Tag Archives: tips

Writing Forts

Nothing screams “summer blog post” more than a hulking, stone fort, am I right? Suuure. I can see the heads shaking. What you’re probably asking yourselves is: What does a fort have to do with writing? Well, let me tell you about that.

I’m always on the hunt for relevant writing-life ideas to blog about, things both useful and personal. I hope you learn something fun and different after reading my posts, that you engage in your own writing or reading in a new way, become inspired to change something in your writing repertoire or habits. See things from a fresh perspective.

So to find ideas, I check out the holiday calendars to see what’s going on, I read other author blogs (check out this list for some cool ones, but be warned, some links are out of date), I review Writer’s Digest and other online sources for inspiration.

And sometimes I simply walk outside and see what my imagination fires up. In the case of this month’s post, “Writing Forts,” my inspiration was two-fold: calendar spark and walkabout spark.

One of the many things I love about St. Augustine is its history. One big chunk of that history is the Castillo de San Marcos, a National Park, located at the northeastern edge of historic downtown. With July named as National Park and Recreation Month (the calendar spark), and me so enamored of this massive fortress—also a designated National Monument—I knew I had to blog about it.

Which leads me to spark number two, the walkabout. Because I’m fortunate to have this historic fort in my backyard, I’m free to wander the grounds for inspiration whenever I’m able to go downtown (and able to find parking).

Water in the moat of the Castillo de San Marcos
The Castillo at night, with visitors.
Canon fire at the Castillo

Those of you who’ve read my previous posts know how much I love being outdoors, love Florida’s warm, mostly sunny weather. I carry my notebook everywhere, and I love writing longhand outside. Weather permitting, naturally, but also in the rain. As long as I’m covered and my notebook is dry, I’m good.

Sometimes, writing in the rain is actually better, depending on the scene. A moody, rainy day can be perfect for stalking, murder, surprise attack, even simply an eerie feeling or two. I think you get my point. Writing outside or somehow exposed to the elements, exposed to the ambience of a historic space, imbues my writing with a vitality I can’t always capture when sitting at my computer behind a desk and gazing through the window. Kinda like life, you know. Sometimes you have to stop reading and writing about it and go out and live it.

Now, about this fabulous fort. I’m intrigued by history (I’m not a buff, mind you, but forever learning). Those of you who’ve read Emerald Obsession know that while it’s a contemporary mystery, it has its roots in history. The Castillo has survived over 300 years as the oldest masonry fortress in the United States.

Rambling over the fort grounds, reading the educational material the park rangers offer, climbing stone steps to look over the Matanzas River and all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, steeping myself in the environment and knowledge of its age brings the fort’s history to life, helps me imagine what living there centuries ago could’ve been like.

Being able to experience such a unique piece of history firsthand is extraordinary. When I walk through historic places, I feel the weight of time surround me. I feel the lives and deaths of those who passed that way before me. A quiet settles in, respectful and deep. I knew the fort would find its way into my writing somewhere, somehow.

And here’s where I get to tease a little info about Treasure Bound, Book Two in my Found Mystery Series. I’m so excited. This story follows up Emerald Obsession to continue Lexy and Jack’s treasure hunt, and part of the story takes place in St. Augustine. Surprise, there’s also a scene or two set at the fort. Hope I do it justice.

To learn more about the Castillo de San Marcos, click here. It’s one of my favorite places in St. Augustine. And don’t forget to take your writing outside! You may not have a fort at your disposal, but any outdoor spot will offer a new angle and enliven your writing.

As ever, to weigh in on this or any of my posts, please share, share, share in the comments section, or on social media. You can find me in all the usual places. Thanks again. : )

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Stress Management and the Zen of Journaling

People live with varying amounts of stress, and I totally admit I make my share too easily, despite my intention to simplify things. Is that ironic? No, probably just slow learning on my part. But what starts out simple often morphs into something complex faster than I can keep up.

Case in point: this is (one of) my April blog(s)—that’s a whole other story right there, the tale of my lost second blog of the month—and here I am, posting it in May.

