Checkered Scissors - Extras

Additional miscellaneous stuff (interviews, art, etc.)

Get Barbara (game inspired by Checkered Scissors)
In one of the earlier chapters, Edwin attends a party in which people are playing a game called \"Get Barbara\". Here are the basic rules for Get Barbara. Enjoy!

History of Get Barbara:

Originally, \"Get Barbara\" started as a family joke. When I visit my parents, we love to play all sorts of games, especially card games. My mom, Barbara, is excellent at playing games. No matter who is ahead or behind, and no matter what the game, someone usually declares, \"The scores are such and such. You know what that means... It\'s time to get Barbara.\" Before anyone adds angry comments to this blog for me teasing my mom, what we say about getting Barbara is all in jest, and is a huge compliment to her and her game playing ability. Did I mention she is excellent at playing games? Well... She is.

When mom and dad read the above mentioned scene in the book, they had a good laugh at the inside joke, and thought it would be fun for me to invent an actual game called \"Get Barbara\". The supporting characters in the book play it as a drinking game, but my kids and I have come up with a set of rules for \"Get Barbara\".

Writing-related books I recommend
Below is a list of writing books I\'ve found most useful for developing my skills as an author:

The Anatomy of Story by John Truby
A fantastic step-by-step guide for mastering the craft of storytelling.

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) by Jack Bickham
It\'s exactly what the title says. A very useful book.

The 10% Solution by Ken Rand
A self-editing guide for anyone who writes (stories, essays, technical manuals, etc.).

On Writing by Stephen King
Details the history of Stephen King becoming a professional author, how he recovered from his near fatal hit-and-run, and his writing tips.

The Bugaboo Review by Sue Sommer
A reference book for all the word pairs writers commonly confuse.

Elements of Fiction Writing by various
Each book in this series targets a particular aspect of fiction writing: character development, dialog, scene, plot, etc.. Some are more informative and entertaining, while others are dry, textbooks, but each is very useful.

Organizing Thoughts
Shortly after I got married, my wife and I sometimes had too many ideas of what we wanted to do on the weekend. That\'s how I often feel with my various projects. A friend once told me that if I work on too many projects, then nothing gets done. Too much to do, not enough time. My wife taught me a method for sorting out our thoughts and coming to a decision.

Start with a stack of Post-It notes, index cards, or scraps of paper and something to write with. On individual cards, write down everything you want to do. Take these cards and find a flat surface to organize them. Spread the cards out and then move them around to arrange them in a way that makes sense to you. When arranging the cards with more than one person, nobody during the arrangement process. Eventually, the card arrangement will settle into a pattern that satisfies all involved. Finally, interpret what the arrangement and groups of cards mean. It\'s okay to talk at this point, even if it is to yourself.

Between my wife and I, this helped us decide what was important to us and what could wait, what to do Saturday and what to hold off until Sunday.

I recently did this with a stack of nearly forty cards. After I had arrange them the way that felt right to me, I discovered that about a quarter of the cards were things I needed to do on a regular basis and added those items to my routine. Another quarter of the cards where my top priority with items that were in various states of completion and projects I wanted to start on soon. The other half of the cards returned to the back burner to be handled (or not) at another time. I took the one quarter of top priority cards, and went through the same process with a smaller subset to figure out which items had the greatest urgency.

I am very much a List Maker. Lists help me itemize and focus. But, I find this method as a tangible way of dealing with too many thoughts colliding around in my head. If you use this technique, I hope you find it helpful, too.

Author Interviews

As I am working on revamping my blog, I thought I would consolidate a few posts. Back when I released Checkered Scissors, a few fellow authors interviewed me for their blogs. Two of the interviews are still active (at the time of this cleanup), but another two are no longer available.

Duane Martin conducted one of the interviews.
Thank you, Duane!
Duane L. Martin\'s blog.

Barbara Tarn also interviewed me for her blog,
Creative Barbwire
Thanks, Barb!

If you are an author and would like me to help spread the word about you and your works, or if you are an avid reader who would like to discover more interesting authors, I encourage you to check out the Karma page of this site. Or, feel free to contact me directly and we can discuss other blog-swapping ideas.

\"The Garden\" (art of Checkered Scissors)
I found this picture which was how I first envisioned the garden in the story. Not all the features are there, but you get the jist.

Edwin\'s Garden

\"Field of Frames\" (art of Checkered Scissors)
I found this drawing which inspired a later scene in Checkered Scissors that inspired how Max travels across Ed\'s world in one scene of the book.

Field of Frames

To the Honk of My Own Trumpet
Do you see what I did there? I took a common expression, threw out the drum beat, added a different instrument, and made it my own. It\'s good to be different. I believe being different is necessary.

When I researched book blogs to spread the word of Spilt Milk, I visited dozens of blogs. The thing I found interesting was how many of the sites looked cloned. After a while, I wondered if I had returned to the same sites. Many of the sites used WordPress and the creators didn\'t deviate too far from the default schema. Comparing those pages to my website, mine is quite different. The sites contain similar content, but mine has a fresh look. My site may look more or less professional compared to other sites, but it reflects me. I made it my own. Actually, I made it myself. I didn\'t use WordPress. I didn\'t hire a web designer. The entire website is homegrown from the ground up. It suits my needs and it evolves when necessary.

Have you seen the SNL Halloween skit of David Pumpkins with Tom Hanks? In a way, I relate to this odd character. David Pumpkins is \"his own thing\". He is so different that other people are confused or put off by him. But, in the end, \"his own thing\" works. I\'ve been told something similar with my writing style. One of my editors had told me I deviate from a typical writing convention, but because of my unique writing voice, the deviation works for me.

Out of the flood of indie writers, what makes one writer stand out from everyone else? When seeking advice for how to be a successful author, most advice is the same wherever I go. People imitate what has been successful because it has proven results...Until it doesn\'t. For example, when I tried contacting book bloggers to request a review, many of these sites no longer take submissions because they have a huge backlog. So many people have acted upon that same advice that the suggestion is no longer useful. But, hey! We are indie writers! We are creative people! Why aren\'t we approaching marketing in similar creative ways to what we apply to our craft?

That\'s why doing something different is a necessity. For Spilt Milk, I took a chance and tried something different. I called up my local bakery and suggested a Milk and Cookies book release party. The idea was a success, plus I got to connect with my local community in a fun and unique way. And now, dozens more people know of both my book and the location of that bakery.

I have other unique ideas brewing. Some are just concepts, while others have more detailed plans. A few of them relate to this blog, which is why they\'ve been on the back burner until the blog\'s migration. Now that I have moved my blogs about writing to this site, I look forward to executing these experimental ideas. I posted one of my ideas the other day called Blog-Your-Own-Fiction. When it comes to standing out from the rest, I\'m not afraid to take chances. Who cares what the nay-sayers and doubters think.

I believe in being unique. I know it works. Harry Potter was so unique at the time, many publishers turned it down until one publisher realized the uniqueness worked. The Hitchhiker\'s Guide to the Galaxy is not your typical science fiction, and is not particularly well-written compared to what writers are told they should do, but it was such a success, it gained a cult following. These books inspire me to stick with my own style and experiment. I compare my work to Monty Python. Not because of the absurdity of it, but because of its originality. For Monty Python, people either got it and loved it, or they don\'t get it and don\'t want to have anything to do with it. That\'s how I imagine people approaching my stories. People who give my stories a chance usually enjoy it, but not everyone understands or likes it. And, I\'m cool with that. Not everyone accepts originality.

Sometimes, the hardest part about being a writer is finding different people to try my own brand of uniqueness. It\'s like my kids. I can get them to eat their vegetables, but asking someone to try experiencing something outside their comfort zone feels more like asking my kids to try the barbecued puppy ears. People enjoy what feels familiar. They like to read what works for them. It\'s tricky to convince someone out of their comfort zone. Can you imagine how someone tried to convince others to try skydiving for the first time? \"I want you to wear this backpack and jump out of this plane. It\'ll be awesome! Trust me!\" Finding people to read a unique brand of fiction should not need anywhere near that much convincing.

