#ROW80 check-ins, animals, dose of inspiration

Cats, dogs, & tarot cards—plus a Sunday #ROW80 check-in

I’m the midst of a flurry of spring cleaning, so I will keep this post short, sweet, and to the point. In case you need some Sunday inspiration, here’s a photo of two of my lovely pets that pretty much sums up my life. (Seriously, all that’s missing is a garden, a romance novel, and a teapot!)

cat dog tarot cards

–photo by Denise D. Young

 

The best part is that this photo isn’t staged. It’s a candid moment I was lucky enough to capture on camera, one that reminds me of how blessed I am. I live a life full of love, of magic, of art, and of animals—and that’s exactly how I like it. A cat in my lap, a dog at my feet, and sharing life’s adventures, big and small, with those whom I love—with some magic thrown in for good measure. If you were to sum up your life and loves in a photo, what would it look like?

And last but not least…

Sunday ROW80 Check-in

ROW80Logocopy1.) Finish a draft of “Good, Old-Fashioned Magic.” Wrote 2,871 words this week. I’ve surpassed the 30K-word mark (my original estimate for the length of this piece), but the story continues. Still, I’m on track to finish a draft by the end of this round.

2.) Read to hone my craft. Finished Rachel Aaron’s “2K to 10K” (loved it!) and read another chapter in both “The Fire in Fiction” by Donald Maass and “Walking in this World” by Julia Cameron.

3.) Blog at least two times a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays. Target met.

4.) Check in on Twitter daily and on WANA Tribe at least once/week. Target met.

5.) Comment on 5-6 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. Target met.

6.) Super-secret project: Write two articles/posts each week for that project. No progress on this front.

A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80), founded by author Kait Nolan, is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

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#ROW80 check-ins, dose of inspiration, feed your muse

Fun for Writers: 3 Awesome Videos for Inspiration & Sunday #ROW80 Check-In

I’m going to do a brief ROW80 check-in today, but first I wanted to share a dose of inspiration. I’ve found lately that I need a dose of fun and play in my life. (Blame it on the slow return of spring, or perhaps just blame it on the moon.)

Here are a few videos that encourage our playful side:

1.) Poet Billy Collins’ TED Talk: Collins weaves art and humor into a truly enjoyable TED Talk. (Spoiler alert: Includes amusing phrases like “Bugs Bunny is my muse” and “You don’t have time to deploy your anti-poetry deflector shields.”)

 

2.) Felicia Day’s Steampunk Photo Shoot: I will freely admit to having a bit of a girl-crush on actress Felicia Day. In this video from Geek & Sundry, Felicia goes off on yet another adventure—this time for a very entertaining outing to a steampunk shop (shoppe?).

 

3.) Chase That Happy: Ze Frank teaches us to live with joy and always chase happiness, wherever it leads. I especially like the “bored aristocrat” game. 🙂

 

Are you entertained and jazzed up for an adventure? Good!

Now, here’s my ROW80 summary for the week:

1.)    WIP progress: Wrote 4,438 words in my WIP, “Good, Old-Fashioned Magic.” I also wrote a brief synopsis for a short story, a sort-of sequel to my current WIP, so if there’s time left at the end of Round 1, I might try to write a quick draft of that story as well.

2.)    Read to hone my craft: A little. Not as much as I would’ve liked.

3.)    Blog Wednesday and Sunday: Target met!

4.)    Checked in on Twitter daily; didn’t manage to check in on WANA Tribe.

5.)    No progress to report on the super-secret project.

Well, it’s March! How are your goals coming along?

#ROW80 check-ins, dose of inspiration, paranormal romance, writing process

Writing and the Importance of Daydreaming

“What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.”  ~Burton Rascoe

Sometimes, when you’re staring at the blank screen, asking the gods to deliver a solution to your latest writing dilemma, nothing comes. Other times, you’ll be going about your day, doing the dishes, walking the dog, or staring out the window, and the solution presents itself so nicely and prettily that you wonder how you didn’t think of it before.

