Friday, September 9, 2011

How I see it: With toxic friends, who needs enemies?

There are so many platitudes about friendship. The wind beneath my wings. The thing that makes life worth living. Better than chocolate. You've heard them, but what happens when you find yourself stuck with someone who doesn't fit those descriptions? A pal who is Friendzilla or worse? According to a recent survey, found that about 84% of women have endured a toxic friendship sometime in their lives.

Toxic friend? A pop psychology phrase for someone who is a downer, who sucks your energy, who has been known to drill a knife in your back a time or two, or someone who is dishonest and unreliable. We've all encountered these types, unfortunately. The subtle jabs, the passive agressive comments, the hits to your self-esteem----these are all signs that the friendship isn't working anymore.

Unlike family members, friends are those we choose to have in our lives. The expectation is that they are people we enjoy--- those who make us laugh, who get us thinking, who buoy us up. When this ceases to be the case and we start dreading the time we spend with our friends, maybe we need to evaluate our contact level.

Not to stereotype, but women tend to be nurturing. As women, we feel if we've known a friend since we shared Barbies together, we have an obligation never to abandon that person. But, people change. It's a fact. Just because we've known someone since the dawn of time, doesn't mean we can excuse bad behavior...especially when it happens over and over again. Helping a friend through a rough patch is commendable, but if a friendship becomes the rough patch in your life, it may need reevaluating.

Particularly, if a friend makes you feel bad about yourself, it's time to consider if you want to keep this person in your close circle of contacts. No one should feel they need to put up with abusive behavior because they pinkie swore they'd be BFFs in middle school. That's taking loyalty too far. For your own personal mental and emotional health, it may be time to move on.

How to 'break up' with a friend though? This is a delicate situation. Some experts encourage slowly distancing yourself from the person----don't be as available to get together or talk on the phone. Others suggest the direct approach. "This friendship isn't healthy for either of us. Maybe we should look for friends we have more in common with?" Wow. That does sound like a break up, doesn't it?

However you choose to end things with a toxic friend, don't back down. Every door closed, is the opportunity for another one to open. Remember, friends are people we choose to have in our lives to fulfill it and lighten our load, not to weigh it down with extra drama. We spend countless time and energy finding the right house; finding the right friend is even more important. We have every right to be selective. And, that's how I see it...

"A new friendship is like an unripened fruit---it may become either an orange or a lemon."
---Emma Stacey

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tuesday's Tidbits: Kill Your Darlings

When I am writing, sometimes I construct a sentence or develop a plot point or create a character with which I am enamoured. The way the words roll off my tongue or the hint of quirkiness I can't seem to get over in a certain character. These are the gems of writing, right? The answer is a very ambiguous, sometimes and sometimes not.

Most of us cringe when it comes to the dreaded "E" word. Rightly so; editing hurts. But, as you edit, sometimes it becomes necessary to ax these special bits of writing you've nursed and helped to grow. We tend to put a little, white picket fence around those phrases and plot points we love. We arduously protect them from the red pen, but there comes a time when for the sake of the project, you must kill your little darlings. This was a phrase first coined by William Faulkner.

Faulkner's advice rings true for most writers. Objectivity is important when it comes to editing. Somehow, we need to find a way to remove ourselves from the emotion of the words we've created. Maybe that character you love just isn't suited for this piece of writing. Or, maybe that sentence you enjoy sounds out of place with the tone or voice of the piece. As difficult as it may be to slash your darlings, most of the time, your writing improves with them gone.

So, it's okay. Strike those darlings, delete them, erase them....or, maybe cut them and paste them in a file, if that makes you feel better. You can save them and hope that those precious bits of writing will fit better in your next MS. I've done that before, and while I've never used them, I admit it feels good knowing they are just a click away!

"The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same

as the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."

---Mark Twain

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How I see it: Goodnight, Irene!

Goodnight, Irene. No matter how cliche, that song stuck in my head as I was wishing she'd say good night last Saturday. I live in eastern North Carolina, where the people are hardy and they will tell anyone who'll listen how many hurricanes they've weathered over the years. I've lived through two others, but Irene bested them all.

I sat in my recliner early Saturday morning, having been woken by the wind whistling and whirling outside. I had a book in my lap, but I was more captivated by the tree outside my window. It would almost bend double each time great gusts crashed into it. This happened time and again. As the wind howled and screamed outside, I thought to myself, how much more can that poor tree take? Leaves flew off, trees and branches snapped, and I thought it was just a matter of time before she succumbed.

Fifteen hours later, when Irene stormed up the coast wreaking more havoc in her wake, I walked outside to assess the damage we'd sustained. I was delighted to find our tree, though weathered and beaten, still stood. I went to sleep Saturday night thinking about that tree.

The next day, I awoke to the buzz of chain saws and people talking outside. We threw on some clothes, and my husband and I went from a drive. We dodged downed trees and power lines to see the effects of the hissy fit Irene had thrown the day before. The damage in our neighborhood was substantial. Almost no home had been left untouched.

As I pulled on my work gloves and started raking up the debris, I noticed we had a glorious day to clean up. Blue skies, no clouds in sight and when you breathed in, the air was crisp and new.