Believing in my own brand of uniqueness is like having a personal religion. I typically write for myself, because I know what I enjoy reading. My stories have hope and possibility. There is a positive spin to them. Sometimes they can stray into the dark corners, which catches people by surprise. There\'s a wholesomeness to what I write. In these dark times, I believe my unique brand of fiction will one day ring out like the ice cream man\'s glockenspiel jingle, and people will realize they deserve a little treat in their life. There\'s plenty of my originality to go around. Won\'t you try some?

Parody -- Flattering or Insulting?
\"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.\" - Oscar Wilde


Lately, if my son is not talking about video games, he is talking about the various memes he has seen on the internet. I told him not everything on the internet is a meme. Taking a picture, adding a humorous caption, and sharing it to social media doesn\'t necessarily make it a meme. Italso needs that viral spread to make it a true meme.

So, I asked him, \"What if someone took a still shot from one of your YouTube videos, added a caption to it, and shared it to social media? What if people thought the captions were funny, but maybe to you, the captions were insulting? How would you feel about something you made turned into a meme?\" He thought it would be cool. He suggested it would be like negative advertising, which is still advertising. His creation would be out there even more. My daughter had the opposite opinion. She would be annoyed and upset if someone took something of hers and twisted it around to amuse themselves. My wife added that sometimes, things you share with the public can get out of your hands and spiral out of control in unexpected ways. Of course, I\'m putting this conversation into my own words, but you get the gist.

The kids and I rewatched the He-Man/4 Non Blonds mash up video. After watching it for the nth time, for some reason, this time I discovered the original music video for What\'s Up?. I liked the original song so much that I bought it. The parody led me back to the original. In this case, isn\'t parody a good thing? Whether or not the person who made the parody to make fun of it or to honor it, the original work is important enough for another person to recognize it in some way. To me, that would be very flattering.

Parodies, memes, fan fiction...It\'s all derived from an original source that captures the attention of someone who wants to do something more with it. That\'s why I find fan fiction so interesting. The more fan fiction exists for a particular subject, the more fans are out there who acknowledge the original subject and appreciate the work that was created. Given, there are also the purists who feel the original work should not be altered or embellished in any way. Authors should feel honored, not disgusted, by people writing fan fiction based on their work. It means that someone was motivated by another person\'s art, they take the time to contribute to that original work. Even if that someone thinks they could make something better than the original, the motivation is still there.

I wonder what authors long-dead would think about their works taking on new life. For example, what would Mary Shelley think about her Frankenstein? It has been turned into movies, cartoons, Halloween costumes, and even a breakfast cereal. What about Shakespeare? What about Beethoven? What about Lewis Carroll or L. Frank Baum? Have these authors\' stories survived on their own? Or, was it because of the variations and parodies of their work that have evolved over the years?

What if my work motivated someone else to think they could write my story, but would I feel? Well, on the one hand, I might be slightly offended that they didn\'t like my story, and wanted to improve upon it. That original story\'s mine. I love the way I wrote it. On the other hand, if they can write that story better, and I read it, apart from being offended, if their version of the story is actually better than mine, shouldn\'t that motivate me to be a better writer? Shouldn\'t I compare both works and see what aspects are better and which are worse, learn from it, and become a better writer?

According to Wikipedia, there are seven basic types of plot points. Many years ago, I thought I had heard that all stories are derived from either the Bible or mythology. Either way, if there are only a few types of stories to tell, aren\'t all stories based on something else? In order to become a better author, we imitate what we like, avoid what we don\'t like, and try to add enough of ourselves to turn it into something original.

I agree with my son. If (and when) I find someone is either writing fan fiction based on one of my creations, or is somehow parodying my work, I think I would be flattered. It would be cool to be noticed so much that I have motivated someone to do something more with it.


Have you ever read any of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books? Blog-Your-Own-Fiction (byofiction) is a similar concept.

First, it starts with a story. Click the link to read the start of a Blog-Your-Own-Fiction story entitled, Editor\'s Deadline.

If you are a writer, continue the story by writing a story segment in your own blog. Then, return to this story, and add the link to the continuation in the comments section. Assuming your blog also has a comment section, other writers can continue from your story segment in the comments section of your blog. And, so on. As more writers contribute and branch from the different story segments, the more the story grows into a pick-a-plot adventure.

Please, do not use the comments section to write your story continuation. If this happens, the comment may be removed. Besides, it is more beneficial for you to lure traffic to your own site.

When you contribute a story segment, I encourage you to add a few links. At the top of the story, you might want to add breadcrumb links to either the previous story segment or to the original starter segment, so that readers aren\'t confused by jumping into the middle of a story. Also, somewhere, you might want to provide a link to this post, to explain to other writers how this concept works. If it is not already mentioned somewhere on your blog, let people know you contributed the story segment and provide information on how they can follow you and your work.

If you don\'t like the start of the story I provided, feel free to create your own starter story. If you do create an original starter story, let me know, and I will update this post to with the link to your starter story.

Finally, be sure to share your story segment, the starter story, or an original starter story via social media using the hashtag \"byofiction\".

If you are a reader, hopefully, eventually, you will be able to explore a wandering story and experience contributions from different writers. Hopefully, you will discover new favorite authors. Please, feel free to comment what you like and dislike about the story segments. Your feedback can help writers improve their storytelling.

That\'s how this works! It\'s that simple. Let\'s see how far we can take our collaborative stories across the blogosphere.

(Added 2018-04-18) I have been contacted by someone who does not have a blog. If anyone would like to contribute a story segment, but does not have a blog, I would be happy to guest-post your segment on this blog and provide a by-line to the author of the story segment.

Are You Not Critical Enough?
Each month, I host a writer's group at our local library. Even though I don't always have a submission, I enjoy absorbing the feedback for other people's stories. At the last meeting, while listening to someone else's critiques, a shocking thought crossed my mind. I wondered, "Am I not critical enough of my own writing?" My thoughts spiraled out of control. If I wasn't critical enough towards my own writing, I worried I might not be critical enough for others to be helpful. But, if I strive to be more critical, will it diminish my ability to relax when reading a book for pleasure? With all those concerns tumbling around my head, I thought about how I can practice to be more critical towards my own writing, learn how to be more critical from and for my peers, and then find the moderate my level of criticism when necessary.

At the meeting when I had my slight panic attack about how self-critical I might not be, the person providing feedback at the time offered this suggestion for how he approaches critiquing stories, even his own. He reads through the story like he is approaching it for the first time, even if it is a later draft. He starts with a blank slate. As he reads, he asks if the canvas is colored in. Are there blank spots? Does he know who the characters are? Are his first impressions correct? Does he have all the details he needs to understand exactly what is unfolding? For me, I let my imagination fill in the gaps a little too well.

Instead of clearing my mind (which is hard for me to do sometimes and gives me periodic insomnia), I resort to my theater days and block out the scene on my desk. When the cast learns a new play or musical, the director places the cast, props, and sets around the stage like chess pieces. This is called blocking the scene. I have blocked scenes on my desk, either with bits of paper or paper clips or whatever is in reach. I position the pieces around the desk to build a better mental image of where the characters need to be and when. Once I block the scene on my desk, I'm ready to recreate it by writing it down.

It is also good practice to think other people's stories critically, especially when rereading a favorite. Take notes, either mentally or jot them down. What do you like and not like about this story? How are the characters developed? How does this author create the setting? Then, of these elements you notice about the book you're reading, how can you apply the same techniques to your own work?

Another suggestion about not take your own criticism too personally. Focus on improving the story, not the author. When you find mistakes with your own story, don't beat yourself up because you made a mistake. Be happy that you caught and corrected the mistake before someone else pointed it out. That means you are improving your the story and yourself as both a writer and editor.

Not taking your own criticism personally especially applies to feedback from others. Do not be afraid to ask other people's opinions about your writing. It may not be what you want to hear, but it may be something that you need to hear. When seeking feedback from others, find someone who is constructively critical. Avoid people who are too negative or mean. Criticism should always be constructive, not destructive. If you are in a writer's group, listen to what people are saying about the other stories, too.