“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”  ~Agatha Christie

As writers, we spend a lot of time in our own heads, living in worlds that, at present, only we can see. Then, we jot down as much as possible of that experience, spinning the threads of those worlds and stories of the people we meet in them into a place our readers can visit.

I often feel that time spent “daydreaming” is frivolous, a wasted opportunity to meet a word count or be productive. Yet sometimes it’s in those spots of frivolity that a much-needed epiphany occurs.

I have a habit of scribbling notes on yellow legal pads.

I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. It might be story ideas, bits of description or dialogue that float by, or lists. I love lists: lists of stories I want to write, lists of places I want to visit, lists of things I need or want to do. These yellow legal pads allow me to get the clutter out of my head so that I can refocus on my writing. But every once in a while, in the course of scribbling, I discover a shiny bit of treasure.

That happened this week. I was thinking about which stories I wanted to focus on writing this year, and I began mulling over a novella I started last year. Now, I really loved that story—loved and felt drawn toward the characters, was intrigued by the concept, liked the world it was set in. It was a fantasy story about witches and magic gone tragically awry, a struggle to make peace with the past and forge a way forward. You know, one about being human.

But as a story, it had issues. I couldn’t figure out how to sustain it, much as I loved the characters. So I set it aside. And then, while I was doodling, daydreaming, letting my mind wander, it occurred to me that the story could be more powerful as a longer short story. If it couldn’t sustain 30K, surely these characters and their plight would make a fitting story of 15K. I jotted this idea down, finished my list, and went back to work.

I’m glad I made this discovery. I hated abandoning that story, but I couldn’t see a path forward, and now I do. For now, I’m focused on another WIP, but perhaps later this year, those characters will get their story told after all.

Has this ever happened to you?

ROW80 check-in

ROW80Logocopy1.)   Wrote 405 words in WIP, “Good, Old-Fashioned Magic.” I took Monday off from writing to finish some financial housekeeping matters—namely, my taxes. Ugh. At least that’s done. I’m a little behind for this week, but progress is progress.

2.)   Continued reading Julia Cameron’s “Walking in this World” and doing corresponding exercises. Still need to do the character exercises for Donald Maass’ “The Fire in Fiction.”

3.)   Blogging Wednesdays and Sundays: So far, so good.

4.)   Check in on Twitter: Accomplished for Tuesday, not Monday.

5.)   Comment on 5-6 blog posts per day: Done, both Monday and Tuesday.

6.)   Super-secret project: Nada. Zip. Zilch. Maybe I’ll have more time for this later in the week.

A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80) is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow ROW80 participants.

How are your writing goals coming along? And do you find daydreaming to be a surprisingly productive part of your process?

creativity, dose of inspiration, feed your muse, the writer's journey

Take a hike. Get a life: Goal overload, chatter, and the creative self

The world is a noisy place, full of car horns, ambulance sirens, voicemails, and endless chatter. Some people thrive on the chatter; for me, too much information makes my brain hurt. I cultivate places of stillness in my life where walls of silence keep the chatter at bay. Without those walls, the creative parts of me suffer.

I freely admit to being a creative soul who gets lost in this world of noise. Some of that noise is useful. It teaches me to manage my finances, cook healthier meals, or improve my marriage. It teaches me to be a better writer, a better thinker, a better person. And some of that noise is just blah blah blah—a stream of negativity or useless gibber-gabber meant to make us buy something, vote for someone, or so on. Sometimes even those feminist listserv emails full of dire warnings about the relentless war on women’s rights exhaust me. Not that I don’t want to stand up for people’s rights. But that I need to get away long enough to have some fight in me.

In other words, I’m learning to take a hike and get a life. Over the last few years, I’ve become increasingly goal driven. Grade these papers. Write this article. Edit this copy. Meet today’s word-count goal. I didn’t just have information overload. I had goal overload. Too many goals; not enough time. My brain hurt. In order to nurture my creative self, I stepped back. My body hurt. I took time to listen to it and take care of my physical health—the antidote to my previous “sleep when you’re dead” mentality.

