Archive for April, 2011

Eternal clock by Robert van der Steeg

If you were to assign points to all of my time management skills six months ago and then add them together…you would probably come up with a negative number (some days you still do). Yeah. I’m the one who sits down to check her email “real quick” and discovers that three hours have passed (though that might have something to do with the fact that my alerts are forwarded to my email). Time is not fluid for me…it is either too fast or too slow. And there is never enough of it.

Seriously, between school, a part-time job, homework, fifteen hours of driving, voice practice, piano practice, guitar and chores (thought I try to avoid those) where is a girl supposed to find time to read and write in her week? Plus, I’m trying to be semi-regular with my blog (it helps if there is something for readers to read).

So I came to a simple conclusion: There needs a eighth day in our week. Preferably added to the weekend category and not the weekday.

However, since that didn’t appear to be happening any time soon I decided to do the next best thing.

Learn how to manage my time wisely.

It’s a trick that I have tried many times through high school and college and it’s never really worked out. My lack of persistence probably didn’t help any either. But I think I finally found a system that works for me…and you can find a system that works for you too!

The key to my system is my planner and calendar. When I can I like to have these in the same place. Now, my planner is divided by weeks, with plenty of space for each day’s activities. I can open to a particular week and see what I need to get done. I also try to keep a calendar that I can just jot down tests, due dates, deadlines appointments and the like on. It might also have my favorite TV shows listed…it just might.

Everything goes down in my planner. Forget the syllabus…all my assignment, test and paper dates go in my planner. That way I don’t have to worry about having nine different syllabi (remember, I’m a music major we take, like, a bajillion classes a semester), it’s all right there. Of course, the syllabus is good for other things, so I keep it around, but at least I’m not going to be surprised by any tests (hopefully).

From there I make lists.

Oh, yes, I am a list person. I like making them, I like the feeling I get as I cross things off. It makes me feel powerful (Mwahahaha!). I’m also much more focused when I have a list that tells me what I need to get done that day. Or as I sometimes look at it…these are the obstacles standing between me and my book–DIE!

However you want to structure your system I would suggest having something that looks at your week as a whole and then at each day. I can know that I have a paper and two tests in one week, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be disciplined enough to study for them ahead of time. At the same time, taking things day by day can let things sneak up on you. So I have one list that looks at my whole week so that I can balance things out. Do I have two assignments due for two different classes on Friday? If I were to discover this the day before they were due, I’d be tearing my hair out.

I happen to like my hair, so I try to avoid that.

My weekly list allows me to balance assignments. I’d know to work on one on Wednesday and one on Thursday. As I said before, the daily list gives me something to focus on and cross off each day. I try to give each item a general start time (or a definite one if it’s something that needs one) so that I know about how much of my day has been used up. It helps to keep my day from becoming too full.

A word of caution though: avoid planning out every single minute. You’ll kill yourself. Things happen, you forget to switch the laundry over or you take a route with three school zones. Time gets away from us. Or we happen to be missing an all important piece for that project. Sometimes, you have to reschedule.

Sometimes you crumple the list up and decide, by Zeus, you are going to finish Magic Study today and the rest of the world can just wait.

On that note, makes sure you leave some time for you. I try to leave my whole Sunday afternoon.

So, yes, I have to schedule my writing times, most of the time. But that also helps me to focus. I go, “Alright, I have two hours to write–let’s go!” My words are my uniform, my pen is my weapon. I’m on a mission. Deadlines help us focus like nothing else so use them. Set them for yourself.

Say, “Okay, by the end of the week, I want to have character sketches for A, B, and C” of “By the end of this month, I’d like to be to this point in my story”.

Using both of these tools, your “planner” and deadlines (or goals if you prefer) you will be surprised how  much you start to get done. Even the housework–because, dog-gone-it, I am not letting these dishes stand in the way of me and my book.

Speaking of which, it’s time for me to go write.

So what about you? What do you use to keep yourself on track? How do you mark your progress?

(BTW, as proof that I’m not just being anal about this whole “writer’s write” and “make time to write” deal, here’s a post from my friend Dot’s blog. Check it out, she’s got some useful tips.)


Morning Study by Garrett Crawford

Let’s face it. As fascinating and exciting as the Bible can be sometimes, we don’t always get all that much out of it. I’ll admit that some days I feel like all I’m doing is reading words on a page. But I found that with a few suggestions, I have made those times fewer. So now I am passing that on to you.

