The Power of Silence

The Power of Silence

A friend said to me one day that she couldn’t image her commute to work without music, that talk radio show she loves so much or something to fill the quiet. She went on to say that she knew someone who actually rode with nothing on. Can you imagine that? !

Yes, actually I can. I find it interesting that we are a culture that attempts to fill every white space, almost every moment of every day. The Daily News reports that more than 80% of the world confesses that they can’t do without their mobile device.

This leaves us with little to no precious time to clear our heads, our thoughts, evaluate what we’ve learned without forces sucking    us in to respond to some type of stimuli– begging us, beseeching us to buy or sell or react emotionally to some news, gossip or current event. Overloaded with information, we are often no better for it. We subconsciously take in stuff which produces no benefit in exchange for something, anything to fill our heads. It’s kind of like eating when you are clearly not hungry.

We seldom give ourselves time to evaluate, ponder or consider whether information is useful before we are back at it taking in more—stuff. And even when we are conversing with others in real time, we often do more talking than listening– always ready tell what we know. It just seems the natural thing to do considering we know so much. Sigh.

 

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A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting with a curmudgeon old lady who rarely smiles and is never up for small talk. She is not the one to chat about the weather –mentioning how unseasonably warm it is for the month of May. Her talk is purposeful and to the point. When she is done, she stops talking.

The Art of Listening

There was an incident which occurred with my son and her niece and she came to talk to me about it out of concern for her niece. My first reaction was one of defense. I wanted immediately to remind her that I have successfully raised three children and I’ve got this thank you. I wanted to tell her all I knew on child rearing. Did I mention I have three children? But something inside willed me to hush. Be silent. Listen. And so I did. I took in everything, immediately mentally applying it where it was necessary. No I didn’t listen as we often do; we barely hear what the person is saying because we are awaiting our turn to share, to tell what we know, add meaning and depth when often none is needed. No, I emptied myself of preconceived opinions and drank in her words.

What I noticed is that truly listening is well…humbling. It is like sitting at the feet of a sage for the beauty of their knowledge. Assured that they have a perspective, you haven’t considered or experience in an area where you lack.

I saw that day behind that droopy, leathery face and glassy eyes a women who’d truly lived. Her life hadn’t been particularly exciting but she’d lived. It was the same kind of living I was doing. But the difference was she’d already been there. She wasn’t condescending or mean. She was calm, with a slow, measured rhythm to her words. She wouldn’t allow me to rush her But took her time to ensure I didn’t miss anything.

As writers silence is powerful because it allows us to process knowledge in a way that makes it useful, instead of busy chatter clogging our minds. We began to know how an experience feels, what it tastes like, what it smells like and the way it leaves you in the aftermath. It allows us to compartmentalize what we know and apply it when and where it’s needed and discard what is not needed or at least place it aside until the next time.

Silence is Powerful

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Silence is powerful because it shows control and discipline on our part. It forces us to think about what we are thinking about. It helps us to hear our inner voice. It is that voice—the spirit of a man, which guides us into truth, helps us to make sound decisions, not just based on how we feel, but what our spirit is revealing to us. It is the God part of us, because it is he who is feeding our spirit-man; yes. It is spirit to spirit.

The next time your emotions are screaming, or you are tempted to make a decision bred from some emotional high or low or you’re incited to write some crazy, impulsive comment on Twitter or another form of social media, based on what some political blowhard has fed you, I ask you to be still. Be silent. Consider. Think about it. Listen. Simply listen.

How to Write a Book Review

How to Write a Book Review

As authors, we would like the general public to believe that book reviews hold little or no importance to us. We would have you think that such write-ups are minor side effects or consequences of our career as we get on with the real business at hand—writing. And of course that should be our real focus. But we can no more deny the real effects that book reviews have on us and our readers than we can the effect of an Academy Award nomination on the career of an actor.

People take heed to what is said. Once it is said or read we can’t undo the effects. The thing is, distinguishing a good, solid review as opposed to a bashing, venting or an out and out rant of the story or book.