The creative self isn’t the list-maker, the left-brained editor. She doesn’t care what’s been done before, what’s forbidden, what’s in the rulebook, what’s not. She explores uncharted territory. She has the key to the forbidden room. She unlocks the door. She, as one poet wrote, plants “posies on the hob stones of hell.” The creative self is interested in potential, the unexplained, the ineffable. So for her sake, I took a hike.

Literally. In pursuit of a stunning waterfall, a trek five-six miles roundtrip. Not exactly a walk around the block, but nothing that involved scrambling over boulders or climbing up the sides of mountains.

At first, left brain reminded me of all the rules: You’ve been sick. Take it easy. Don’t push yourself too hard. Are you sure you should be doing this? I’m not sure you can do this. Maybe you should go home and take a nap. Yes, a nap.

But cool water charged down the mountain in the creek that runs parallel to the trail. The weather wasn’t too hot or too cold, but just right. My husband, who’s been dabbling for years in 3-D graphics and game design, studied the trees with the methodical eye of an artist. As he told me how he would create a forest in the 3-D world of game design, he made me think about my own stories, how I’d sort of left them hanging, how I wasn’t sure where to go next. Secretly, I’d been afraid that the muses weren’t ever going to return my calls. I’d reached a crossroads and then fog made the paths unclear.

We hiked past the main waterfall, where people slip and slide across the rocks, tiptoe on fallen logs lying across the creek, and swim in deep pools of icy water. Further along the trail, we looked down on another falls and across the water into the forest beyond. It reminded me of faerie country, the sort of place where faeries emerge to beguile or make deals with wandering mortals. It was the sort of place where stories are born, and I could feel the creative self buzzing with possibilities.

So I took a hike and learned to cultivate quiet in my life. I’m learning that I need to step out to that place every day, to the edge of the forest, past the place crowded with hikers to where the stories dwell.

Because that’s where the magic happens. That’s where the stories sleep, curled up like a dozing faerie child against the roots of a giant tree.

What about you? How do you cultivate places for creativity in this busy world?

dose of inspiration, ROW80

Sunday ROW80 check-in and this week’s inspirational quote

This week’s word count is a whopping 958 words. Sadly short of my target of 3,000, but it’s better than nothing. Slightly disappointing, but hopefully next week is better.

I had to take a writing hiatus late last year (I know, boo!), so I’m still getting back into the groove. Normally, I aim for about 7,000 per week, but I’m also blogging now—and still finding my new routine for 2012. Since one of my goals for this year is not to burn out, I don’t see myself shooting for 7K/week anytime soon.

I blogged Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, so I met my goal of posting three times per week.

Today, I’m off to clean my apartment, which desperately needs it. In addition to the normal vacuuming and dusting, I’m considering doing a brief space-cleansing ritual to officially ring in the New Year. Before I go, here’s some inspiration for your week. The pic is from a place I used to live: a lovely little farm near the river, in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Enjoy!

What about you? Did you meet your goals? Surpass them? Or are you still working your way up?

mountain trail; property of the author (Janelle Madigan)“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth: not going all the way, and not starting.” —Buddha

dose of inspiration, paranormal romance, the writer's journey

Yet another confession from a lifelong paranormal junkie: I used to be a vampire slayer.

This is how much of a dork I am: When my brother, cousin, and I were younger (I’d so, oh, about ages 10-11), we started our own vampire-slaying business.

Buffy
Okay, so I was no Buffy…

The trouble had started long before then. It started as an innocent interest in fireside ghost stories and Are You Afraid of the Dark? and progressed to an addiction to R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books. In the years to come, I’d discover his Fear Street series and the works of L.J. Smith, and my obsession would be solidified for life. But once my brother and I started buying up books about vampires, zombies, and other bump-in-the-night phantasms and creatures, we knew that there was only one solution. Vampires couldn’t just roam the streets of our town, preying on unsuspecting old ladies who mistook them for encyclopedia salesmen or on giggling teenagers completely unaware of the dangers that lurked in the dark recesses of the high school gymnasium. Did I mention we were Buffy fans? (The movie, that is. My addiction to Joss Whedon’s works for television came later.)