First, I know this is going to seem really, really obvious, but make sure you begin your Bible study time in prayer. I know, DUH! But I didn’t used to and sometimes I get so focused on what I’m supposed to be doing that I still forget to. Prayer is more than just saying “Hey God, please fill my head with knowledge so that I can scrape through this day”, it also stills your mind and helps you focus on what your time with God. Maybe a few calming breaths at the end too,  just for good measure. Let all that stress and everything that has to get done fall away until it’s just you and God.

Secondly, always have a notebook and pencil nearby. This is absolutely necessary for me, because how I study the Bible requires underlining, making notes and then putting all of that together into a daily entry (more on that in a minute). But even if you don’t have a specific method, the notebook serves two purposes. One: It gives you a place to write down anything that is revealed to you as you read. My old Bible journals have all kinds of little references to verses and what God was telling me through them. I also used it to jot down questions. Two: it provides a place to write your prayers down. Not only does this help me to truly get my burdens off of my chest, it also it kind of fun. I can look back and see a difference between how and what I prayed about then and now. The pencil, besides being a writing tool, well, it just makes me feel smarter.

Have your planner or something to write down anything that tries to distract you. The devil will do anything he can to keep us from connecting with God–even use legitimate reasons. Need to do the laundry? Write it down. Did you forget to turn in a paper on Blackboard? Write it down. Trust me, the dirty clothes will still be there and the paper will not disappear from your computer if you don’t turn it in (Although, if it’s due in a few minutes, I’m sure God will understand).

Speaking of distractions: If you can, attempt to remove yourself from them. It’s not always easy to remove the distractions from the room, but it is possible to move yourself. Make sure the dog is taken out (yes, Mom, I put that one in there just for you), that the children are fed or sleeping, and maybe let the others in your house know to please not disturb you unless someone is dying/bleeding. This isn’t always possible…I’ve carried out many early morning Bible studies during my break at work, but the less I have to block out, the easier it is to focus.

You don’t have to have fancy books and dictionaries with the original Greek and Hebrew. I love using these resources when I can get my hands on them, but quality Bible study time is dependent more on how much effort you put into it than how many books you have to reference. That’s not saying that you shouldn’t learn what you can, try to figure out a method of your own. It might take a while or you might have to come up with a hybrid version of several.

My daily devotions have developed over the last three years, from simply reading through my Bible plan to focusing on one idea from my daily text and writing about it. Some of you may already be familiar with Wayne Cordeiro’s S.O.A.P. method (or at least, he’s more or less the one I got is from), but for those who aren’t I will briefly go over it. I’ve found that it’s has helped me get more and apply more of what I read. The acronym S.O.A.P. stands for Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer and it’s a method to help focus a great deal of text into one daily application to take away from your time with the Lord. This is only a brief description. I highly suggest reading Wayne Cordeiro’s book, The Divine Mentor, for more—this is only one part of the book, he has a lot of wisdom to pass on.

Scripture: Highlight or mark any scriptures that jump out at you, anything that feels like God is speaking to you.

Observation: Of those scriptures that stood out, pick one. What exactly is it telling you? What can you take away  from it?

Application: How does what you’ve focused on today apply to you specifically? Write down what you it is you think you need to do or learn. And here’s the hard part, you actually need to do/apply it.

Prayer: Pretty self-explanatory I think. I try to thank God for his instruction that day and for other blessings in my life. As someone once told me, “Thankful people are rarely bitter people.”

There is no hard, fast rule about Bible study. It is specific to each person. I’ve discovered what works for me…now it’s time for you to find out what works for you.

PB15 on timber trestle bridge by Leonard John Matthews

If you’ve been reading my blog from the beginning you’ll be familiar with my post: Stop Waiting for You Muse–She’s Not Coming…. If not, you might want to take a look at it, since this is sort of a follow-up

Anyways, as I have stated before: Writers write. Whether you feel like it or not. Whether you’re inspired or not. You need to make time to sit down and write. The more often you make your brain think creatively, the easier it will become. The human mind gets used to routines. I try to set aside definite, fixed times to write. Granted at this point I’ve got just two or three hours to work with on a predictable basis, but the important part is this: At least twice a week I spend an hour and a half working on my book. No, it’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.