I highly recommend joining a peer writing group. It has improved my writing dramatically. If there is not a group in the area--start your own. I was in a writing group that was far across town and it wasn't always easy for me to get to it after work. So, I approached my local library and worked with them to start a new group. Over the years, other writers in the area sought guidance for their writing. These people had varied experience, but we are all looking for the same thing, which is looking for help improving our writing beyond ourselves. If you do start your own group, I'd be happy to share our guidelines with you.

If you don't want to invest that much energy into starting and running your own writer's group (which isn't very much), befriend a bookworm. Most likely, we probably all know at least one. Don't hound your bookworm friend with every edit of your story. That's a good way to unbefriend a bookworm. Tell them you wrote a story, and ask for their honest opinion. If they accept, talk with them about what kind of feedback you are wanting. However, if they turn you down, accept their answer and seek help elsewhere. Pestering them too much might drive away a potential fan of your stories when you get to the point of releasing them into the wild.

It is hard enough learning to be self-critical and accepting criticism from other people. I believe we all need to learn when to be critical and when to ease off. Learning how to become more critical also means learning how to control your comments. A weightlifter doesn't constantly exert their strength. They know when to be gentle, too, otherwise they would be terrorizing everything like the Hulk. Learn to tone down or turn off your inner-critic. New writers need guidance and can have fragile egos. Tone back the critic and help them learn to accept criticism, especially when it is constructive. Don't tell them how to rewrite something. Offer suggestions or ask them questions to help guide them, and explain why your suggestion may be an improvement.

Also, remember to still read for pleasure. Let go of the inner-critic so you can still enjoy and appreciate other people's work. Sure, there might be plot holes. You might not like all the characters. You might have approached the story differently. Enjoy the escape. Authors are people. They make mistakes. Mistakes can happen in fictional worlds, too. Most importantly, if someone else likes it, but you don't, don't bring them down to your level of distaste. Let them enjoy it. Try to understand what it was they liked. Maybe you might discover an element that can be worked into your own stories.

I may not be critical enough, but I'm working on my inner-critic. These are my suggestions for how to improve your inner and outer critics. If you have any other suggestions, please share them in the comments.

Editor\'s Deadline (BYOF)

[Note: This is the start of a Blog-Your-Own-Fiction story.]

Trevor frantically stumbled through the marketplace looking back and forth between the stalls to find the correct one. Vendors cursed at him for bumping their tables and disturbing their wares, but Trevor didn\'t care. Or rather, he did care enough to mumble an apology, but was too panicked with his search to correct his clumsiness. Normally, he would have stopped and helped, but time was running out.

He glanced at his watch. 2:13PM. A little over an hour remained. He had spent most of his time figuring out how to get to the marketplace. Surely an hour was plenty of time to find what he needed. He could usually shop at the neighborhood grocery store and get home within an hour. He just hoped he picked the right marketplace. If he didn\'t get the League of Editors what they needed by 3:17 PM, they would take his life. That doesn\'t mean the League was going to kill him or enslave him. Oh, no. That\'s not how the Editors rolled.

The League of Editors whittled away people\'s lives. They would remove enough elements of Trevor\'s life until there was no more Trevor. For starters, they might make the baristas at his favorite coffee shop forget all about him and his usual drink order. Then, they might edit him out of his job so that his company never hired him, or even heard of him. Eventually, all his friends and even his family won\'t know him. He won\'t be erased from existence, and they won\'t kill him. He will be diminished to a background character in everyone\'s life. A nobody. A clean slate. He would have to start all over again, making new connections with either new people or reforming connections to the people he once knew or once knew him. Even his resume would be a whopper filled with lies of a work history he had, at least a work history no one else could vouch for. At first, Trevor thought he had a good deal. When he realized what they could do, and how they interfered with people\'s lives, he wanted to back out of the agreement. The League of Editors did not appreciate that. They were crazy. You\'d have to be mentally unbalanced to pick a precise deadline of 3:17 PM on a Thursday afternoon.

\"Are you in a hurry? Perhaps I can help you,\" said a smooth voice to Trevor\'s left.

Trevor had glanced at the gentleman\'s stall, but had instantly moved on because the stall consisted of a table with a silky, white table cloth, a carved wooden chair, and a tall gentleman wearing an all black suit. Black jacket, black vest, black shirt, black tie. It all blended together in subtle shades of well-matching blackness. The gentleman\'s slicked back, jet black hair complemented his all-black suit. Only his paper white face contrasted his look. The gentleman could have stepped out of an old black and white movie if it weren\'t for the touch of pinks from his lips and in the corners of his eyes.

\"Yes, I am in a hurry. If you are trying to slow me down, I\'m not amused,\" Trevor said.

\"Don\'t worry, friend. I\'ve got everything anybody could want locked in my trunk,\" his smooth voice said.

Trevor looked past the man. At the back of the stall, a battered trunk made of torn leather, chipped wood, and tarnished brass sat a few feet behind the gentleman\'s chair. Trevor hadn\'t seen the trunk. Either he was too in a hurry to notice it before, or the gentleman had conjured it with his words. Trevor was skeptical the trunk had what he needed, but something in the gentleman\'s voice assured him it was in there.

As if reading his thoughts, the gentleman said, \"I assure you, it is in there. I\'d be willing to part with it--for the right price. I accept all forms of payments, too. If you insist on cash or credit, I will accommodate you. Also, I accept other forms of payment. Perhaps you would like to pay me all the orange that you see? Or, maybe be willing to trade away memories from your childhood? Everything is negotiable. What do you say, friend? What\'s it going to be?\"

This story segment was contributed by Douglas Schwartz.

If you would like to continue this story, post the continuation in your own blog and share the link in the comments below.

Bullied or Ignored?
The other day, I was thinking about reviews and responses to my stories. I asked my kids what they thought about the subject in terms they could relate to. Imagine this...

You start at a new school, would you rather have people picked on or completely ignore you? My daughter said she would rather be ignored by others, especially if she had her group of close friends, because who cares what other people think. I asked the same question to my son. It stumped him.

The reason I asked them that question is because sometimes that's what being an indie author feels like. You feel like the new kid in school and all the students and faculty are potential readers, but you have to make them take notice of you first. Then, when people start noticing you, either they don't care and ignore you, they don't understand you and bully you, or maybe you make a few friends who notice and appreciate you.

In a way, school is a lot like fiction. Fiction has different genres just like school has different cliques. Sometimes, what you are about is obvious, and you can quickly latch onto one of the cliques. Other times, you are the eccentric dork with their own taste of fashion and weird sense of humor that doesn't seem to fit in anywhere. Guess which category I'm in. When you are the eccentric dork, how do you fit in?

First of all, ignore the bullies. In the writing world, these are the nay-sayers and the people who give one or two star reviews. A few bad reviews mixed in with many favorable ones is not the end of the world. Learn to accept that not everyone is going to like everything you create. People who put down your work have already made up their minds. Don't waste your energy on trying to convince them to think otherwise. They obviously aren't your target audience. In other words, when the bullies start hurling insults, just ignore the negativity and leave them behind.

The nay-sayers are the ones whom tell you why it can't be done or that it's a bad idea. Don't waste too much time on this group either. These people can be close-minded. They may not be able to see the potential in your ideas, but obviously, you do. You see something they can't. So, what should you do? Prove them wrong and follow through with your ideas. You don't have to show them the finished work. In a way, they are like the bullies and have made up their minds from the very beginning. Instead, latch on to the ones who think your ideas are possible, and show them the proof. When enough people agree the idea could be done, and when it is done well, the nay-sayers may come around in their own time and on their own terms.

Don't confuse the constructive critiquers with the nay-sayers. These are the ones who are trying to help you based on their experience. When people suggest what you shouldn't do, listen to these people, especially if they can explain why you shouldn't do it. Some people will tell you what they don't like, but they can't always articulate why. Try not to take too much offense at people who are trying to help you. It may not be what you want to hear. It may sometimes seem hurtful, but when you consider what they are saying, it can make you better. Ultimately, the decision to take their advice is up to you. You can accept their feedback and change things, or you can try your way and see if it works. If it doesn't, you have their suggestion to fall back on.