Should I mention this post was prompted by learning that April is Stress Awareness Month? Well, there you go. Welcome, May; hello, Stress, I am aware of you; and, am I on the ball these days or what?

Despite the date, I wanted to share this post because I’m pretty damn sure everyone can relate to the stress in their lives getting out of hand now and again. Worse, perhaps way more often than that. And while I’m no police officer or doctor or someone who holds others’ lives in their hands, stress is real and evident in each person’s life to varying degrees, and that stress needs a release before it takes a physical, mental, emotional toll on a person.

Having said my little piece about that, life—as ever, it seems—has been a tad taxing, so I’d like to share how journaling helps me cope.

On one level, writing is stress-inducing because I’m striving to make my living with it. Learning the intricacies of publishing, marketing, blogging? Switching mental gears from the other aspects of everyday life to something creative? Creating compelling stories to share in the hopes readers will enjoy them? No stress there. ; )

On the flip side, writing is incredibly stress-relieving in another form. I’m talking about journaling, keeping a diary. Or in my world, AKA writing to a therapist without paying for one. ; )

I’ve kept a journal, diary or daily calendar for most of my life. Doing so goes back to my first real diary, which still lives somewhere in my mom’s basement in a dusty cardboard box with my name scrawled in black Sharpie on the outside. Prior to receiving that journal, I vaguely recall using cute, pink notebooks (Hello, Kitty, anyone?) for my scribblings. But being presented with that book—a most-cherished gift—was a turning point.

The perfect-bound book is small but meaty. It’s about 4 inches wide by 5 tall, an inch thick with lavender-lined, white pages dated for every day of the year. No year, though, just days, and I wrote in the diary for many years, on and off, when the mood struck and the need great. When I look at the pages now, I see the rounded loops of my childish cursive mingling with the flatter scrawl of my “grown-up” script.

The cover looks like bleached leather, off-white and semi-smooth, with the word “Diary” debossed in gold lettering.

But perhaps the best part of this notebook was the tiny lock and key that protected all my secrets. That lock freed me. Finally, I had a place to pour out my heart without fear of ridicule or retaliation. For a sensitive young girl like me, that was gold in paper form.

I didn’t understand at the time, but that diary would help me in immeasurable ways. Writing as a career can be exceedingly stressful, but writing for passion, for catharsis, is one of the best stress reducers I know. And a handy side effect: journaling is practically free.

For those of you who’ve not journaled yet, I encourage you to try. Maybe the best part is that you can (and perhaps should) write about anything. When I write in my calendar or a spiral notebook—my diary of choice these days because it opens flat—I’ll jot whatever comes to mind. Sometimes what happened during the day, what new food I made, or what errands I ran. I might segue into a mini rant on the bad drivers around me. Or a musing on the nice person in line who pointed out I’d dropped a five-dollar bill.

Journal and coffee

In its longer form, my notebook holds nighttime secrets, dream depictions that lingered until the next morning. Lots of folks are big into dream analysis; I’m intrigued by that, and I try to note my more unique experiences, either to try to decipher them or simply for later amusement. Whenever I die, whoever reads those dream notebooks will have a field day with my mental state, I’m sure.

Anyhoo, my point is writing in this manner is a release. Putting words to paper releases the emotion—good and bad—that fills my day. When it’s good, writing it solidifies the feeling and helps me enjoy it longer. When it’s bad emotion (stress), I’m able to channel it away to a large extent.

Remember Julia Roberts’s line from Pretty Woman? “The bad stuff is easier to believe. You ever notice that?” It’s always stayed with me because I feel like the bad stuff is also what really sticks with us. Too often, the good stuff falls by the wayside, easily forgotten or overtaken by some other worrisome feeling. So, writing the good stuff is how I enjoy and retain that happy feeling, how I focus on the good when all the mayhem tries to sneak in and overwhelm me.

And writing the bad stuff is how I expel my anger, alleviate the immediate pressure, vent my sadness and confusion and worry. When I need to, I can return to my spewage later to evaluate my reaction, to understand why I responded as I did. To view my stress from a safe distance and work through my problems with a clearer head. Wow, talk about handy.