Still, sometimes it can take a while to get the creative juices flowing. And then there are the days or times that I just don’t feel like it. Here are a few things I use to get myself in the mood. Sometimes, all you need is a little inspiration.

  • Magazines: My two-year subscription to Writer’s Digest was probably the best use of $36 I have ever spent. Now I’m not saying that it has to be WD. There are many good publications for writers. There are even a few that are free online. This is useful to me because there’s so much to work with. I find I always walk away with something, be it a new lesson about writing or an inspirational thought from one of the interviews. It also takes me a while to read an issue, because while reading I constantly find that I’m wanting to put it down and start working on my own stuff.
  • Other Writer’s Blogs: If you are lucky enough to have a friend who writes and blogs about it, I’m sure you are already subscribed to their RSS feed (if not, you probably should be). If not, look around the internet, Google a few of your favorite authors. Almost all of the big names now at least have a website. Most have a blog and a Twitter feed.  Not only do you get to learn new stuff for free (I’m all about the learning…especially if it’s free. Yes, I was homeschooled) but you also get a lovely little reminder on a (hopefully) regular basis. Seeing posts from my friend Dot’s blog excites me not just because she happens to write good stuff, but it also feels like she’s dropping in to say “So, how’s the book going?”. Or guilts me into picking up my pen and notebook on the days that I’ve been bad.
  • Good Books: Writer’s write, but writers also read. Why have I been reading books like the Hunger Games trilogy, the Uglies series and Incarceron? Besides the fact that they are awesome, of course. I read them because something about them has struck me as similar to the book that I want to write. If you’re writing Science Ficiton novels, chances are you read a LOT of SciFi. If you want to write for YA, then you should read YA. It keeps you in touch with what the readers are expecting and with the trends in the market.
  • Instructional Books: Another favorite of mine. My librarian can testify to the stacks of books on writing that I have lugged out of my library.  If you’re a writer, you are constantly learning, constantly seeking more knowledge. Don’t forget to take some time to hone your craft.
  • Take a class: Kind of self-explanatory. But it’s always good to have a safe place where you can play with ideas.
  • Start or join a writer’s group: Again, the safe place and the feedback are the key factors here. Also, it’s nice to have support and someone who won’t mind if you indulge in gushing over your book every now and then.
  • Music: I find that with me, the music I write to depends on my mood that day. I actually make a playlist or chose a CD for specific projects. Do I need something that’s going to keep me high energy? Then it’s POTC. Am I having to figure out how to move the relationship of my two protagonists along? Then $10 says that I’m playing Taylor Swift.
  • Indulge your quirks: So much of writing is finding what works for you. I like to write long hand, because there’s just something about a college-ruled notebook, just something about the physical act of writing that is exciting to me. Now, I love my computer and I’ll often use if for smaller projects, but my big ones get written down first. Also, I got through phases when it comes to my writing apparatus of choice. Right now, it’s the Sharpie Pen (because they are awesome). But I’ll have weeks that all I want to use is a pencil. Or a ballpoint pen. It kind of runs in phases (although the Sharpie has kind of started taking over). Indulge them (as long as they’rehealthy…and legal), use them instead of them using you.
  • Find your spot: I can write anywhere. As long as there is light and somewhere for me to sit, I can write. Too noisy? That’s what my iPod is for. But I have found that the place I get the most work done (and yes, I admit this is weird) is Chick-Fil-A. Even in the middle of lunch rush or a Spirit Night. There is something about that place that just makes focusing on writing easier. My friends think it’s because I work there and therefore, my mind is more focused as a default when I’m there. Which is a possibility. I think it’s because I’m removed from my normal distractions…my messy room isn’t screaming at me, my dog isn’t begging for attention, my brother isn’t coming in an sitting on me just for the fun of it. At CFA I am free (sort of).

So what about you? Do you have any suggestions that you use to inspire yourself to write, even when you don’t feel like it? Do you have any funny quirks that you feel make it easier to write? Go ahead, speak up. I’d love to hear from you. =D

Book Review: Specials

Specials by Scott Westerfeld

Ages 13 and up

In Uglies, we met Tally Youngblood, a young girl who was counting down the days until she could be made “Pretty”. When her best friend, Shay runs away Tally is forced to follow her to the Smoke–a group rebelling against the city’s pretty-operation. There she learns that being pretty is not all that it seems to be. In Pretties, Tally has become pretty herself in order to reverse the operation that Shay never wanted. There, she meets Zane, a new pretty who is trying to break free of the mind-numbing personality change as well. Together, they manage to break free of the city and find the remnant of the Smoke. But they are captured once again.

