Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Writing About Writing ~ Self-Exploration

For today's segment, I am going to introduce the concept of self-exploration through writing.

I have found comfort in journal writing and nonfiction stories my entire life. It's a way to purge personal thoughts, emotions, and other ideas in a safe way because, technically, you are the only one who reads what you write until you choose (if at all) to share it. And in these very worrisome and uncertain times, having a resource such as writing is invaluable.

My definition of self-exploration is having the courage to dig through all of the layers inside of us that make us a whole.  Every experience, connection, situation or decision, good or bad, creates a thin layer that can be considered a source of inspiration in our writing. For example, if you have gone through an extremely tough time but don't feel you can express the feelings and thoughts that have stemmed from it, writing can be a positive way to release them so they don't build up.

Journal writing or story writing doesn't just have to be about purging bad experiences. It is a way to simply try reaching a deeper level understanding of what makes It takes a lot of courage and strength to be willing to delve among the layers compressed inside of ourselves. Even if your words are never published or shared with others, they are stored for when you are ready to explore them. Or, maybe, you can re-explore them from a different stage on your life's journey with a fresh perspective.

For writers and authors, self-exploration is another form of research. It is a guide to being able to inject the right feel and voice into your work. Even with fiction, there is a certain amount of vulnerability the author needs to tap into in order to create a captivating and realistic plot and background a reader can become a part of.

My advice is to either purchase or handmake a journal. You could even create one on your computer, although this isn't really as private if someone knows your passwords. Set aside some time each day to explore a different side or level of yourself. Write about whatever comes to mind at that moment. There is always something to say and there are so many forms of inspiration around us.

Why not give self-exploration a try and see how deep you can go?

Happy writing and be safe and healthy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Talk About It ~ Video Games: Good or Bad?

I've avoided writing about this topic for a while because things can get quite heated. There are very strong arguments on both sides of this topic and I can understand the points made in each.

When my kids were young, I never let them play any sort of computer games or video games unless they were the "boring" ones online or links they got from school. You know...the educational ones. ::gasp::  Treehouse used to have some wonderful games on there that were fun, interactive and entertaining. It's not much to sneeze at anymore but it's still a great site. Then they discovered my Nintendo game cube I had hidden as my own escape from school, writing and mommying (once they were in bed) and that pretty much ended their interest in the "lame baby games".

Fine. I'll take onus for that one.

In general, video games can be good on many points, however, I do agree with some of the points on the bad side too. So...let's talk about it.

First, the bad. May as well tackle this side first. Like my Grandpa always said, the bad stuff is a bit easier to digest when it's followed with something good. The most common point is that games can be addictive to the point where there is no interest in doing anything else (eg: going outside, playing with friends, doing other sorts of fun games, etc.). It can also distract from tasks that need to be paid attention to, such as chores, homework and, most importantly, sleep. In a few cases, I've actually seen almost withdrawal-like behavior (eg: anger, moodiness, zombie-like state, violent, etc.) when the game is not accessible or taken away. If things get to that point, some sort of intervention must be practiced before things go too far.

But, there is good too. My son was nonverbal until he was about five. He also had poor eye-hand coordination, inability to concentrate, Dyspraxia, deregulated easily and easily distracted. I got recommendations from his therapists to try different games and activities with him, including specific video games, in an attempt to coordinate and regulate him. Some of these games even improved his speech as he was given the opportunity to use his words. The key was incorporating the games into the other sensory-specific exercises he had to do so that it was received more as fun rather than therapeutic. I'm not just saying this either, but, his control over his hand movements and his eye-hand coordination have gotten much better too.

Obviously, there are a few things to keep in mind so that video game fun doesn't move into the obsessive/addictive stage:

  • Allow only a specific amount of time per day for gaming.
  • Try not allowing gameplay too close to bedtime so that the brain has a chance to rest to allow for sleep (experts say the same thing about cell phone use, television and other visual/brain-stimulating activities).
  • Have calming or less stimulating activities before and after playing.
  • Monitor aggression levels during play. We all tend to get a little frustrated while playing vids. Let's face it: it sucks to lose. But frustration to the point of violence, either to oneself or others, isn't okay and distraction to a calmer activity should be enforced.
  • Make video game time a privilege that's earned and can, and will, be taken away individual chores or expectations aren't met. (eg: No homework? No video games.
So, there you go. That's my side of the discussion. Trust me, I've had many talks with my young son who literally avoids any other sort of social interaction that takes away from his gaming. The key is to work it in to every day living and not allow it to become the entire reason for living. Yes, even right now where outside/social activities have been greatly reduced or eliminated, there are so many other things to do to keep busy.