Leaving the negatives behind, focus on the ones who ignore you. These are the unknowns and the undecideds. They haven't made up their minds yet about you, because they don't know you. To them, you are just another face in the crowd. Do something to stand out in that crowd. This is something I find very challenging. If I do something too drastic, these unknowns will make up their minds in a negative way, and it could be hard to win them back. If I try something that has already been done before, I am just another person yelling at the pep rally. How can someone attract the right amount of attention from the right people?

The answer is just like making friends. Look for people who have similar interests. They may not share your eccentric dorkiness, but they will share elements that contribute to or inspire your unique style. Those one or two likenesses provide an in with this crowd. And, just like making friends, it takes time. Get to know this crowd of people. Share interests and experiences. And then, when the time is right, let them know more about your stories and how your shared likenesses relate or inspire your stories. Some of them may be interested, and others won't. Don't badger them. Express your appreciation to the ones that do enjoy your stories, and accept the ones that don't.

Then, just like friends, maintain a connection with the ones you appreciate you. Unfortunately, this is also something I struggle with. When I was in school, it was easier to maintain connections with friends, because I was constantly surrounded by them throughout my school years. Then, school ended, I joined the work force and started a family. That's when I became more of a recluse. It's not that I am trying to be antisocial, I just get absorbed in my daily life and projects. Unfortunately, writing is a solitary activity. This is where social media helps.

Sometimes, promoting a book is like running for class office. You can plaster the walls with flyers telling everyone to vote for you, but when a third of the school is vying for the same thing, it all becomes noise and is filtered out. Instead, it should be more like promoting a club. Make connections where it counts. If you want people to join the eccentric dork club, find those who would be most interested and make connections. Don't just make it a one time occurrence. It takes persistence. It takes time. It takes energy. And, it often takes you out of your comfort zone. These connections work best when it is a symbiotic relationship. Often, you will need to give a lot to gain a little. You may want to be selfish, but you need to learn to be more selfless in order for the connection to count. It's a balancing act.

While balancing the social aspects and building a greater presence for yourself in the right ways, don't neglect juggling all the other tasks that come with being a writer. Authors still need to write and edit and contribute to their eccentric dorkiness, just like students balance homework, extra curriculars, chores, and so on. All these things are important, but the two most important things to remember is to keep being yourself and enjoy what you do. In time, the people who ignored you will soon realize how awesome you are.

Juggling Act
Jordan (the Spilt Milk illustrator) and I met for coffee the other day. She recently started a full time job, but wanted to keep up with her freelance work, plus spend time with friends and family, exercise, and other stuff. She asked for advice on how to find a balance between so many things. The following post was originally posted on July 24, 2012, but has been updated for reposting here. Jordan...This one is for you.

At times, I commit myself to too much, but don't always want to let go of anything. I'm like a circus performer juggling many objects at once. Some objects are like bean bags, because if they drop, they land softly and wait patiently to be picked up again. Some objects are more like eggs, because when they drop, things break or get messy. Every once in a while, someone hurls a flaming torch or a chainsaw and the eggs and bean bags suffer while I handle this sudden object screaming with importance. To me, the eggs consists of things like family (which I love to spend time with), my day job (which I spend a third of most days), and a volunteer work (which occupies my time throughout the year with various tasks). The bean bags are a variety of projects: writing fiction, designing games, learning new stuff, and so on. How does one juggle both eggs and bean bags, while giving adequate attention to each? Simply put, I make the time, break it down, and keep momentum. These three steps that are easy to say, but take discipline to accomplish.

Make the Time:
The first thing to do is carve a wedge of time each day dedicated to focusing on what you want to accomplish. For me, work consumes a huge chunk of my weekdays. I share my evenings and weekends with my family. After the kids go to bed, I could work on projects, especially when my wife is at her computer, but I've already spent a majority of the waking hours gazing at a computer. Do I really want more screen time? Truthfully, I don't mind, because when I want to relax, most likely I'll watch TV, play video games, or read an e-book, which all are screen time. The question becomes, "Do I want personal screen time, or do I want to decompress?"

Typically, in the evenings, I want to decompress. I work, decompress, sleep and eat. When do I make the time? For me, I discovered waking up early in the morning is good. I used to get up at four or five in the morning. Yes, I know that's crazy early. Yes, there are days I struggle with those early hours and want to stay in bed. It takes discipline, but it's perfect for personal time. Think about it. Before dawn, there are very few interruptions, especially if you dodge distractions like responding to emails and web-surfing. The rest of the family is still asleep. I'm not yet thinking about work. I'm not tempted to watch TV or play video games for fear of waking anyone. No one is going to call, not even telemarketers. If I trim a little off decompression time in the evenings, I can wake up earlier to minimal distractions.

The important thing is to set aside a block of uninterrupted time to dedicate only to your personal projects. It may be early in the morning, late in the evening, part of your lunch hour, the last thing before leaving for work, or the first thing between work and dinner. It will take determination and possibly some sacrifices, but needs to be your time to decide how you want to spend it.

Break It Down:
You found the time, now consult the To Do List. My wife says I spend too much time making lists and organizing notes when I could actually be working on something. She's right. I know I overuse lists to organize myself. For me, it helps planning how I will spend the time I've set aside before I start. It's especially nice knowing what I'm going to do when waking up so early in the morning.

Some projects are small and can be knocked out quickly. Other projects are massive and daunting, especially when looking at the big picture. Looking through a lengthy To Do List of all the projects can get overwhelming. If a project is ever too intimidating, break it down into smaller, more manageable parts. Would you swallow an entire meal whole? Maybe you would, but I wouldn't. Most people cut down their meals into smaller bites. It may take longer to finish, but it's easier and more tolerable.

When I start working on new book, there is a lot of stuff to do: outlining, writing, editing, rewriting, publishing, marketing, and so on. The scope of the entire project is enough to give any one person the willies. That's why it is broken down into smaller pieces. Even the list above is subdivided into even smaller parts. When a monumental project is broken down into smaller pieces, the project isn't that scary. And, when the chunks are small enough, I could quickly knock out many tasks in my mornings and, possibly during short moments between distractions throughout the rest of the day. After a while, those big, scary projects became grand accomplishments! Smaller chunks also help when juggling multiple projects, chipping away at each a little at a time.

Keep Momentum:
One of the hardest things (besides waking up crazy early) is keeping momentum. Sometimes, life can weigh me down, like an illness or a stressful stretch of work. Other times, a tedious or boring part of a project slows my motivation to continue working on a project. Even the completion of one project halts momentum when I pause to celebrate. Or, I might hit a lull and think, "That's done. Now what?" Any number of things can slow down momentum.

Many obstacles can slow down progress, but there are several things that help build momentum. The two suggestions above help give momentum that first push to set progress in motion. When you carve out a bit of personal time, that helps establish a schedule, which is key to establishing momentum. When you have small tasks that you know you can easily complete, then that sense of accomplishment helps motivation. Thinking about accomplishing all the little things, helps you visualize finishing the big picture, and that is really empowering. It's like working on a puzzle, and the more pieces that are filled in pulls you towards finishing the entire puzzle.

Another thing to help keep momentum is setting up the next task before completing the current one. Adding that next task or two is like setting up dominoes. One task is knocked down, then another, then another, and it keeps running as long as you have tasks. If a task every becomes too tedious, take a short break, do something else, and then come back to it with renewed energy. What's important is to keep the momentum going, progressing from one project to another. When you lose momentum, it is challenging to get back up to speed. I know. I've been there. But, don't stress when your momentum dips. It's bound to happen from time to time. Just focus on your list of tasks, and keep going. Because, any progress is still forward momentum.

Sacrifices and Support:
One final thing, which isn't one of the juggling balls, but is still important. When you have a lot of things you want to do, know that sacrifices may be necessary. Like above, I sacrifice sleeping in for being productive. You may need to sacrifice a bit of time with family or friends. Maybe, instead of going out to lunch with co-workers, you may want to take a moment to make a bit of progress, so you can spend time with friends later. Find that balance.