In Specials, Tally has been surgically altered against her will for a second time. But this time, instead of making her complacent, the operation was to turn her into a hardened, “clear”-minded fighting machine. When her ex-boyfriend David and a group of Smokies crash a bash in the ugly dorms and kidnap a member from Tally’s new group, the Cutters, she and Shay must come up with a plan to get him back. And take down the New Smoke. This plan involves Zane, still recovering from the brain-damage inflicted by the “cure”. As Tally follows him, trying to locate the Smoke’s new base, she finds everything she knows being challenged once again. With her various lives pulling at her, Tally must rediscover who she is beneath it all. Because that has never changed.

I am of two minds with this book. On the one hand, I loved it. Loved the series. Couldn’t get enough of it. It was odd finally getting to the “last” book after several years of putting it aside for other things in life (And yes, technically it is the last book in the trilogy. But don’t forget, Extras is still out there). But on the other hand, oh the ending made me SO mad. But I’ll get to that when I figure out how to talk about it without giving everything away.

One of my favorite things about these books is that Westerfield so totally immerses you in the world and thoughts of Tally that you end thinking and speaking like Tally and her friends. Seriously, ask my friends. “Nervous-making” was definitely a part of my vocabulary for months after I read the first two books. Westerfield carries that on to the third book. And it works out well. In this book, perhaps more than any other time, Tally’s mind is completely different from the people around her. I find it interesting thinking that perhaps, had Dr. Cable never sent Tally after Shay in book one, she would have happily become a Pretty, but going into the Wild seems to have woken something in Tally that could not be shut down again. As Tally proves in books two and three.

Suspense? Hmmm, I don’t think it would be a proper Uglies book if there wasn’t suspense. If you’ve read the first two, it does seem to start out a little slow, but it picks up quite quickly. You’re right into the action after the first few chapters. If you haven’t read them yet, well, you should, because they are page-turners.

My only problem with this series is the ending. No, I’m not just saying that because Westerfield tricked me into thinking she’d end up with [Spoiler] instead of [Double-spoiler]. No, I’m not saying that because I’m usually right about these things and ended up wrong (which can be quite fun actually, on occasion). I happen to like happy endings. Really happy endings. Like, Disney-type happy endings. Granted, not all books lend themselves to Prince Charming riding off with the (Pick-Your-Princess) on a white horse. And this definitely wasn’t one of them. Obviously, (as was the case with Hunger Games) too much has happened for Tally to pick up the pieces right away and have everything be all sunshine and rainbows. But, for me, I didn’t get to even see that the pieces were picked up eventually. Oh, there’s the promise…but I like cold, hard fact. In epilogue form if necessary. She had started, she was taking steps to becoming whole again, but you don’t get to see that. And yet, I don’t know how that could have been fixed (okay, well, I do, but I didn’t write the series). I mean, at least as the end of HG, we get a brief glimpse at Katniss when she’s kind of put everything back together. Not so with Tally, and that is probably the main reason that I will, eventually, read Extras. Hoping, that I will get some sort of resolution. Just an inkling. Or just a smudgling?

But other than that, I suppose I did like it. You won’t find me singing over it. But it IS good writing and it does have a very good story with some very good observations of society and being who you are. So yes, I would say that you should read it. Because I probably will, again.

This is a good example of:

  • Creating a society
  • Creating a distinctive vocabulary
  • Character building
  • Plot twist
  • Writing for YA
  • Merging theme and plot

This book is on my recommended reading list.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Ages 15 and up

Seventeen-year-old Finn has been a prisoner of Incarceron for as long as he can remember. Which isn’t very long. He has adapted to life in the self-sustaining prison, but is still haunted by the vague memories of a past he can’t fully grasp. When the leader of a rival group is captured, news of a crystal key that is strangely linked to Finn surfaces. Through the key, he meets Claudia, a young woman trying to escape marriage to a man that she cannot stand. More interested in the truth than in the power that would come with being queen, Claudia–whose father is the warden of Incaceron–agrees to help Finn if he will help her. Guided by what small help Claudia can give him, Finn sets off with his oath-brother Keiro, the slave Attia and Gildas, whose ancestors helped to create Incarceron. What he discovers as he tries to find the way out is that Incarceron is alive…and it doesn’t want to let its prisoners go.