I thought again about our tree. It didn't take me long to see the application to life. How many times are we driven to our knees by life's storms? At the time, they seem relentless, and you don't know how many more hits you'll survive without snapping. You may even feel you lose parts of yourself along the way, limbs that are painful to be without. But, at the end of the day, it's a victory to still be standing, even if you are storm-tossed and weather beaten.

Another truth. After a hurricane, the sun comes out and the blue skies return. No matter how wicked the rain, no matter how strong the winds, they do end. Always. That parallels life too. And, that's how I see it...

"It is only in sorrow bad weather masters us; in joy we face the storm and defy it."

---Amelia Barr

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday's Tidbit: Tightening your Manuscript

I get a rush when writing the first draft of a manuscript. The words sometimes flow too fast for my fingers to type them on the keyboard. The goal, initially, is just to get my ideas down on paper, before my muse grows tired and bails.

It's always 'fun' reading a first draft back after a month-long writing jag. Many times I'll grimace and think, "This is bad...I actually wrote this drivel?" In an effort to express that first drafts really do have promise and shouldn't be shotputted into the circular bin just yet, this blog is devoted to how writers can tighten their first draft and move on to a more polished manuscript.

There are a couple of words that end up interjected in many first drafts that really aren't necessary. They are little words of very little consequence, but when we write, we often pop them into our sentences like we do candy into our mouths. Two of the ones I see most often when editing are "that" and "of". As you review that first draft, take a minute to edit out those two short words. In doing so, you may be surprised to find, in many cases, your intent has stayed the same, but the manuscript reads clearer and tighter.

Another key is to read your manuscript aloud. I have been known to laugh big belly laughs at the cheesy dialogue that comes out of my characters' mouths. For example, we don't always preface our dialogue by saying the person's name. "Good morning, Rebecca. How was your day?" "It was wonderful, John." Now, doesn't that sound the slightest bit like, "See Dick run", from the generic first grade reader? When we read our MS out loud, our ear catches those stilted, formal patterns that would never be uttered in every day speak, and we can edit them to sound more natural.

In reviewing my manuscript, there are times things will run smoothly, and then I hit a sentence that sounds awkward, or wordy, or just doesn't flow right. It's frustrating when you find a problem sentence, but you can't figure out a way to reword it that doesn't sound equally as wooden and choppy. Some advice I got once was to rewrite several different versions of the sentence. Obviously, you don't want to edit out your meaning, but try alternative verbs, sentence lengths, different phraseology. Maybe you'll hit on a version that breathes life to you, and you can slide it into your manuscript so it reads more smoothly and succinctly than it ever has before.

Lastly, when you are writing YA literature it is totally acceptable to use contractions. This is a great way to help your manuscript read more like real life, leaving the awkward stilted wording for B-rated movies. "She can't do it anymore" sounds infinitely better than "She cannot do it anymore." An added bonus is that using contractions cuts down on your word count, if that is something, like me, you are constantly keeping an eye on.

I love the review option on Word, but my editing always comes up in red ink. By the time the page number changes, half of what I've been working on looks like it's bled out. I feel like my red pen has done a Freddy Krueger, from the old slasher movies, and gone postal on my manuscript. I often liken my drafts to my other children, and after editing, they invariably look as if it has suffered a bloody fate at my hands.

Editing can be a daunting task. I've just cut over 2,000 words from my manuscript, so I get it. However, once I've completed the 2nd and 3rd round of revisions, I usually feel a sense of accomplishment. My baby's nip and tuck has yielded a copy that sounds better and reads more true than my initial bloated version. In the end, my red pen, Freddy, and I couldn't be more thrilled at the results.

"I have never thought of myself as a good writer. Anyone who wants reassurance of that should read one of my first drafts. But I'm one of the world's great rewriters."

---James A. Michener

Friday, August 26, 2011

How I see it: Dog Sense

Since June, I've been doing my daily duty in the gym each morning. 6:30am hits, and the drill sergeant whistles in the form of my alarm clock going off. Rattled by the ringing in my ears, I stumble out of bed and fifteen minutes later, I am stepping onto the elliptical machine.

I am not one of those rare breeds who lives to exercise, but at my age (prefer not to disclose, because I feel old just saying the number) the lbs. start creeping up. Before you realize it, you're in the TJ Maxx dressing room, mouthing "What? How is this size even's double the size I wore in high school. Am I reading this tag right?" Short of needing a pair of drugstore readers, you know it's time to hit the gym and hit it hard.

So, I'm present and accounted for by 6:45ish, plodding away on my elliptical. Instead of discretely watching the clock every two minutes, which somehow seems to make the big hand magically travel backwards, I watch the news. Even though I've lost a ridiculously miniscule amount of weight this summer, I have become more informed about what's going on in the world. That's worth getting up with the drill sergeant every morning, right?

On Monday, I was watching the news when I heard a story that grabbed me. It was about the Navy SEAL, Jon Tumilson's, funeral. Sad as it was to hear about this heroic soldier's end, even more touching was the story of his dog, Hawkeye. Hawkeye led the processional of funeral attendees into the hall, and then proceeded to plant himself under Tumilson's casket. He sprawled under it during the entire funeral service.