Also, talk with your friends and family about your projects. They will support you and work with you to help find the time. Plus, they may encourage you, which helps build that momentum. Or, maybe there is part of the project where they could help you, that way you are still together, maybe not playing games or watching TV, but still spending time together. You might even find out that they are looking for time to work on their own projects, but don't want to feel like they are ignoring you, too.

It's a struggle to want to work on so many things and feel like you don't have the time. When you complete many of your projects, it's always rewarding looking back at what you've accomplished.

If anyone has any other suggestions, please share them in the comments.

Well-Dressed Biking (BYOF)
[This is story is a continuation of Editor's Deadline. It is a work of Blog-Your-Own-Fiction.]

Trevor asked the gentleman, "Do you have any capes?"

The gentleman ran his pale fingers through his ebony hair and said, "Of course. What kind do you need? Formal wear? A super hero? Or, are you looking for more of the peninsula kind?"

Trevor said, "Matador?"

"Ah, bullfighting."

"Hopefully more like minotaur avoiding."

The gentleman cocked an eyebrow, smirked and said, "In that case, you'll need a green one."

The gentleman lifted the lid to his trunk. He pushed things aside to reach deeper into the trunk. The shuffling of objects made all sorts of crinkles, clangs, and groans. Trevor stood up on his tiptoes, but couldn't see past the gentleman to get a good enough look at what was inside the mysterious trunk. The trader pulled out what looked like a silver trumpet that was bent at a sharp angle in the middle, followed by a live chicken that flapped its wings as he pulled it from the trunk but stood statue still the moment he set it on the ground, as if it had been paused. He rummaged through the trunk a couple minutes more. Trevor nervously glanced at his watch and wished the gentleman would hurry up. The man said, "Ah ha!" and pulled out a green cape with yellow embroidery around the edges.

Trevor let out a sigh of relief. At last he found what he had been searching for. As the gentleman trader folded the cape and laid it on the table between them, Trevor asked, "You wouldn't happen to have a well-balanced tandem bicycle in there, too, would you?"

"Interesting. That's one avoidance I'd like to see," the gentleman said.

"That's one avoidance I'd rather avoid all together," Trevor replied. "Do you have the bike?"

"Of course. What color?"

Trevor looked down at the cape and said, "Any color other than green."

"Obviously," the man agreed.

"And, preferably with seat belts."

"Purple or yellow?" the man asked.

Trevor figured yellow was a little too close to the color green. "The purple one."

With less rummaging, the man puled a purple, two-seater, tandem bicycle out of his trunk. The bike was so well balanced, it did not need a kickstand. He rolled the bike to the table and asked, "How would you like to pay?"

Trevor stuck his hand into the loose pocket of his pants and pulled out a tiny white sheep that was smaller than his fist. He set the sheep on the table. The gentleman's eyes grew wide with either excitement or greed. Trevor couldn't tell.

"Is that a Lilliputian sheep?"

"Bred from one of Gulliver's. That should cover the cost of the cape."


The gentleman corralled the sheep into his hands and pet it's silky fleece with his thumb. Trevor put his hand in his other pocket and withdrew what looked like an elongated silver bullet about nine inches long.

"And, this should cover the bike."

The gentleman's jaw dropped. He almost dropped the tiny sheep. "Is that a quicksilver pen?"

"Yes. One of the Editors left it behind. I'd rather not hold onto it."

"This will be more than adequate for the bike. Are you sure there isn't anything else I can offer you? Maybe offer you something to suppress your fears?"

"No, thank you. I'm afraid I'll need my fear. Besides, you've given me plenty. Nice doing business with you."

"And you, sir. Good day to you. And, good luck."

"Thanks!" Trevor called over his shoulder as he wheeled the bicycle out of the crowded market place with the cape draped over the front seat.

Once out of the market place, it was much quieter on the city street away from the noise of the market. Trevor rolled up the cape and placed it under his shirt for safe keeping. He mounted the tandem bike and pedaled as fast as he could down the street and around the corner.

Within minutes, he rolled up to an iron gate set in the middle of an enormous red brick wall. The wall must have been at least two stories tall. Doves cooed at him from the ledge high above. Gilbert leaned against the brick wall next to the gate waiting for Trevor to arrive.

"Cutting it a little close, don't you think?" Gilbert asked, tapping his watch.

Trevor looked at his own watch, which just turned 3:09. "What? I have eight minutes to spare."

"I see you have the bicycle. What about the cape?"

Trevor untucked his shirt, and pulled out the neatly rolled green cape from underneath his shirt.

Gilbert grinned and said, "Nice."

"And, you've got the hat?"

"It's a beret, thank you very much. And, yes. It's in my pocket."

In the few minutes before Zaz, the Editor, arrived, Trevor and Gilbert discussed strategies. Zaz's grey convertible pulled up to the curb. Unlike the trader, Zaz looked almost the opposite. Instead of the well-dressed, tailored, all-black look of the trader, Zaz's outfit was full of splashes of color and more loose fitting. While the trader had pale, whitish skin, Zac's cheeks were flush as if he were permanently embarrassed. Zaz also smelled like a chain smoker, but that was from hanging around the League of Editors. As Zaz exited his vehicle, he checked his watch and said, "Well done, boys. You're right on time. I appreciate your punctuality." He looked at the bicycle and cocked his head to the side like a dog. "And, you have come prepared, I see. Shall we begin?"

Trevor nodded, but did not feel completely confident, but Gilbert answered with a firm, "Yes."

"Very well. Gilbert, you have requested a couple of additional edits, and Trevor, you are backing out of your edits all together. As you know, the League does not appreciate unnecessary changes. Per our agreements, I have arranged this little task for you as stipulated under section four, paragraph seven. Since these changes arrived close together, I have made arrangements to allow you both to work together. You have one hour and twelve minutes to traverse the maze you see before you. If you make it to the exit of the maze within the allotted time, your changes will be granted. However, if you are delayed by the Minotaur, your changes will be rejected and we will continue to honor the original agreements. Clear?"

Trevor and Gilbert both nodded. Gilbert didn't seem as confident. Trevor hoped Gilbert would still be able to keep his wits about him.

"The clock will start when I open the gate," Zaz said, and unlocked the padlock and unfastened the chain keeping the gate closed. The gate swung open with a squeal. Trevor checked his watch to note the time.

"Go," Zaz declared without much enthusiasm or fanfare.

"Ready, Gil?" Trevor asked, unrolling the cape, sliding it up his left arm, and then tying the end around his neck.

Gilbert pulled the purple beret from his pocket and twirled it around his fingers. He laid on his belly on the back seat and bucked the seatbelt around this lower back. He replied, "Ready."

"Let's go," Trevor said, and pedaled the tandem bike through the maze's entrance.

Gilbert pulled the beret onto his head and stated clearly, "Swordfish!" His body twitched and changed while Trevor built up speed. Gilbert changed into a blue and white swordfish securely bucked into the backseat of the bike. Once fully formed, Gilbert fanned his powerful tail back and forth to help propel. It was the best he could do to help Trevor with pedaling. With Gilbert's rhythmic fanning, Trevor was glad he found a well-balanced bike for them both to ride. Since Trevor had to lean to the side to avoid being speared by Glibert's pointy snout, he was happy the bike could account for that that off-balance as well.

The tandem bicycle with a Minotaur matador in front and a swordfish sporting a beret in the back sped towards the first, multidirectional split in the maze.

"Which path should we take?" Trevor called over his shoulder to his aquatic friend.

This story segment was contributed by Douglas Schwartz.

If you would like to continue this story, post the continuation in your own blog and share the link in the comments below.

Speaking What is Written
Recently, I scripted and recorded a demo for work. The experience taught me a few things I hadn't expected to learn. Since this was my first demo, I learned more about the relationships between the ideas in my head, what those ideas become when written, and how it is heard when spoken.