This book was one of those “Oh. My. Gosh. I’m going to cry because I have to put this down” books. I had Finn all figured out by Chapter Four, who he was is quite obvious (in my opinion) and I think perhaps Fischer meant for it to be that way. Knowing what I knew (sorry for the vagueness, but spoilers) added one more layer to the suspense. Because knowing that did not guarantee that Finn and his friends would make it out of Incarceron, it just made twice as important that he did. It was beautiful.

The premise of this book intrigued me at first. I thought that most of the book would be spent in the dungeons of Incarceron, but it was not. It was split about half and half between Incarceron and what the inmates dub “the Outside”. Claudia is from the Outside, which means that we get a picture of post-World War whatever human society. And it has been trapped in time. I thought it was a bit odd at first, the strange mix of the technological and historical that that Fischer worked in. But she made it work. This kind of book has been done, time and time again. If you look at the YA shelves there are two prevalent trends that you might notice, the vampire  stories and the dystopian novels. This book falls into the later category. And yet, Fischer creates something unique with this society by taking it back a few centuries. The technology is there, but protocol prevents them from using it–even if it is a matter of life and death.

The cast of characters in this book is vast, but the main characters are fleshed out nicely. There are no filler characters here. She capitalizes on her characters, developing their personalities along with the plot. Every revelation–especially in Finn and Claudia’s cases–drives the plot forward. And forward and forward. I was very glad to discover that there was a second book, for while the ending sated me for a little while there was still quite a bit left unanswered.

Another high point as an author, was the way she handled the various points of view. Each character had a voice and way of looking at the world. She handled the changing viewpoints very well, especially in a book where it must have been tempting to jump around a little. Expect to find more of her works reviewed here in the future.

A bit dark for younger readers, I would save this for mid-teens at the least. But still, if you like books in the realm of Hunger Games or Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series, this book should be on your list. Also, if you are in any way inclined to mixtures of sci-fi and historical fiction…again you might want to take some for this book.

This book is a good example of:

  • Creating audience suspense
  • Shifting viewpoint
  • Character-driven plot
  • Plot twists
  • World building

This book is on my recommended reading list.

Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney

Ages 15 and up

Anaxandra is a hostage held by Nicander, king of Syphnos. Playmate of his crippled daughter, Callisto, she also spends time in the outside, running about the island and climbing a tree (Syphnos doesn’t have many). Which is what saves her when pirates attack her small island home. Surviving through sheer luck and ingenuity, she is mistaken for the dead princess when Menelaus, king of Sparta stops by to see what has happened on Syphnos. Anaxandra finds herself risking the wrath of the gods as she tries to survive in the household of Helen, first in Sparta and then in Troy.

If my obsession with the Percy Jackson series is any indication, I love Greek mythology. Love it. Love it. Love it. So obviously, I’m more than slightly inclined to pick up books that involve Greek mythology. I cannot say I loved this book. But I did really, really, really like it. When I finished it, my first thought was “That was a good book.” Okay, maybe that wasn’t my first thought (That would more read as “YES! Spoiler spoiler spoiler. I knew she’d spoiler spoiler spoiler.” Didn’t think you’d want to read that). There was no wondering if I liked the book, weighing the good writing with the ending that made me want to cry. No, “I can’t believe you had me thinking the whole time it would be XYZ. Now I have to reread the entire series again just so I focus on the her relationship with ABC.” It was just good. Applauding in I-275 traffic, the drivers around me think I’m crazy good.

Again, me and my obsession with history and mythology (any mythology) loved the detail that she was able to include in her portrayal of Ancient Greece and Troy. Occasionally, I think she got swept away a tad bit with all the research, but being someone who loves this kind of detail (hence one of the reason I love The Lord of the Rings) I was okay with it. That and she didn’t really go overboard at any climactic moments. For the most part, she worked the details that she gave into the plot. Something as small as the crowded sleeping arrangements in Troy becomes important when Anaxandra is confronted with certain challenges.