So, readers, does any of this resonate with you? Who of you have journaled or written in a diary of any form? It’s a practice I’ll keep for my entire life, I’m sure. I hope you found something useful in this post, and that maybe I’ve offered a reason for you to start scribbling in a diary or notebook. It does wonders! Please share your thoughts below. Thanks, and have a brilliant day.

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An Editing Trick for World Read Aloud Day

I’m still writing the first draft of TB, Emerald Obsession’s sequel, which is great and frustrating at the same time. I’d hoped to be finished with this first run-through by now, but no dice. When I set writing goals, I like to think they’re realistic, but somehow I can’t always make them happen on schedule. That said, when I look back to where the time has been spent otherwise (whole-house reno!!), I’m not too disappointed that this first round is taking longer than I’d hoped.

But as I near the writing end, I’m beginning to think about the edits I know I’ll need to incorporate in order to improve the flow and arc of the story. That’s kind of cool for me. Editing is a challenge that requires different creativity, different vision and different skills. I edit my manuscripts at least four or five times, looking for specific elements on each revision. For example, here’s a sheet of proofreader symbols. One of my review rounds focuses entirely on this level of editing:

Proofreading marks

Today is World Read Aloud Day, so I wanted to share my take on how this helps during early-stage editing. You may already know it’s smart to read your work out loud. Reading, either to yourself in an empty room or to some sort of audience (cat, hub, writing buddy, etc.), allows you to focus on how the language sounds, whether you’ve chosen the best words, whether the story flow is natural and realistic. And a biggie: whether the tone and voice are consistent.

Reciting your story is a crucial part of editing and one I enjoy. I admit I read out loud frequently, sometimes unconsciously, which makes my hub laugh (I suspect this’ll happen a lot more now that we’ve moved into to our renovated office, yay!). I just tell him geniuses often talk to themselves, so he’s lucky he married up. ; ) ; ) Hahaha. Yeah, he laughs at me for that. And if you don’t want to go the “genius route,” you could read to your neighbor cats; here’s a photo of mine who randomly travel through our yard:

Neighbor cats sneaking in for a listen

So, while reading your own material is a great idea, how about next time you try this trick with your critique group or a writing partner: swap stories and read each other’s piece out loud. Not only will you focus and hear the words differently, you’ll hear how someone else interprets your words. Did the story flow naturally? Did the reader stumble over words or ideas? Did the plot progress realistically and believably? Hearing your words in someone else’s voice will give you a whole other level of insight about how readers might experience your story.

And you know me, I hope my stories sell, but first and foremost, I really want to tell my stories in a good, logical, fun, exciting way. This you-read-me, me-read-you technique can help build a great story. It’s super helpful to receive feedback from other readers, too, but I digress. Finding beta readers can be a topic for another blog. : )

As much as I love a good writing tip, I’m sure you guys know reading aloud has more benefits than simply helping you edit. I’m no expert, but do a search online and you’ll uncover many more pluses to reading for an audience, especially to kids. Think of the impact on imagination and vocabulary! Love that. <3

Tell me, readers, writers and friends, do you read your work aloud when you edit? Or just for fun? ; ) What other benefits do you find to reading out loud? Do you read to yourself or to others, like your critique group or writing partners? Me? Definitely a combo of both. Boy, my hub’s gonna get an earful!

I’d love to hear your answers. Let me know in the comments section below or by email at carolyn@carolyngreeley.com. Thanks for hanging out.

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3 Reasons to Find Your Writing Mentor

I discovered an interesting tidbit the other day as I scanned an online calendar of fun facts: January is National Mentoring Month. Okay, maybe you take that sort of online info with a grain of salt, as I do (Really, National Crown of Roast Pork Day? It’s March 7, according to some.), but now and then I run across a factoid that stays with me and spins the gears.

Such is the case with National Mentoring Month. This struck me because I’m an advocate of mentors (and not just recognizing their usefulness for a month). This past year, I’ve been talking about their importance with my husband, whose business is expanding. As it grows, I’ve encouraged him to reach out to friends and colleagues who’ve already traveled similar paths, so he might learn from their experiences.