And so Vampires Inc. was born. Armed with freshly gathered stakes, cloves of garlic, and jars of “holy water,” we were at your service, ready to meet any and all of your vampire-slaying needs. We even wrote a manifesto including tips for how to protect oneself against the pale-skinned, smooth-talking undead. (In my defense, we didn’t have cable, and this was in the days before Internet. We had to do something to keep ourselves entertained.)

Eventually, our mother made us take down the “vampires not invited” sign from the front door, our dog chewed up all of our stakes, and we moved on to less lofty endeavors. But I can’t help but think that somehow, it’s all my brother and cousin’s fault that I became an incurable geek with an insatiable interest in the strange and unusual. Thanks, guys.

Are you a writer or fan of the paranormal or fantastic? When did this interest take hold for you? Please share your story below.

Side note: Free stuff! Something about autumn makes me feel generous. Must be all the candied apples. 🙂 I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card. Click here to enter. And my crit partner Kathleen Foucart is offering two chances to win a free first-chapter critique. Click here to find out how to enter.

dose of inspiration, paranormal romance, the writer's journey

Magic and the word: Why I write paranormal and fantasy

Every day that I sit down to write, I find myself swept up in the magic. The sheer act of writing is magic in itself; the same energy that flows through me when I read tarot cards or weave a spell also takes over when I conjure a story.

And every word that I write, every character I meet, every story I tell, I know that the magic belongs. I am meant to write paranormal and fantasy fiction. Whether it’s faeries or ghosts, urban or earthy, I know that the magic that weaves itself into my stories is a part of me. It belongs in my life and in the lives of my characters.

I’ve always believe in possibilities. As a child, I was fascinated by witches and wizards, ghosts and goblins, wee folk and nature spirits. Nature hummed with more songs than the birds could tell, more energy than a swollen spring creek could carry. That was the first magic I ever knew. Soon, that magic would find its way to my stories—whether they were the stories of warrior princesses, lost unicorns, or witches who’d newly discovered their powers. In my childhood, everything from a dusty book or painting found in the attic to the spiritual energy of the forest to an old abandoned building in the city seemed full of potential stories. And that hasn’t changed. Stories continue to pop out of the woodwork. And every time, magic plays a role.

As a kid, I was fascinated by witches. Not the Wicked Witch of the West cackling kind, but the wise woman, oracle in the woods sort of witches—wise women who heard the earth, who lived close to nature and listened to its sorrows and songs, who understood the ways of plants, animals, and stars.

In college, I found my way to a nature-based spiritual path and realized that my fascination with those cottage-dwelling wise women wasn’t solely reserved for my fiction. Understanding the sacred symbolism of plants, trees, crystals, and animals can be a part of our everyday lives. Today, I surround myself with items that bring to mind the beauty of nature and of spirit and the potential of magic in our lives.

My stories don’t necessarily reflect my own magical practice. My characters can read thoughts, teleport, or have visions of the past or future. Their magic is part of the story, of the worlds I’ve created and discovered in my fiction. I have several friends who write magical realism and incorporate subtle elements of the fantastic into their characters’ stories without entering realms that echo the medieval-esque fantasy of Tolkien, Le Guin, or World of Warcraft, or the urban/paranormal bent of Kelley Armstrong or Yasmine Galenorn.

In each story I write, every word is wrapped up in magic. The fairy tales and folk tales I soaked up in my youth infuse my fiction. The magic of my real life inspires and is inspired by the magic of my worlds.

My soul is fed by the magic I believed in and discovered as a child and by the magic I discover each day—whether outside my window in the rain, birdsongs, or mystery of the trees; or in the windows to other worlds my stories open…

The curtains dance madly, thrashing in the wind. Outside the window, rain pours and storm howls. A wild witch with knowledge of stars and shadows awaits us, stirring her cauldron, ready to share secrets and inspiration if only we’re willing to drink her dark brew. Like the brew of Cerridwen’s cauldron, each drop is pure, undiluted poetry, the gift of the bard.

Writers venture into the stormy night on a quest for stories. Every story, paranormal or not, hums with Cerridwen’s magic. If you write about magic, what inspires you? Why do you write about the paranormal or the fantastic?