Also, I like Anaxandra’s inner voice. The book is told entirely in first person (I have lately been very lucky in my first person books, it is slightly odd) and I must say that Cooney did a very good job. Of course, looking at the long list of books that she has published, I suppose that that is to be expected. I vaguely remember her having a good command of the first person in the only other book of hers I have read, The Face on the Milk Carton. The first person POV worked well for this story, because there was so much information making up the story that you needed a filter to pick out what was important. My only qualm was that, with the exception of her unnamed goddess, Anaxandra and the other characters see the Greek gods as cold and cruel. The Greek gods are anthropomorphic, meaning that human characteristics are attributed to them. In mythology you see both the good and the bad in them, just as you would with an ordinary human. You see very little of the merciful side of the Greek gods in this story, and while the story doesn’t give much occasion to see it until the very end–I would have liked to have it at least acknowledged.

But that’s mostly the nerd in me being nitpicky.

For the most part, this didn’t feel like a book geared only to young adults. Of course there is the fact that the whole story happens because of Helen’s infidelity. But my main caution to parents with advanced readers like me (I was reading adult level books by 12, mostly in Christian fiction) is that Anaxandra doesn’t mince words on what happens to women who are the spoils of war. Rape is a very real consequence of being a captive in her world and she knows it. And she states that fact a few times. Be ready to discuss that with your kids.

On the whole a nice book to read. It was little less fast-paced and adrenaline inducing than the books that I’ve been reading lately, so I enjoyed it. The tension built slowly, but steadily.

This is a good example of:

  • Historical fiction
  • First person narrative
  • Significant detail (or details that influence/move the story forward)
  • Pacing
  • Chronicling a life over many years.

This book is on my recommended reading list

Old Books by Dan Klimke

It’s there. On your shelf. Or on your bedside table. It might be a little dusty. It might get taken down once a week. If you’re really smart, you open it up much more often than that. If you’re really smart, you study your Bible daily. Some days I’m really smart. Other days…not so much.

I started trying to learn more about Bible study probably two years ago. It started with Tim LaHaye’s How to Study Your Bible and lead me to enrolling in a Bible study course being taught by the pastor of my church in Gainesville. That’s where I stumbled upon my current method of Bible study. The SOAP method. If you want to know more about it, I suggest reading Wayne Cordeiro’s The Divine Mentor where he talks about it in great detail. It is a book that I would recommend to anyone looking to improve or change up their Bible study routine. But that’s a whole other post.

This post is for those who don’t think that daily Bible study is important or who are like I was: I knew how important it was, but I just didn’t know how to get anything out of it.

In Proverbs 1:7, Solomon states: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” (HCSB). My translation is this, “Getting saved is just the first step.” A very important first step, because you can read your Bible religiously and not be saved (though I imagine that it would be difficult), but still only a first step. It’s enough to get you into heaven, but it doesn’t really allow you to know God in the ways that specific study of God’s word does. David points out how important daily Bible study is in the Psalms.

“I will praise You everyday; I will honor Your Name forever and ever.” Psalm 145:2 (HCSB)

He didn’t praise God when he felt like it. Or when everything was going his way. If you read the Psalms, he praises God even in the middle of tragedy. Even when he could be blaming God for taking his son, David praises the Lord as he repents. I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of person I want to be. And David was that way because he spent daily time with God. Like the Psalm says: “I will praise You every day.”

This little Bible sitting next to me is 1,551 pages of God talking to me. Or promptings for the Holy Spirit to speak to me.

And if David taking out daily time to be with God wasn’t enough for you. Think about this, Jesus did the same thing. In Luke 15:16 it said that Jesus took time out of his day to talk with his Father.

I understand, life is busy. We have SO much pulling at our attention. Which makes it even more important to take some time out, sit down and get our head on straight. Before we have to deal with all of the crud that the world throws at us. On the days that I study my Bible, I find that I am more joyful, more patient, more loving and just a much nicer person to be around in general. Life may not actually BE any easier, but it sure feels it. But it first required me to make time for my Bible study. I have a busy day, I spend probably two-and-a-half to three hours of each day driving to and from Lakeland. Things don’t always get done, but I try hard to make sure that my daily devotions is one of them.

I’m not of the camp that says, you must get up at 6 a.m. and do your Bible study first thing. It kind of helps for you to actually be awake for you to get anything out of that day’s devotions. So maybe you get up and go jogging, exercise a little, take your shower and then sit down with your Bible and a notebook over breakfast (that’s my thing). I do encourage you to put your devotions as early in your day as you can, but I know that first thing isn’t always feasible. Nor does everyone operate at their best in the morning.