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The purpose of a book review

When giving a good review whether you are a professional or just an avid reader, keep in mind the purpose of a book review: It is to inform potential readers of your opinion and to give merit as to whether a book is worth the read. As a reader of your review, I would hope that it is not biased, but objective based on your varied reading experience and knowledge of prose. For example, perhaps you are prochoice, but the protagonist in the book you have just read has a mission of destroying abortion clinics all over the country. Your review should be unbiased and not based on your beliefs for or against the subject.

Was the story well written?

Well written stories have specific and vivid detail. The wording is crisp, accurate and precise. You are drawn in to the suspension of disbelief. In other words based on description of characters, setting and dialogue you are able to step away, temporarily from your own experiences and believe in the plausibility of that story, for that time without judgment.

Also, does the story have a natural flow? Does it progress with great timing, not flitting here and there like a nervous bird as if the writer was not quite sure where he was going? If he doesn’t know, at this point, who does?

Was the story compelling?

Honestly, I have read books with rich, specific and colorful detail and that was the best part of the book. I was completely pulled in with anticipation thinking, this is going to be good, only to realize that the risk for the protagonist was minimal or not really a risk at all. There was no driving force.

A protagonist can be a complete jerk. You absolutely can’t stand him. But–his reputation is at stake. His life is at stake, or that of his family. You must know what happens to him. It is what compels you to keep reading. It is what causes you to pick it up during your lunch hour, read into the late hours of the night. You can’t wait for dinner to be over so that you can delve right back into it. A compelling story is tightly written. The main characters have taken a path, the path of least resistance but even that one is risky and could end badly. He could lose it all. He could fail and that would be to his demise. Ask yourself as you are reading: Were the reasons for not pursuing the other paths clearly given or at least implied?  Otherwise, you will read and find yourself saying, Well, if he would have just…he could have avoided this entire mess. But keep in mind that his chosen path is based on the character’s personality background, history. If he is naturally driven, then for him, turning back is not an option. But if his other options were viable, possible, less risky, then, that is a problem.

Secondly, did the story move too slowly with a lot of unnecessary details and you find yourself skipping over them just to get to the good parts? Or perhaps there are too many subplots and characters and not enough story to convince you that all are necessary or there are simply too many for you to care about.

 

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A rant is not a book review

What you want to avoid in a book review is a rant about how much you hated the book, or how the characters are stupid or dumb, without giving the potential reader of your review specific reasons for despising it so. Such descriptions are unproductive and they do not give the reader or the writer anything they can work with.

Ultimately, if you are writing a book review for the public to read, you want it to truly be useful and fair. Otherwise it is not a review in the true sense.

Turning an Idea into a Book

Turning an Idea into a Book

old_booksThere are probably many book ideas going through your head, even now. They come from everywhere– personal experiences, stories others have told us and those that just seem to be conjured up through pure imagination. But it is a lengthy road from idea to book. Most ideas never make it to book form; and for many, rightfully so. Others can and should be developed. Let’s take a moment to examine the process of turning an idea into a book.

Record your book idea

When you get an idea write it down. Contrary to how it feels when your adrenaline is pumping, you will forget if you don’t record it. Please understand you will end up with more ideas than actual stories but that’s O.K. But if you cannot remember them, it won’t matter. Start a journal or a log of sorts and as the ideas progress with characters, setting and conflict add this information to your entries.

Flush out your story

Write out the conflict behind the story. All stories whether fiction or non-fiction must have sustaining and driving conflict. Conflict is simply the dilemma which your protagonist finds herself in; it is the driving force behind the story.

Provide Sustaining conflict

This is not something that is quickly wrapped up or resolved. There are obstacles, ebbs and flows which your protagonist must work through.  Ensure that there is a journey to end or solve this conflict. If, as you are flushing this idea out, you don’t see it, and you can’t reasonably create one, there won’t be a story. It will fizzle before it even starts.

Provide Driving Conflict

The conflict must drive your protagonist; there must be something at risk. Why is he so determine to find a cure for this disease? Will his wife die if none is found? Is his reputation at stake?  Or, why is she so determined to get married now? Is her biological clock winding down?  Is it her mother’s dying wish to see her married? The driving conflict can be physical, mental or even spiritual. But the stakes have to be elevated enough that the protagonist is willing to risk all to solve this problem. If it is not important enough to your protagonist to risk all or nearly all, it won’t be important enough to your reader to continue reading.