Good luck, my friends!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Music Mantra Monday ~ Believing In Hope

Every time I think things are finally on track and everything is going great, I'm thrown a curveball. My grandfather used to tell me such occurrences were, "learning experiences". Good or bad, every experience we face not only teaches us about a deeper part of ourselves; it also keeps us real and focused on who we're supposed to be as a whole.

Right now, the world is a scary place to live in. We are facing an unknown virus that we know very little about, how to research it or even how to effectively fight it. We are updated almost hourly about this virus and one event after another is being canceled. Schools have shut down. People are having to resort to having their groceries delivered rather than venturing out to the stores as more and more places are reducing their hours of operation and staff. We are rapidly moving to being confined to our own homes, having no face-to-face contact with others. Under these circumstances, it can be extremely difficult to remain positive...about anything.

But I am a very strong believer that in the worst of times, you have to turn to something positive. It is way to easy to be dragged down in the panic and chaos. As a person with an extremely low immune system and the inability to fight off infections or viruses, even I have had twinges of overwhelming worry. We can't give up. This is one time where we truly are in this crisis together.

So, rather than give in to fear of what may come; we need to believe that there is a light to keep in our sights above all else.

Hope, and believing in hope, are what will get us through it all.

Be safe and healthy, my dear friends.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Writing About Writing ~ Building A Writer/Author Platform

Good grief! Can you imagine having to plug out an entire novel on this thing? Actually, it looks very similar to a typewriter my grandparents had upstairs in my uncles' old bedroom. I actually used it a few times. Let's just say you build up a tremendous amount of patience as well as excellent spelling skills using these babies. There were no inkjets for these - these used typing ribbon. And there was no 'undo' button or whiteout. If you made a boo-boo, you had to redo the entire page. OY!!!

I just thought it would be neat to share this, but I digress. On with today's post...

Going through the re-vamp of my blog, website and author platform stuff, it made me realize the importance not only of starting the platform as early as possible but also the vital importance of maintaining it. I mean, seriously. Every single published piece, no matter how small, matters and truly helps to build your 'writing worth' up in this often very fierce field. Other things to include are professional connections to your chosen area of expertise, speaking engagements, building up a solid following and interviews. These are all things that in combination help an editor decide whether to turf your submission in the dreaded slush pile or giving your work a serious go over.

I'm sort of in an awkward position with my own platform in that I have been told I am a very 'eclectic writer'. Basically, that's a nice way of saying that I've done many different things in various genres. I am most known for my work with children and youth with special needs, but I have also written shorts and novels for adults. I have narrowed my focus somewhat to clean and contemporary young/new adult fiction, but it sure has been a long road.

So, what is a writing/author platform? Essentially, it is sort of like a resume. It's proof that an editor/publisher should consider your work over other stuff they may receive because you have the backing to sell books/magazines. Authors who believe that all the work in promoting and selling their books once they sign that contract are in for a huge surprise. A publisher will give you a chance if they believe in your work, but you have to show that you've earned that nod by taking on most of the promotional stuff. And it's hard, but rewarding, work.

I am a long-time fan of Writers' Digest, their books and awesome advice. I even wrote an interview article for their "The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing" several years ago. I have shared many words of writing wisdom from their magazine and blog so when I was going through my research folder, I found an older article they wrote about the building blocks of creating a rocking writing platform.