***

Upcoming contest: I’m celebrating the magic of the fall season with my upcoming “Autumn Reads” contest. Join me on my WordPress blog starting on Friday, Sept. 23, to kick off the season and enter the contest for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

dose of inspiration

Going confidently in the direction of your dreams (even if you must occasionally proceed in the dark)

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” –Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau ranks high on my list of inspirational people. His writings on anything from civil disobedience to simplicity to living close to nature always stir something in me.

I am and always have been a nature freak. I believe that trees have beautiful, old souls, and that when we work close to the earth, we can hear the magic that hums in its veins—that hums, too, in our veins. When I was a kid, I used to dream of having a small cabin in the woods, of waking to watch deer just footsteps from my door, of always living immersed in nature. While most kids were playing video games, I was identifying flora and fauna. (To be fair, I grew up on a farm with two brothers who hogged the Nintendo controllers and with no cable television.)

In my early 20s, I lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere for a year. I wrote most of my master’s thesis there, with the company of my cats, my beagle, and a nosy horse in need of a personality transplant. I now enjoy my life in town, which, fortunately, features plenty of green space and trees, lots of squirrels, and the occasional deer. (Oh, and lattes.) But Thoreau’s quotes continue to resonate in me, and they resonate in my work.

I was trying to explain paranormal romance to someone who’d never read the genre. On the fly, the best I could come up with was, “Think Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” He smiled in amusement and said, “I can’t picture you writing anything like Buffy.” He didn’t mean it as a diss. Buffy and Angel aren’t exactly what you’d expect from a soft-spoken, skinny five-foot-tall woman.

I don’t think my explanation helped the other person understand what I write and why I write. Thoreau also said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And there’s plenty of desperation in the world. Maybe by writing I’m trying to stave off a type of quiet desperation, unleashing my inner artist, feeding my soul. And I want to give the world some faith, something to believe in. Artists seek out the beauty in the world. Maybe we draw it out; maybe we cling to it. Or maybe we just find ways to let it shine through. I do know that writing makes me a better person, a deeper person, a more spiritual person.

My husband and I just did one of our periodic “this life in review” sessions. One thing we both want immensely is to buy a house. I want a garden that’s not a couple of terracotta pots on our cramped balcony, and we both want a place we can make our own. Having our own washer and dryer that don’t require quarters and not having to listen to the neighbors playing indoor hockey (that’s what I assume they were doing) would be added perks. And as thoughts of houses and mortgage payments took root, a voice inside me questioned if I shouldn’t be dedicating more of my pursuits to a more solid career, something more secure.

But I don’t believe to do that would be to go confidently in the direction of my dreams. We will own that house we dream of, a place for our family to grow, for our animals to play and for us to tend a garden, to paint the walls any damn color we please (okay, I do that anyway, but I have to paint it all back to plain old white when I move). And we’ve found plenty of happiness, good memories, and magic here in this apartment. A house can certainly be a symbol, a milestone, but it’s one part of the journey.

Even if I consult my tarot deck from time to time, I can’t see into the future, determine what choices I’ll make, where my path will lead. Faith in ourselves, in our dreams, in our goals, in whatever higher powers we believe in, those things must carry us forward. We can’t ask for certainty.

We can build, step by step, choice by choice, and word by word, a life that we’ve imagined.

Namaste.

dose of inspiration, publishing, the writer's journey, writing

Celebrating bookworms everywhere! (a.k.a., why the book-lovers community is awesome)

There was a period in my life, right after grad school (where I’d earned my M.F.A. in children’s lit, fully intending to write novels), when I tried to convince myself that I could lead a fulfilling life without writing fiction.

I’d managed to find a day job that provided an outlet for my creative nature and my writing skills. Working at a magazine, I have plenty of time to write and edit, to brainstorm, to talk with photographers and designers and other editors and share creative ideas. I count myself as extremely fortunate in this respect. So I hadn’t actually stopped writing, per se.

But, in the overwhelming time period when I was trying to find my place in a new career, in a time when my life was changing and occasionally turning upside-down, I rationalized that writing fiction wasn’t actually necessary for my happiness.