Why take this path:

Foggy path

When you can travel a clear path with a trusted advisor and friend:

Path to follow

But to be honest, I hadn’t thought of a mentor for myself as an author before now. I don’t know why. It took that chance mention to make me look at my career and realize how critical a mentor could be for a writer. And many of the ways in which a mentor helps say, an entrepreneur, are the same ways one would help a writer.

So, as ever on my kick about continuing to learn and grow, I searched around for more information. 🙂

Here are three ways a writing mentor can help you:

1—Experience. One of the best things a mentor can do is share the wisdom of their experience. I love the expression “work smarter, not harder.” By finding someone who’s attained the goal you’re aiming for and having them mentor you, you’ll benefit from their knowledge and hopefully will avoid their mistakes. An established writer will counsel you on both creative and business aspects of writing and will guide you along your specific career path.

2—Connection. Another benefit of your mentor will be access to their broader network of contacts. Though writing is usually a solitary effort, if publication is one of your goals, then connecting with others—readers, publishers, agents, editors, other writers—is essential. As an author looking to grow and reach an audience, having a mentor to open doors and offer ways to connect with people will be invaluable.

3—Inspiration and Input. Inspiration can come from anywhere, but for me, it doesn’t happen on a consistent basis. With a mentor, though, you may be only a call, text or coffee chat away from the butt-kick motivation you need to flush out that sketchy scene that’s vexed you for a week. The right writing mentor will offer creative support and unbiased, constructively critical insights. And that’s huge for gaining confidence and thickening the skin to the rejection prevalent in the writing world.

So, readers, what do you think about writing mentors? I believe engaging with one is a great idea for anyone looking to grow their career or passion. Do you have one? Or would you consider mentoring someone less experienced? What would you hope or expect to gain from that association? Please let me know in the comments section. I’d appreciate your thoughts. Or feel free to email me at carolyn@carolyngreeley.com. Thanks!

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Resolutions and Revisions—A Writer’s Reality

With another flip of the calendar, I find myself staring at a relatively clean slate. And so I decided to jump on the January-resolution bandwagon this year. Why not? The fact is, the changing of the year is a great time for people to reexamine goals, and I’m no exception.

A clean, snowy slate in NY

Since this blog is about my writing life, I’ll let you in on my writing resolution for this year. I made a small-yet-large-for-me pledge that pertains to you, dear readers and fans: My objective for 2017 is to blog more often and about more writing topics of interest to you.

To that end, I plan to blog twice a month. Yeah, no great shakes in the world of blogging, but in my world of chaos and distraction, doubling my monthly output is a major thing. Especially now, when I’m trying to power through the first draft of my second novel in the Found Mystery Series, still lovingly referred to as TB. ; )

As you may know, I believe life should be a continual learning experience, and I feel the same way about writing. I always want to learn more, become better at the craft, and I enjoy passing on what I learn.

Blogging isn’t my passion the way storytelling is, but the more I write in all formats, the better writer I become (hopefully). So, increasing my post output helps two ways: to give the readers what they want, and to sharpen my skills doing what I love.

In this first post of 2017, I’d like to share a link about one author’s editing process. I found this courtesy of Mary Ann de Stefano on the Florida Writers Association Facebook page, and I think it’s fantastic.

People often ask what it’s like to be a writer. Well, there are as many different answers as there are scribblers, but there’s a common thread: to write is to edit. And so, to learn to write is to understand you must edit.

This author, Patrick Rothfuss, was asked what it’s like to revise his own work. I think his answer is spot-on as he details the challenges we face, large and small, to make our manuscripts the best we can. Please take a look and let me know what you think.

As with writing, there are aspects of editing and revising that I love and those that I can hardly stand. But they go hand-in-hand. To be a better writer, I need to become a better editor. I’m working on it. 😉

Happy New Year to you all. Here’s hoping your resolutions are both fun and productive. Otherwise, they’ll be a pain to stick with. 😛

And with respect to my goal of blogging about your writing interests, please share what you’d like to hear about, either in the comments section, or by email: carolyn@carolyngreeley.com. Thanks and looking forward to your input.