They go into greater detail in their article, but here are the top ten pointers:
1.   A website and/or blog. It helps to start building a readership as early as possible because the more followers you have, the better the impression you'll give. There are alot of options out there and many of them are free. You can always hire someone to tweak it once you have a bigger budget to work with. 
2.   An e-newsletter and/or mailing list. This isn't essential at first but putting one together and gathering a large number of subscribers/recipients is a great way to connect with readers and show potential editors/publishers you interact with your readers.
3.   Article/column writing samples. In the beginning, having only smaller publications are a great place to start and can lead to other opportunties. Build up that writing resume up so you have samples of your writing to offer.
4.   Guest contributions. Write to different blogs, eZines and other places in your area of professional expertise to see how/if you can contribute. The bigger, better-known and highest followers, the better.
5.   A track record of strong past book sales, if you have published books.
6.   Interviews, reviews or other contributions from individuals of influence that you know. I have approached many public figures in many different areas that have similar interests and focuses that I do in order to help further the messages I try getting out there. Try to do the same! You really would be surprised to know how many well-known public figures would be willing to help you out if your message is in the right place.
7.   Public speaking appearances. Not one of my favorite things, nor are face-to-face or recorded interviews, but it is a great way to put a face to your name and get your work out a bit further.
8.   An impressive social media presence (eg: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Authors' Den and others).
9.   Membership in organizations that support the successes of their own. That includes writing associations, reading groups, author blogs as well as professional organizations that represent the areas you are writing about/for (eg: I write for PsychCentral, I'm a member of the Liver Association of Canada, I am connected with several nonprofit organizations for troubled children, youths and teens, etc.).
10. Recurring media appearances and interviews. I touched on this already in public speaking. This point includes print, radio, TV, and online.

Just remember that you don't need to tap into all of these at once. When you are just starting out, do what you can and build from there. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is an impressive platform.

Good luck and happy writing!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Foodie Friday (on a Thursday) ~ Using Up That Leftover Steak/Roast

Again? We've gotten behind in our posting. With all of the appointments we have going on (mine and the kids'), editing, fulfilling requests for full manuscripts and article requests, editing papers for my kids (I should really start charging them for that, now that I think of it...), I barely have time to squeeze in some sleep, never mind my wonderful blog. At least I can eat at my desk.

Anyway, I realize it's only Thursday today but I'm not sure I'll be able to get on here tomorrow with Valentine's Day festivities (not that I have plans, but the kids do). I didn't want our Friday to be missed this week so I thought I'd share a fast, easy recipe where you can use up all of that leftover meat.

In this house, we have no time for cooking that takes hours or all day, and usually, when I prepare meals, I cook for leftovers. That way, everyone can re-heat if we're on the go or they can be used in new ideas using the same stuff. With steak and roasts, you can only have so many steak sandwiches and stir-frys. So I often turn to one of the three areas that you can make something wonderful: Italian, soup/stews or Mexican. This week we had both steak and roast as well as some peppers that needed to be used up so I went Mexican.

I have been known to make my own Mexican spice mixture, but if you don't have time to create your own those packaged ones work just fine and you can add anything extra to them (except salt...those are salty enough). Plus there are so many varieties of wraps you can use so there should be something for everyone. I usually opt for the ones with a bit of extra flavor in them (eg: spinach, sundried tomato, garlic, etc.) but choose whatever you think your family will enjoy the most.

Without further ado, here is my very simple, 'I gotta leave in an hour, mom' recipe for Leftover Steak/Roast Fajitas. For the record, you can use this for other meats like chicken, pork or anything else you have handy.

Happy cooking!


~ 1 - 2 packages of wraps, depending on how many are digging in
~ 2 tablespoons of EEVO
~ a few cups of leftover steak/roast, sliced into strips
~ 1 large onion, sliced
~ 2 sweet peppers, sliced (any color will do but I used red)
~ 1 garlic clove, minced
~ 1 pack of taco seasoning (or create your own)
~ 1 lime (plus a few if eaters like a little extra)
~ toppings such as sliced avocado, corn, black beans, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, salsa, etc.

1. Preheat pan on medium heat, adding oil after a few minutes.
2. Add onion until translucent, then throw in the peppers.
3. Once the peppers are softened, add the garlic and fry for about 2 - 3 minutes.
4. Add the taco seasoning along with a splash of water. Turn the heat down and allow to simmer for a few more minutes until the seasonings are blended in with the veggies.
5. Squeeze the juice of one lime right in with the mixture. Then turn the heat off.

To serve, get everyone to load up their wraps (I usually get everyone to start off by putting their wrap in the microwave for about 15 seconds to make folding the wrap easier) with the favorite toppings and enjoy.

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