On rare occasions, I have heard the sound of my own voice. I had never particularly liked how others hear my voice. I have grown too accustomed to the voice I hear in my head, which to me is softer, not as deep, and has a more gentle quality. The voice in my head is very soothing. Not at all like that deeper, louder voice that couldn't possibly be me--but is. When you record your own voice and edit bits of it together, listening to it over and over, in time, the voice becomes less of a stranger and more familiar. I learned to embrace my external voice. In a way, that's very much like how I write. At first, I struggled with writing stories, but over time, I grew to love and appreciate my own writing. Now, I'm on much better terms with my external voice. In a strange way, learning to appreciate my own voice also helps build confidence for speaking publicly.

Just like I have writing habits, while editing, I discovered I also have speaking habits I was not aware of before. Editing the demo, I noticed when I prepared myself to speak the next segment, I could hear myself breathe in, and more often than not, make a clicking, tsking sound right before speaking. I have noticed it a few more times since the recording that I do the same thing when about to speak to people. When editing, I can remove this habit, just like I can the ums and uhs. But, when speaking, now that I am aware of the habit, I can try to curb myself from doing it. Much like, once you realize some of your own writing mistakes during editing, in the future, you can prevent the same mistakes earlier on.

One suggestion I have seen for writers is to read your own work out loud to give you a better sense of the flow. This suggestion became more apparent as I read and recorded segments of the demo. What was written sounded good visually, but when spoken, the word choices sometimes became jumbled. My tongue would trip over the words, causing me to try to record it over and over, or would cause me to stop a moment to edit the text into something that is smoother when spoken. Speaking what is written requires a different cadence than what is written, but it still should convey the message the same.

Another piece of advice I have heard is to write with your right (artistic) side of your brain, and edit with your left (logical) side of your brain. This especially was true when editing the demo. When I write, I write down one sentence and move onto the next, and the next, and so on, until I reach the end. Recording the demo is different. I repeat the same sentence over and over until I get each sentence correct. Then, I connect each correct sentence together until it becomes the finished work. If I slowed down in my writing to think of exactly how I want to say it, and then wrote it down, or, if I wrote each sentence in multiple ways and then picked the best one, it would probably take me a lot longer to write. But, it might also require a lot less editing. Whether written or recorded, editing for both is a very important step. When I played the edited version of the demo for a friend at work, at first he joked he would take a drink at each hesitation, but was disappointed that the recording didn't provide as much as a sip.

I learned to pay closer attention to the visuals of the demo, too. When I was in college, I had a job editing the video game demos to be displayed in retail stores. That job taught me to pay attention to the visuals in relation to text and audio. If the game displayed text, we couldn't overlay our own text, because it would look jumbled. There were other guidelines to follow, such as not displaying text during a transition, which in written form would be like one sentence going from one chapter into the next with the chapter heading stuck in between. For the demo, one thing I had to change is the visual representation of a lot of data. During testing, this data is a large block of text, which isn't very appealing to scroll through for a video. However, If I strip out the important data and present it in a graph, it is much more understandable to those viewing the demo. One thing I noticed as I pieced together the segments, I left the mouse pointer in the middle of the display, and at the end of each segment, the pointer would zoom up to the top of the screen to stop the recording. I didn't have the time to rerecord all the segments for the demo, so the pointer remained in the demo. However, because the end bits with it zooming away was all trimmed, it was not as noticeable. Since the mouse was stationary, it didn't draw much attention to itself. Next time, I will know to move the mouse pointer out of the recording window.

Before handing over the demo to be presented at the stakeholder's meeting, I viewed it for a co-worker. He joked that he was going to drink a shot for each hesitating um, uh, or so. He was disappointed that the video did not provide him so much as a sip of hesitation. The co-worker who would be presenting the demos thought mine raised the bar for everyone else, because it was presented so well. And, after the stakeholder's meeting, no less than five people joked that I was going to be recording the demos for the company from now on (at least, I think they were joking). They found my demo very straightforward, educational, and professional. I was asked what tool I used, and told them I used Quicktime, which is installed on the Mac. It is a very simple recording application, that can produce a high quality video.

As nervous as I was to record a demo, overall the outcome was a very positive experience. I was able to take what I have learned as a writer and apply my skills in a different way, and I have learned to pay more attention to what I present on a page between descriptive text and dialog. I've grown more comfortable with my own voice, and have more confidence as a public speaker (at least a recorded one). Also, hearing such great feedback from my co-workers is another confidence booster that what I take the time to create is appreciated by others. The whole experience has given me more ideas regarding video book ads and ways to visually demonstrate my skills as a writer.

Go Around the Room
Most likely, you have been part of an organization (at work, a club, school, etc), and to break the ice to introduce everyone, the leader says, "Let's go around the room, say your name, and tell us a little something about yourself." This is one pet peeve that annoys me the most. Why does it bug me? I understand that it is meant to help everyone get to know each other. But, the thing that bugs me about it is, can you really sum up a person in one quick catch phrase? As a writer, we sum up the premise of a story into a condensed one-liner. Can the same be applied to a person?

First of all, having that question thrown at people potentially puts everyone in the room on the spot. The farther I sit from the first person, the more time I have to think up something to say. I don't know about you, but I'm not paying my full attention to the others in the room leading up to myself, because I'm too busy trying to think of what I'm going to say. Which, I know, that makes me a poor listener.

If I know I'm going to be in this situation eventually, why don't I prepare something ahead of time? Because, each situation might be different, and depending on my answer, might set a course I don't particularly want to follow, or it might not be that relevant. For example, if I tell people at work that I'm a writer, I might be pegged as the person to document the processes from now on, or the guy who will proofread their reports. Is that really an aspect of my job I want to take on? Maybe. Maybe not. Now, let's say I tell people I'm a writer at the library's writer's guild. They're bound to say, "Well, duh. We all are. Tell us something else." In which case, I'm put on the spot again.

Is it enough to tell people I'm a writer, or do I need to dig a little deeper and explain what kind of writing I do. If I tell them I'm a fantasy writer, will that create a stereotype in their minds (at least, those paying attention)? Do they have preconceived notions for "those kinds of people"? Technically, yes, I do write fantasy, but mine is more quirky. ("Oh, he's a weirdo. He's like Gonzo.") But, I've also written a children's book ("Oh. No, he's more like Dr. Seuss? Or, maybe Mr. Rogers?") And, I've also written fan-fiction ("O-kay. I'm just going to scoot my chair farther away, now.")

What about the parts of me that are not a writer? I'm a good father and husband. I'm a gamer and a game designer. Cooking and baking are my meditations. I'm a Whovian. I'm a juggler. I'm a bit of an artist. I'm a klutz. And, I'm a whole lot more. How do I sum up all these other different bits of me into one sentence? Or, how do I pick just one to tell the room?

All those things above are things I find interesting and enjoy about myself. Are the things I find interesting about myself also interesting to the other people in the room? Is any of it relevant to the other people in the room? Or, is there something about myself that I should tell them that they would find more beneficial? Do any of the people remember the little bits of interesting information that people share? In the last situation I was in, there was one person who had a bit of information that I found interesting. One woman said she was an extra in a few movies. I later asked her which movies, and tried to find her in the scenes that she said she was in. But, since then, I have learned more about this woman that I find more interesting. In fact, some of her work history is more essential to understanding how she fits into the dynamics of the team she is on, and how that whole group had worked together in the past. So, as an ice breaker, her bit of trivia led to more conversation, which led to me finding out how to better relate to the team of people she works with and helps me interact better with that team.

For that "little something about myself", should it be like something above? A snippet of something that opens the door to more conversation, which leads to more people reaching out to me for more information? Or, should it be a pneumonic to help people remember who I am and what role I play as part of that organization?

There is definitely a right and wrong way to answer. If you tell people you are the one thing they are prejudiced against, that sets you up for future challenges. If you tell something too personal, you might wind up with a bad nickname or a worse reputation. If you lie about you bit of trivia and are eventually discovered, you will lose trust with the others.

