine hours, and fifty-three seconds until autumn. Tell that to my air conditioner. There’s no sign of the heat letting up and the humidity is almost like a second skin now. We’re in ‘the dog days of summer’ and so is my blog. Wikipedia claims this time to be in July and August, but I beg to differ here in the South. More of the same sultry weather is to be expected as the muggy days drag on and on.

Tis the season to complain during this interim. We absolutely hate to wait. We’re afraid of down-time and end up wasting the in-between opportunities because they weren’t in the plan. We have a plan for the future, but we don’t have a plan for right here and now. That could actually be a good thing. Good things come to those who wait, right?

I’m trying to make some sense of this whole ‘time on my hands’ theme without copping a guilt trip. I know the movers and shakers of this world share no sympathy with me and secretly relish every chance to share war stories about all-important busyness in every season. I was once one of them, the queen of the hive, in fact.

Lately, I have found that it is a blessing not to be busy at all times. This is not to be confused with being lazy. Laziness is doing nothing when you should be doing something-the whole ‘idleness is the Devil’s workshop’ kind of thing. Believe it or not, there are some times when you’re not supposed to be doing anything. It’s called REST. Isn’t it silly to stress over rest? We strive for rest and get it, but feel guilty for enjoying it, and do our best to whittle it away until we’re finally busy again.

Doing nothing can be good for you. I believe a spectrum of opportunities exists for everyone. When we are in position at the same time that opportunities line up, we can reach up and grab those opportunities that were always there. Many times this happens when we’re in-between projects or on our way to somewhere else. We often see the lack of events as delays, even interruptions to our rhythm, instead of the opportunities that they are. Rest assured, if we are busy, we won’t see them at all.

Let’s hang in there for the dog days of summer. Change is a-coming, but it might not be today. Meanwhile, the electric meter spikes along with the heat, but let’s try to submit, if just for a day, to the rhythm of something else besides ourselves. In other words, get busy resting.

Check out some more encouragement and writing tips in my latest book WRITE, BABY, WRITE: You Can Do It! Available at Amazon ($3.99)

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)

Mr. Write

25th Anniversary! A quarter of a century. When you put it that way, it sounds like a long time. Today, my husband and I celebrate twenty-five years of marriage, our silver anniversary. We might not want to mention the silver too much though. Because of my paint fetish, entire rooms in our home change colors with the seasons. The downstairs looks as if the Jolly Green Giant scattered Skittles on the walls. My husband handles my painting sprees well. The only time I saw him visibly flinch was when I sponge-painted our master bedroom metallic silver. We’ve been celebrating this silver anniversary for some time now, and I get the feeling he’s looking forward to another year soon.

I certainly married my Mr. Right. Not only that, I married my Mr. Write. Randy is my agent, my beta reader, webmaster, social media manager, and everything that I’m not when it comes to writing. I still haven’t figured out exactly who “they” is, but “they” say writers should choose one person to whom they are writing and write for that person only. Randy is that person that I write to and for. He’s the one. He is the second set of eyes for all my written material. Sometimes those words are for our eyes only and the rest of the world never gets to see them.

Every writer needs someone she can trust, no matter what pops out of her fingers onto the paper. That can be a tall order. Randy readily volunteered to lead Team Shelly, even when our team only had two people. Besides my writing confidante, Randy is the gatekeeper who protects my writing psyche. He is a real life Billy Goat’s Gruff for anyone trying to cross the bridge to me. The trolls don’t get to pass. I receive only the glowing book reviews from him. Imagine my surprise when Amazon’s marketing referred me to my own book, thinking I would like to read it and buy it. I was very surprised that Tornado Valley: Huntsville’s Havoc, received four out of five stars. However, what’s most important to me is that my husband still thinks I am five out of five stars.

Happy Anniversary, Randy! Thank you for twenty-five adventurous years. I eagerly await our Golden Anniversary. I wonder if Behr Satin paint comes in gold?

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)