Fellow writers, could you live without your craft? I found I couldn’t stay away for long. Books have too much of a draw for me.

For me, the drive to write is twofold.  It’s the thrill of creating stories, from the initial inspiration to the toil of writing to the meticulous revisions that follow.

It’s also the community. True readers are passionate about books, about characters and worlds and plots. Authors are the same, with so many of us dedicated to advancing the craft, sharing our journeys, our work, our stumbling points, our tricks of the trade, with the larger writer community. Newbies eagerly seek guidance. Pros graciously give it. This wonderful relationship with fellow writers and with fellow fans of literature is a huge draw for me.

Book-fever is contagious, and once caught, it’s a chronic condition. We feed off each other’s enthusiasm, and I couldn’t let go of that part of my life. It wasn’t enough to write magazine articles, or just to read novels at night. Every time I read, I knew I had to write. I loved storytelling too much to let go.

Ultimately, I couldn’t stop writing fiction. I made sacrifices in other areas of my life—working part-time instead of full-time, deciding not to pursue a Ph.D., putting my work as a poet aside to carve out time for my stories and characters.

The result? Totally. Freaking. Worth. It.

One day, my work will be out in the world in some fashion. (Call that faith in my own persistence.) 😉 I’m psyched for that day, not for any potential accolades or attention, but because the act of sharing stories is amazing to me. Weaving a tale from nothing and sharing it with others is the ultimate dream. It’s toiling over the soil all spring and summer, only to share the harvest with others (Eating alone is no fun.). The enthusiasm of the writer and reader community—the blogs, sites like Goodreads, the book clubs, the gatherings in libraries or bookstores, the energetic conversations about books—is contagious.

I love books; I love talking about them and creating them. Through my fellow bookworms, I’ve discovered so many authors whose work I admire and can’t put down. I eagerly await their next book releases. Today, I’m taking a moment to thank readers and writers everywhere for their shared passion about books—to creating and reading them, and to the conversations fueled by those stories. Thanks for the inspiration, everyone.

What do you love most about our book-lovers community? Have you met anyone recently who’s turned you on to a particular author or book? What have you learned that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise?

dose of inspiration

Confessions of a self-actualization junkie:

Some people want to climb the corporate ladder. Me? I just want to get to the top of Maslow’s pyramid-shaped hierarchy of needs.

Maybe it all started in psych 101, the first time I saw that pyramid. The truth is that I’ve always wanted to become the best possible version of myself, ever since I was a little girl writing in her journal and sitting in the forest, pondering the meaning of life. I knew from a young age that I wanted something different out of my life, something that didn’t even seem like a possibility at the time. I couldn’t see what I wanted, but I knew it was out there.

I am introspective by default, critical by nature, and so analytical I’m surprised smoke doesn’t occasionally pour out of my ears. I assess, I reassess, and I take careful steps. Sure, I leave space in my life for play and spontaneity, but I am so goal-driven that it can be, quite frankly, detrimental. I’ve worked myself so hard, burnt the candle at both ends, that I’ve run myself into the ground before. And even that I analyzed until I’d seen each slide of my decisions under the microscope.

I meditate, do yoga, read Martha Beck articles on Oprah.com, do numerology, read up about my astrological sign, Feng Shui my home so often I’ve earned the right to use Feng Shui as a verb, and frequently peruse books by Deepak Chopra. I know my Myers-Briggs personality type (INFJ, the idealist or protector, and the rarest type). We’re dreamers, but we’re also hard-nosed. We love goals. Repeat: Love. Goals. Personalitypage.com writes of the INFJ:

INFJs place great importance on having things orderly and systematic in their outer world. They put a lot of energy into identifying the best system for getting things done and constantly define and re-define the priorities in their lives. On the other hand, INFJs operate within themselves on an intuitive basis [that] is entirely spontaneous. They know things intuitively, without being able to pinpoint why, and without detailed knowledge of the subject at hand.

Do you know your Myers-Briggs type? How does your Myers-Briggs type influence your approach to your goals?

Read more about how I’m fumbling my way toward self-actualization…