There is a lot of self reflection and self discovery in that little ice breaker. I will need to meditate on how to better answer this. Meanwhile, for future situations, I am considering telling people, "My name is Doug Schwartz, and if you want to know more than a little something about me, find me later and we can get better acquainted over lunch."

Recipe for an Author Page
The other day, on one of my writer group email lists, someone asked what is recommended for creating an author page. Constructing an author website, or any site that highlights an artist's creative talents, should contain certain elements to make it more appealing to visitors. It might be that we have watched a lot of The Great British Bake Off, but I'm going to use a cake analogy to explain what goes into making a good author website.

The Cake:
First, start with the cake. Ok, not a real cake. I'm talking about establishing a foundation for your website. The cake is nothing too fancy, just a blend of basic features. These are the essential elements which any author website should have:

The Frosting:
The frosting is where you give the site a bit more flavor and really make it your own. When readers visit an author's website, there are two key tidbits they want to know: information about the books, and information about the author. These elements are not required, but are recommended options for creating a site that reflects your personality.



The Decorations:
At this point, you may have created a beautifully frosted cake of a website filled with all your well-crafted books. People may not see your frosted cake, no matter how impressive it is. The decorations are the extra bits that make your cake more attractive and draw people's attention to your site. This is the most difficult part. Publicity can be a full time job. If working on the cake's decorations by yourself, you may have to find a balance between writing and promoting. The decorations are the bits I find most challenging, but here are a few suggestions:

Piece of cake, right? I understand if you would rather focus on your writing. If that's the case, I suggest finding a decent web designer. Not everyone can create their own website. And, you do not need to pay top dollar to get one started. Many people suggest starting with WordPress, which has out-of-the-box templates. Years ago, I hired a friend to start my first website. When it needed to be maintained, I learned a lot about up-keeping it. Since then, I have created and maintained other sites. My author page is homegrown from all that I have learned, and I'm still learning and finding ways to improve it. When you work with someone on your site, be clear with your expectations on what you would like and get an understanding of what it will take to maintain.

Ultimately, what you choose to do with your website is up to you. I recommend these suggestions, especially as a convenience to people visiting your site, but none guarantee success. The more energy you put into it, the more others can benefit from it. While not doing enough or doing a poor job can be a recipe for disaster.

Now, if you'll excuse me. All this talk about cake is making me hungry. I think there is some leftover cookie-cake in the kitchen.

Where to Begin
The other day, I was telling someone about our library's writer's group. She said that writing a story sounds intimidating and difficult. Of course, I said, "No way! Writing is fun!" My son comes up with great story ideas. I've encouraged him to write his stories, but lately he has been consumed by video games. I think part of it is that he gets intimidated by large projects, too, and then gives up too easily. This got me thinking about what advice should I give someone to encourage them to write their own stories. What advice have other writers offered me over the years? How did I get from not knowing much about stories to where I am now as a writer?

First, if someone wants to write a story, I am going to assume they already know the basics. They know their alphabet. They can write (or type). They understand the basic parts of speech. This may seem silly. I know this is very basic stuff, but if you want to tell a story, you need to understand the language. You need to learn how to stand before you can learn how to dance.

Assuming this writer-in-training knows the basics and wants to tell a story, how much do they know about the elements of a story? Most likely, most people have an understanding of the elements of a story, whether they realize it or not. Most people have read books, seen movies, or heard a joke. Stories come in all shapes. If a person understands characters, settings, and plot, they know enough to write a basic story. It might not win awards, but they can still craft a story. If you can tell someone what you did today, you are telling a story. That is, unless you are like my kids and have selective amnesia and can't remember what you did when asked what happened in school on any given day. Even then, these kids can come up with some wild stories to cover their tracks.

One piece of advice I have heard from many writers is if you want to know how to write, then you should read a lot. I know several people who have read many more books than I will ever read. It isn't the quantity of books. It's not even the quality of books, which can be subjective. People read what they like to read. The important thing to take away from the "read a lot" is to explore as many stories as you can. Don't just read, watch, or listen to the stories. Stop and think about them, too. What stories do you like and which ones don't you like? Why do you like or not like those stories? Think about how you imagine the stories that you've read. Think about how the most memorable scenes of your favorite books made you feel. Do any of those scenes bring back memories to moments in your life? When you read a character's dialog, can you imagine their voice in your head? Do they sounds like someone familiar? If you can imagine these kinds of things, then you can think like a writer. Only writers work in reverse. They translate their imagination into words instead of conjuring words into someone else's imagination.

If you understand and are capable of the above, then what is stopping you from writing a story? Maybe you don't know what to write. Before you take on writing your novel, choose something smaller. You could write about some moment in your life. Or, you could explore your imagination. Writing a fictional story is writing about what-ifs. What if a frog could jump over the moon? What if my cat could fly? What if the world really was flat and the first astronauts crashed their rocket into a giant domed ceiling? Tap into your inner child and let your imagination wander. Then, try your best to capture what you imagine with words. What happens first? And then, what happened next? What's after that? And, so on, until you find a suitable ending.

If you still need help coming up with a story, why not work with a partner? Writing with one or more other people opens you up to more ideas. Now, instead of one person's imagination, you have a pool of imaginations. Sometimes, this can be hard, because you have your own ideas and the other people have their own ideas. But, if each of you are writing your own stories, when you get stuck, ask someone. What would you do if this happened?

Ok. Assuming you've made it this far, and you have actually written a story, now comes the most difficult part. You take off the training wheels and let someone else read what you wrote. Ask them what they think. If you are writing a story for yourself, then you can read it and tell yourself what you think of it. Did you leave anything out? Is there anything in there that shouldn't be? Any changes? Fine. Then, you are done. But, if you want other people to read it, then you need to be willing to share it with other people. If you want to be better at writing stories, then you need to accept other people's feedback. This takes growing some thick skin. You might not like what other people think of your story. If what they say is not helpful, then ignore their feedback and move on to someone else. When you ask the right people and you listen to what they have to say, then you can become a better writer. I have heard a lot of good and bad things about my writing. I've stuck with the good stuff, and I've improved on the bad stuff. And, I know that some elements of my writing still need polishing. But, it is good to listen to ways of improving.

If you aren't ready to share with other people, then join a writer's group. In some groups, you won't have to submit your own writing, but you can read a variety of works from other people, and you can listen to feedback for other people's stories. Take notes on that feedback, and then apply those notes to your own story. Some of the writing lessons I have learned was from feedback on other people's stories. Then, once you have applied some of these changes, maybe your story will be strong enough to share with the group.

Now that you have done the above, do it again. Keep thinking up other stories. Keep writing them down. Keep getting feedback. Keep improving. Just like with anything else, the more you work at it, the better you will get. It's the same with driving a car, playing piano, or making pancakes.

Good luck!

The Pledge
This is a blog I had started to write a while ago, but I thought I would finish it up for the Fourth of July's blog. It's about the Pledge of Allegiance. In my opinion, I find the Pledge of Allegiance and especially the Texas Pledge odd. Don't start shouting how unpatriotic I am. Please, keep reading. Let me explain why I find the Pledges odd...

Here are both pledges...

US Pledge:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

TX Pledge:

Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.

(Side note: As I edited this blog, another odd thing jumped out at me. The Texas Pledge has two ones. From an editing point of view, repeating descriptive words in a sentence is often a no-no. There are a lot of ones in these pledges. One nation. One state. One and indivisible. Even the US motto references one. E pluribus unum. From many, one. Anyway...Now back to the regularly scheduled blog.)

First, like any child growing up in the United States, For years, every school day, we recited the Pledge. Then, I graduated, and that suddenly stopped. There was no recital of the Pledge in college. As far as I know, the Pledge is not broadcast on the TV networks to start the day. It just...stopped. Unless I am at school function or at a government sponsored event, there are no other times that I've seen where people recite the Pledge. At sporting events, people sing the national anthem. Why ask kids to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and then stop at adulthood? Why? Do children really understand the meaning behind the words? Do they gain any meaning or purpose from it? Or, is it some odd ritual where they go through the motions?