I'm not even a dog owner (I've already potty-trained five kids---enough said), but my eyes were tearing so badly I nearly fell off my elliptical. What a loyal friend! What wouldn't each of us give for a friend of Hawkeye's caliber?

In a related story, I heard on the radio about a dog residing in a local retirement home. Somehow, this dog had an uncanny sixth sense about when someone was about to pass. He would hop into bed, and sleep with the patient all night, giving that extra little reassurance when the end drew near. In the morning, the staff would find the dog lying there and the lifeless body next to him.

Fortunately, according to the newscaster, many of the patients were suffering from dementia and had a hard time telling their roommate, Bessie, from their daughter, Barbara. Admittedly, it would be a little unnerving, for a lucid patient, if Rover picked your bed for a doggie nap one night. Most of us would be tempted to do some heart-to-heart deathbed repenting, just in case.

Call it simple dog sense, but it's not to be taken lightly. These canine companions are more than dog chow and tennis balls. The are loving, health-giving, loyal-to-the-end gifts. They teach us through example about the best of humanity.

And, that's how I see it...

The dog has been esteemed and loved by all the people on earth and he has deserved this affection for he renders services that have made him man's best friend."
---Alfred Barbou

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday's Tidbits: Adjectives and Adverbs

I'd like to introduce you to two of my biggest nemeses as a writer: adjectives and adverbs. On the surface they appear to be great friends. They describe actions and people, places and feelings just how you imagined them. What could be better, right?

Well, when it comes to writing, adjectives and adverbs often crowd the space in a sentence and in your readers' minds. They're often empty calories and extra weight.

Confession time. I'm guilty of gorging on bulimic-size numbers of -ly words and noun descriptors for that matter. Why, then, do I do this when I know it doesn't make for good writing? I can put all kinds of spin on it, but the bare-bones is, I'm lazy. Description words are too easy to pull from my repertoire, especially the ones so old and tired, they're begging to start claiming Social Security.

Here's a recommendation, and it comes from a wonderful resource book, called The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman. Lukeman suggests removing all adverbs and adjectives from your first draft. No need for a Q-tip. I did say all of them. After putting your MS on a diet free of delectable descriptors, re-read your text. Chances are you'll find you have a sleeker, smoother version of your manuscript, but one that still retains its shape, when it comes to content. After, you can inject some of the descriptory adjectives/adverbs back into your writing, but partake sparingly (kind of like ice cream :D).

Another take on this task is to remove the adverbs and adjectives from your work and find synonyms that are less well-used or cliche to replace them. See how they fit. Sometimes, you'll only retain one or two of these new alternatives in the next draft. Still, this exercise serves an important purpose. It hones your writer's eye to more inventive ways of describing things. With these exercises, Lukeman offers us ways to improve our works in progress. I've done variations on both of these tasks, and they make a big difference in how my page reads.

The argument that finally convinced this descriptor addict to put her MS on a weight-loss plan occurred to me while reading one night.

Overusing adjectives and adverbs doesn't give your reader enough credit. Readers don't want everything spelled out, like the ingredients in a cookbook. This may seem a strange analogy, but it reminds me of the first time I saw "Twilight" on the big screen. I was a fan of the book series, but for some reason the films disappointed me. When I tried to identify why, I realized that no matter how I gift-wrapped it, Kristen Stewart was never going to be the Bella Swan I pictured in my head. The silver screen version of the character and the Bella in my head didn't jibe. (No offense to Kristen!)

Allow readers to imagine their own sunset. The colors and feelings evoked in their imaginations, may be entirely different than yours. Trust your readers to 'get it', without hauling out the bib and high chair. Having everything in black and white makes for a boring read.

Readers trust you as a writer to guide them on a fantastic journey from 'Once upon a time' to 'The End'. Don't disappoint by being too wordy about it. Let their own imaginations be the vehicle that transports them where they want to go.

However great a man's natural talent may be, the act of writing cannot be learned all at once.
---Jean Jacques Rousseau

Sunday, August 21, 2011

On-line and ready to write!

Do you remember getting a new book as a kid? I do. I would tote my new find around the bookstore and literally smell the pages---strange, huh? While I admit I was probably a good candidate for therapy, I was so mesmerized by the promise of those pages I wanted to take them in with all of my senses. I couldn't wait to discover the storyline, the characters I would meet, the setting it would take me to.

That's how I feel today. I'm embarking on a blog---it's a new adventure for me. I'm excited to meet new friends, learn new things, and I hope it takes me new places.

My goal for this blog is to mix writing with life. To write about my life---from the consequential to the inconsequential, and to show a little about my life and journey as a writer.

I have always loved a good road trip---the sound of the miles swallowed up under the tires, the music belting, and especially the company of good friends. I hope you'll hop in and join me on my journey. Until I get the feel of the road, we may run into a few bumps along the way, but then I hope it will be blue skies and good times.

The muscles of writing are not so visible, but they are just as powerful:

determination, attention, curiosity, a passionate heart.

--Natalie Goldberg