If you don’t read your Bible at all, I strongly recommend doing a Google search for free Bible reading plans to get yourself started and in the habit. There are ways to get the most out of your Bible study time, like keeping a notebook nearby to jot down observations/questions or having a method for studying your Bible, but I will address those in another post. The important thing is to start making reading your Bible a part of your daily life. God never asks more of us than we can handle, and He’s been more than willing to encourage me in baby steps–so I think the same goes for you.

Because you will see a change in your walk with God. The Bible is the main way God speaks to us (not to say that we can’t hear his voice audibly, it’s just a little less likely nowadays). And the more time you spend one-on-one with God, learning lessons from the people who have gone before us, the easier it will be when the devil comes with his little voice and tries to whisper in your ear.

So go. Blow the dust off of your Bible. Flip through it’s pages, inhale the musty scent. Stop making it into the center piece of your coffee table and turn it into the centerpiece of your life.

where are you from? by Joseph Robertson

To know where you’re going, you kind of need to know…well, where you are going. Really, I’m serious (mostly). Have you ever started one of those books that kind of meanders, taking its time to get from point A to point B to C to D and then finally develops a plot? Chances are no, you haven’t…unless you’ve been subjected to a literature class (not that those weren’t some of my favorite classes). That’s because publishers know that those books just don’t sell well in today’s market. Readers want to feel that they are headed somewhere important. Now, I know there are some writers out there who respond to the idea of outlining a book like they would to government obstruction of their First Amendment rights.  In my experience though, I  find that my writing is better when I take the time to put down what I know is going to happen and then fill in the blanks.

I’m not talking about outlining the story’s every twist and nuance and action. I’m talking about something as simple as “This is Bob. Bob has this problem. This is how Bob solves the problem.” See? Simple. Feel free to insert your character’s name.

Okay, maybe my outlines aren’t that simple, but that’s how they started.

A little bit on my writing process (because it helps in understanding my outlining process): It usually starts with an idea, like a character’s voice or a scene that comes into my head. Which then normally leads to how the story ends. And after that, I figure out the beginning. I know, weird…tell it to my brain, I have little control over how I think. Beginning and end aren’t usually problems for me. It’s the middle bits (the good stuff) that give me a problem. They like to come at me randomly, leaving me to figure out order.

Hence, my outline.

I build it gradually. Starting with what the books basic plot is (beginning, middle, end). Then I grab out the important, story-changing scenes and see where they fit in the grand scheme of things. Should I make Plot Point C into Plot Point D? Or does PPC actually need to happen earlier to help set up what happens in the middle? Then I connect the dots. I have A and I have B, so I add A1, A2, etc. until I have a whole story in my hands.

By writing things down, I’m able to see a basic progression and then figure what holes need to be filled and how to fill them. Now, I do like more detailed outlines, with chapters and what happens (roughly) in each. Which, when combined with my thought process, leads to some pretty funny stuff. For example:

  • “Time to have some fun with David’s head.”
  • “Annette tries to go along –> Surprisingly easy to dissuade (har har, wonder why)”
  • “Horses, escape the castle –> Princess Bride reference it up, Fezzik, window, etc.”

And my personal favorite (for this book at least):

  • “Annette’s super stealthy medieval ninja powers revealed.”

Yes, that is totally a note in my outline–for Chapter 22.

Your outline doesn’t need to be that detailed, but every story needs a beginning, middle and end. So at least jot those down. I can’t tell you how many of my short stories are unfinished because I can’t remember how they were supposed to end. Don’t worry about getting every word and action down, leave yourself plenty of room to move around. If you know your major scenes, jot those down, play around with their order. See what happens when you throw in a few plot twists. Trust me, it is way easier to rewrite an outline than to rewrite an entire book (this and saving multiple drafts will save you much blood, sweat and hair-tearing).

This also helps if you’ve already written the first draft and are looking to adjust/beef up your story a little bit. Maybe you want to gain a fresh perspective or you are thinking of adding an element to your plot. Again, an outline is a great test before you start messing with the actual book.

And the amount of detail is up to you. I go in already with an idea of how I want to break up my scenes, so my outline has chapters. But maybe you don’t. Maybe you like to wait till you’re in the moment. Or maybe you like to look at the book as a whole once it’s finished to see where your chapter breaks need to occur. Maybe you just want a simple roadmap.