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Is a Writers Conference Right For You?

Each September for the past nine years, St. Augustine, Florida, has hosted the Florida Heritage Book Festival and Writers Conference. Since I’m fortunate to have my lovely, artistic town present this writers conference and book fair, I do my best to attend. I’ve made it two out of my three years here (couldn’t last year, as the hub and I were full-on into our house renos).

Let me give a quickie explanation: The FHBF is both a writers conference and a celebration of books and authors Floridian. It’s organized around critique sessions on Thursday, a full day of conference workshops and lectures on Friday and a series of author talks on Saturday.

I decided to attend only the Friday conference this time around. My Saturday was full-up with another FWA meeting (great tips and tools for writing press releases, courtesy of Nancy Quatrano) and more house-y everything. Yep, one year later, and we’re still finishing the renos. You know, those whole-house remodels really take some time when you’re not working on them full-time. Here’s hoping we’re done before next September. : )

As many of you know, when I’m not renovating, I’m writing my second adventure-mystery novel, the sequel to Emerald Obsession. I’ve been struggling with it here and there. Partly from a time perspective, partly from an exhaustion perspective, partly from a distracted-creative-brain perspective. I think many of you can relate; we all have things we like, want or need to do, but we don’t necessarily have the bandwidth or energy to do them (or do them well). At least, not as much as we’d like to. The rest of life often disrupts our best intentions: family, work, home, friends … all grab and hold our attention, stealing it from our other endeavors.

Well, that’s where a writers conference can help. I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions how incredibly helpful my critique group is. Well, picture a writers conference as a critique group on crack. Super-charged and offering valuable advice and information.

FHBF Sign
FHBF Sign

This year’s FHBF conference offerings resonated with me, and I knew attending would fire my imagination and rev up my commitment to writing. Several sessions were geared toward: scene development, plot building, and characterization, as well as writing strategies and book marketing. Two presenters I enjoyed for their engaging, entertaining and truly informative presentations were Roy Peter Clark and John Dufresne. So glad I heard them, but sorry I couldn’t make the concurrent sessions. So many workshops, so little time. ; )

So, is a writers conference for you? Obviously, I can’t make up your mind, but hopefully these few items in a “pro” list will help you decide in favor of attending:

  • You’ll learn so much on a wide range of writing topics. The whole idea of a conference is to share ideas and knowledge. You want to be a better writer? A single conference can cover a huge spectrum of information; it’s like one-stop-shopping on both the craft and business of writing. Fabulous!
  • You’ll meet lots of people with the same interests, so networking and sharing ideas can happen almost automatically, even for introverted writer-folks such as we may be.
  • Being with other artists can energize and inspire you and your writing. Plain and simple.
  • The experience of a new place can provide excellent writing material. And even a familiar location can come alive when you view it with a new perspective.
cell-download-2-2014-2078
Stairway at Markland House, where sessions were held.
One of the classrooms; caveat, this photo is from a previous conference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No surprise, there are more factors to consider when deciding. Two important points are location and cost. But something to keep in mind is there are many conferences of varying sizes and across hundreds of locations for you to choose from. You may even find free workshops or seminars to get you started. By the way, don’t forget to talk to your accountant, because you may be able to write off your conference expenses.

Here’re three good conference listings to get you started: http://writing.shawguides.com/ and http://thewritelife.com/28-fantastic-writers-conferences-authors-bloggers-freelancers/ and https://www.awpwriter.org/wcc/directory_conferences_centers. But be sure to google for yourself, especially based on the type of writing you do. And don’t forget to check your local library for info.

Another big thing to consider is what each conference offers. Most present a broad variety of activities to participate in, but among the usual suspects are: focused lectures, keynote speakers, workshops, critique sessions, agent and/or editor appointments, discussion panels, author signings, writing prompt activities and pitch sessions.

With so much fun and thought-provoking stuff going on, you’ll wish you could attend every conference. : )

How about you, friends and readers; have you been to a writers conference? If so, which one(s) and what was your favorite takeaway? : ) Please share your experiences in the comment section. I’m looking forward to hearing what you’ve found helpful.