Second, is it wrong for Texas to have its own Pledge of Allegiance? I don't recall reciting the Texas Pledge when I was a kid, but our kids recite it today. What about the other forty-nine states? I saw that Texas is one of seventeen states that have their own pledge. I like Colorado. Do they also have a Pledge? It seems odd that a state would have its own Pledge when the nation's Pledge talks about being indivisible. That just seems like me saying, "I'm loyal to my family, but especially to my son." Can someone really be loyal to both the whole and a subset? What would happen if Texas decided to secede from the United States? Would the citizens of Texas remain loyal to the US and Texas? Why don't we have a pledge to something bigger than our country? Why not a pledge to the Earth?

Third, "under God" was added to the US Pledge in the 1950s. Not everyone is religious, and not everyone worships the same god. Or, if it is the same God, maybe they call Him (or Her) by a different name. I imagine people would take offense if you swapped out "God" for other the religious icons. It wouldn't be because a person is purposefully dissing someone else's God. It would be more because they have a stronger belief in something different. It's like, just because I say I love to drink Dr Pepper does not mean that I hate Sprite, coffee, or orange juice. If people were better at practicing tolerance, it should be perfectly okay to swap out "God" for something else other people believe in: Jesus, Allah, the High Priestess, Santa Claus, or the Giant Floating Spaghetti Monster. I'm okay with people swapping out the word God for something that better matches their beliefs. Are you okay with that?

Fourth, the words "pledge allegiance" means the Pledge is asking people to take a vow to exhibit loyalty to the country. The country is very divided. It always has been, and I'm okay with this division. It means that people challenge other people's ideas. More lately, I think people are screaming their ideas, and there isn't as much listening. I hope people start listening to each other and have more conversations about their ideas. Hopefully, something better emerges from these challenges and people can find common ground. I hope for more positive division, but unfortunately, there is a lot of negative division. Liberties are either taken for granted or taken away. There isn't always justice. The people in charge aren't always committed to what the Pledge asks of us. Can people still remain loyal to a country that is not always loyal to all of its citizens? To me, the most important part of the pledge is "for which it stands". This doesn't mean to literally stand on your feet. The Pledge asks people to remember what the flag represents. To stand for something also means to defend something. The pledge reminds us, when we look at the flag, a symbol of our country, we should find a common ground to come together to support and defend people's freedoms. People vow to commit themselves to those ideals, even when those ideals are not always met. It's hard to ask people to remain loyal to something that isn't always loyal in return. But, Americans and Texans are so full of pride, aren't they?

Fifth (and final), if a vow of loyalty is a good thing, why don't more people recite vows more often on a regular basis? The Scouts often recite their mottos and laws, which are a pledge of sorts of a good set of reminders for a better way of living. Spouses recite vows on their wedding day and sometimes they renew their vows. Why don't they recite their vows (even if they just read them or think about them) on a regular basis? Would employees recite a pledge to their company if the company asked them? On the surface, that might sound like a horrible thing to be asked to do. Why would anyone pledge allegiance to a company that could let them go at any time for any reason? Companies have mission statements, which in a way, is like a vow of standards the company represents. Why don't companies start the day by asking the employees to recite the mission statement? It doesn't necessarily need to be a pledge to the company's mission statement, but it might be a good reminder of the company's vision. Or, maybe the company should say a pledge of innovation or enrichment. Maybe reciting different kinds of pledges more often would help people remember what is important.

In Doctor Who, the Doctor's true name is hidden behind his title, which is an oath of the vows he upholds: "Never cruel nor cowardly. Never give up, never give in." This got me thinking...Why not create my own pledge? What would I vow to myself? What ideals do I want to uphold? What do I stand for? What am I committed to? My pledge could be about supporting my family, but I don't feel I have to pledge myself to my family. They know I am there for them, and I know I will support them no matter what. If I am writing a Pledge to myself, I want it to commit to something personal. Something for myself. I know that sounds selfish, but I want a pledge that inspires myself to be or do greater. I gave this some thought, and this is what I have come up with, so far. I may stick with it, or I may decide to change it up. But, here goes...

I pledge to myself
To share my creative mind,
To inspire others,
To enjoy what I do
And to do what I love,
To be artistic,
To dream big,
To find happiness in all I create.

If you were to write a Pledge to yourself, what would yours stand for?

Do Over!
The good and bad thing about self publishing is that the author controls the destiny of their stories. There are a few limitations, but the choice is ultimately up to the author. Good or bad, we live with our decisions. Sometimes, things might turn out better if we had made better decisions; ones that the big powerhouse publishers have already learned through years of experience. Because the self-publishing author holds all the cards, they also have the option to rewrite and rerelease one of their stories. This is a decision I am considering with Checkered Scissors.

Don't get me wrong. I love the Checkered Scissors that I released into the wild years ago. At the time, I thought it was my best version of the story. Compared to what it tried to be in the earlier drafts, it's a far superior version. It received favorable reviews.

The other day, I read a review that gave me pause. The review was fine. The reader enjoyed the book, but said that it read like a young adult book, but had some adult-suggestive content. The content isn't lewd or offensive, but it does hint at some adult themes. Ironically, that is similar to some feedback for Snipe Hunt, my first board game I published over a decade ago. I had Snipe Hunt professionally play tested, and the feedback said the game mechanics were targeted towards a younger audience, but the humor was aimed more for adults. For Snipe Hunt, I took that advice and advanced the game mechanics a bit, bringing it closer to the maturity of the humor's level. Because I received similar feedback for Checkered Scissors, I am wondering if I should do the same.

There is a lot I enjoy about the released version. I like the characters, many of the settings, and the story. I'm wondering if I could retell the same story, but match the young adult style of writing with other young adult story elements. One thing to consider is to bring the age of the main character down, adjust some of the story to better match his lifestyle, and keep a majority of the story the same.

In a way, I feel like George Lucas messing with Star Wars after the original version was good enough. I understand why he rereleased the movies with a more enhanced version. Back when the original was made, the special effects (as impressive as they were) had greatly improved over the years. Then again, millions of people had already watched the original movies, compared to a few dozen people who have read my book.

What are my pros and cons of rewriting and rereleasing Checkered Scissors?
Pro - Sorting out the mix of adult content and young adult style could lead to reaching a more targeted audience of either young adults or adults.
Con - I could burn bridges with current fans and earn myself a negative reputation from changing an already published work. "Why didn't he catch this sooner?" "Why didn't he fix this before he released it the first time?" "I liked the original. Why change it?"
Pro - Because I am still green, and still building up my fan base, the fans I already have could be more forgiving as chalking this up to a learning experience.
Con - The inexperience-ed-ness of changing a work could tarnish the other works that I am perfectly fine with. Will readers be able to trust me and my other works? "If he's changing this book, are his other books fully baked?"
Pro - At least I am changing only one book of what has the potential and the intentions of being a book series. This is Book One of who knows how many. I have plans for three books (which includes the first), and possibly a collection of shorter fiction in the same universe.
Con - Rewriting this book slows down the progress of other works. Why not just deal with it and move on? True. I have a lot of other ideas that could take longer to get to.
Pro - By rewriting this book, it could improve future books in the series, which I'm not completely satisfied with how the sequel is turning out. A makeover of the first book could lead to better things in the other planned books.
Con - If I had gone the traditional publishing route, a rewrite would be unnecessary.
Pro - I still hold creative control over my work, and I appreciate the flexibility to have the option to improve it.

I could go on. I'm going to ponder this some more and get back to other, unrelated works that are in-progress.

I would love to know your opinion(s) in the comments section.

What\'s Going On?
It has been far too long since I have updated what has been going on. What has been going on?That\'s enough for now. Remind me to tell you next time about my name tag.


Author : More information about Douglas Schwartz
Fiction : A list of the stories by Douglas Schwartz
Store : Where you can buy the books.
Extras : Additional miscellaneous stuff (interviews, art, etc.)
Reviews : Book reviews for Checkered Scissors and other works.
Karma : A few different ways this one author tries to help his author peers.
Return to the main Text-version of the Checkered Scissors site
Return to the UI-version of the Checkered Scissors site.