There are as many possible outline techniques as there are authors. So experiment, read a little. Look into books that talk about story structure and outlining/planning. My current outlining process was inspired when I read Book in a Month by Victoria Schmidt. Now, I have adjusted and adapted it…because I have a hard enough time being able to stop for an hour and write, let alone pause for a month.

An outline is just another creative tool, just like a character bio, that you can use to help improve the quality of your book from start to finish. It doesn’t mean anything is set in black and white, but it does help gather your thoughts and keep them all in one place (and if you’re anything like me, you need all the help you can get).

Reading: The Medieval Reader by various & Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney

Research: Inside Your Brain by Eric H. Chudler


Airman by Eoin Colfer

12 and up

I picked this book up solely on the basis of who the author is. As an Artemis Fowl fan, my only thought was “He’s got another book? Awesome!” And thankfully, Colfer did not disappoint.

Airman is a Victorian era scientific fantasy. A far cry from the fairy-ridden world of AF, but just as intriguing and well-built. All of Colfer’s considerable skill goes into a twisting plot that upholds the writer’s maxim to put the character through everything that can go wrong–and then some (got that little tidbit from Orson Scott Card).

Connor has a rather good life at the beginning. Loving parents who are close friends with the king of the Saltee Islands (real place, made -up government/population), his own rather promising friendship with the king’s daughter and a teacher who has him well on the way to flying the first aeroplane. Then he ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and lands himself in prison at the age of fourteen–wrongfully accused naturally. Most of the book focuses on his plans to escape and his struggle as he tries to choose between old life and new.

Following Connor’s journey was thoroughly enjoyable. Colfer’s word play and fresh take on the Scifi genre had me wishing that the narrator would read faster (and I’m sure that the other drivers around me were nonplussed as I reacted to the book with my usual enthusiasm). With every book Colfer continually improves (in my opinion).

I would caution the parents of younger children. As with AF, the infrequent appearance of the word d*mn would fit this in at least the early teen years. That said, it is a wonderful book and if you’ve enjoyed Colfer’s previous work this book should end up on your reading list.

This is a good example of:

  • Historical fiction/Science fiction genres
  • Plot Twists
  • Well-developed villians and minor characters

This is one my recommended reading list.

Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Age 12 and up

Within the first few chapters I was fully expecting a reversed Cinderella story with Gail Carson Levine-esque undertones. Boy was I wrong.

Murdock doesn’t retell a specific fairytale (or at least, it’s not one that I am familiar with). She makes her own. Oh, there are elements of the fairytale world. Jibes at Rumpelstiltskin and a slight fixation with Sleeping Beauty on the main characters part, but Ben’s  story is entirely her own.

Ben (short for Benevolence) is a witty character–who can be slightly frustrating. I know, isn’t wonderful? While her problems are not of her own making, she certainly exacerbates them with her unwilling attitude. I understood her why she was being so frustrated, but I wanted to give her a good shake nonetheless. She’s not perfect, which is what makes her so wonderfully real.

Granted, being a fairytale story there is a certain level of predictability (hard to avoid at least some in this genre). There is trouble, a kingdom is endangered, the heroine has to save the say (sort of) and she gets a prince to boot. Oh come on, you knew that would happen (Spoiler alert, kind of)…after all they are mortal enemies, of royal blood and can’t seem to spend more than a few minutes in each other’s company without degenerating into barbed words and shoe throwing–if you didn’t realize they were meant to be together…you should probably read more. But the devil is, as they say, in the details. And Murdock is a genius with those.

She takes the expected plot and twists them if so that she owns it. She makes what could be very simple and redundant into something delightfully complex and intriguing. Ben’s inner voice is hilarious, her observations on the coming plot twists maddening (especially for someone who already spends a greater deal of time trying to figure out what is coming). She brings the story to life. Her expression of the surprise she feels at certain moments is genuine. And her flexibility and determination drive her reactions to everything Murdock throws her way (look at me, talking about a fictional character as if she actually exists). This was a book that I regretted putting down every time I had to.

I would say that just about anyone who is prone to like fantasy books will like this one (if you like Ella Enchanted, you’ll love Princess Ben), both young and old. For girls and boys. It is an action driven fairytale, rather than a romance driven one. It has flying princesses, dragons, a not-quite-wicked stepmother, and princes who are not quite all they seem.

This is a good example of:

  • First person narrative
  • Original character
  • Fairytale retelling
  • Plot twists (galore!)
  • A fun book!

This book is on my recommended reading list.

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