Thanks for hanging, and don’t forget tell your friends about my website, so they can sign up for my newsletter and read all the latest. See you again soon!

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6 Easy Travel Activities to Enliven Your Writing

August is a popular time to travel, and the hub and I jumped on the bandwagon this month. Our recent trip to see family and friends in NYC allowed us to revisit old haunts and try new ones on for size.

Freedom Tower and Empire views from the SI Ferry
Freedom Tower and Empire views from the SI Ferry

The trip prompted me to write this post about my version of travel writing.  : )

I love to travel. It’s one of my favorite things, right up there with eating, sleeping, reading, writing … you get the idea. The thing is, travel is an incredible learning experience. It gives you the opportunity to discover so much about other places, other people and cultures, other ways of life. And you can learn a great deal about yourself along the way, too. Bonus.

On top of those—in my opinion, fabulous—reasons to traipse the globe, there’s another. If you’re a writer like me, when you return from your adventures, you have the incredible opportunity to share them through words. Which is one of the reasons I call the books I write “adventure mysteries.”

I love incorporating elements of travel, food, people into my stories to add character and depth to the tales. To add a greater level of intrigue and excitement a reader might otherwise not get, or expect to get, from a book.

In my first novel, Emerald Obsession, Lexy explores a Bahamian island, Eleuthera, then returns to Manhattan to solve the mystery of cursed pirate jewels. How fun for me that my vacation in the Bahamas sparked an entire novel. Of course, when you see photos from my stay, you’ll understand the inspiration. Check out this picture, then click the link to my Photographs page for more.

Eleuthera Sunset 2
Eleuthera Sunset

I’m continuing the trend with my second book—still called TB for now—which is set in a couple of fun places, namely the Turks and Caicos and St. Augustine, Florida (shocker, right?). Wait till you read it! ; )

In the meantime, have a look at these six tips for bringing travel to life in your writing.

1—Take lots of photos. They capture the essence of a place, a people, and will refresh your memories and evoke the emotions you experienced while traveling. Besides, you already carry your smart phone, right? So snap away. ; )

2—Keep a travel journal. I find this easiest when I journey solo, but even noting in your cell where you went and when is a good tool for setting scenes, recalling distances and understanding time. Jot down relevant details and pull them out later for a dose of believability.

3—Become a temporary locavore. By far my favorite. Eat, eat, eat and savor the unique flavors and spices, colors and scents of the regional food or cooking style. Use them to saturate your stories with local authenticity.

4—Meet the locals. When possible, have a resident show you around their hometown. Who better to give the inside scoop on all the fabulous particulars of a place than someone who lives there?

5—Stop by specialty events and places; do things you can’t elsewhere. Walk the High Line, a park built on a section of elevated former rail line on Manhattan’s west side. Take in a free beach-side rock concert. Unique experiences are everywhere.

6—Track your journeys on a map, either digitally or old-school-wise on paper. Use your cell’s GPS to get up close with where you’ve been, or stick pins into your wall map to plot your journeys for a great overview.

Brunch
Brooklyn-born brunch
Ferrara
Ferrara’s, Little Italy

 

Night skyline
Night skyline
Ft W
Fort Wadsworth and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

And here’s an extra tip for when you can’t get there in person: use Google maps and zoom in to the street view to get a feel for a place. A note of caution: though maps are accurate, the street-view photos can be out-of-date, so double-check your findings with a second or third source. Try Trip Advisor. So many travelers there, happy to share their favorite, current photos. Have fun with your online journey, too.

Now that you’ve heard my tips for using travel to enliven your writing, please tell me about your experiences. What’s your favorite destination? Or your favorite thing to do while visiting a new place or an old fave? And always a good question: where are you going next? More than half the fun is in the planning and anticipation, right? : ) Share your thoughts in the comment section. I can’t wait for some new travel ideas.

Please tell your friends about my website so they can sign up for my newsletter to read all the latest. And stay tuned for more travel adventures!!

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