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Find resolution for the conflict

 If the idea you have for a story as an experience which you are currently going through (mainly for non-fiction) it may yet make for a great book, but  it must have some type of resolution. For example, you just found out your husband has been having an affair for the past five years (I really hope not!). You are obviously right in the throes of it. At this point, you don’t know what the end is going to be. Well, pick a resolution point based on where you are.  Perhaps, so far you’ve learned you are too trusting. You always have been. Take us to this point. How did you get there? Tell that story. Perhaps it is still too fresh, but you feel it has been interesting so far—even book-worthy. Writing can be cathartic. Keep a journal. Write. One day it just might make an interesting story.

The resolution is the final part of the story. And there must be something learned, gained or changed at the end. Either the conflict will bring you full circle or things will change completely. As your idea progresses, you will be able to see the end at the beginning even if you haven’t quite figured out how to get there.

Find out if your book idea is marketable:

I saved this for last because these days there are markets for almost genre. But if your book is a romance/thriller/book of poetry you may have a little trouble finding a market for it. Usually you have the market already subconsciously tagged in your head. But often you don’t. As you work your way through your idea, keep the market in mind. Don’t let it completely drive your story or it can block your creative flow, but simply keep it in mind.

You may have a million ideas. Sometimes you will know right away that an idea won’t work based on the above information. Sometimes you won’t know how far you can go until you begin to write because the idea is so alive and thrilling. But you will know. Some ideas may have to be merged with others to become stronger and more sustainable; some need to be completely done away with. But keep writing them down, keep the creative thoughts flowing and soon you may find yourself with a beautiful and engaging story.

Finding Time to Write Your Book

Finding Time to Write Your Book

I often hear people complaining that they can’t find time to write. Between work, school, kids and all of the other factors that equal life there just isn’t time. Well, would you like to know that secret? Would you like to know how we published authors are able to do it so deftly? How do you write that book? Are your ears bent? OK. Good.

There is no secret.

Nope. No clear-cut, foolproof super-method on how to write your book. The bottom line is you have to make time. You know that same time you make to watch that favorite reality show you recorded on the DVR. The same way you make time to whip up that special desert your family cannot do without. The kind of time you carve out to watch the can’t-miss, once-in-a-season football game. I know you’re saying, well wait a minute, those are necessary pleasures and I’m not giving those up. I’m not suggesting you give them up—at least not all of them. But you will have to make some sacrifices.

You see writing, like exercising or dieting or doing anything that will produce beneficial, long-term results—takes some sacrifice. And as I wrote earlier, it doesn’t take long stretches of uninterrupted time as your household runs amok and your children douse themselves in paint and glitter just to remind you of how neglectful you’re being. But you will be surprised at how small, even tiny chunks of time add up and produce beautiful results.

Although I’m sure I’ve told this story before, it deserves a retelling. I wrote my first published novel, In Three Days while working the midnight shift at a hotel. My co-worker and I would work into the wee hours reconciling reports, assisting guests with this and that and making sure patrons weren’t taking skinny dips in the pool while everyone else slept. At about 4 am things begin to quiet down. It was our time to relax and unwind. And around that time sleep would creep up like a thief as we searched for something in which to occupy ourselves. It was during this time I would manually shift into second gear and write. I was never able to get more than three pages done.

 

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Dawn was on the horizon and sleepy patrons’ calls began at about five or six am. Three pages, five days a week was all I could muster. But a year later and I had a full novel. Writing steadily and consistently is all that is required. And the marvelous thing is that once your story is going at a nice pace, you can’t wait to get at it again as you see a real, live book in the future.

You might say I can be that consistent. Well a half an hour a day, anytime a day will still push your story along. When I worked at the grocery store (yeah, I’ve had quite a career) I would stand there minding U-scan, bored until my eyes were crossing and I would grab a napkin or paper towel and write. I had many such napkins and paper towels over the course of several months. And all were parts of my novel. It was during such times when my creativity began to flow fast and uninhibited.

You may say, wow I’m just not that motivated. The thing is you need to develop a habit. The only way you can label yourself as writer is to actually write. Sure there will be another day, hour, a better time to write your book—once the kids are grown or things slow down on the job or the wintertime when you’re stuck inside. But what would happen if you started today? You might just be surprised.