Friday, July 29, 2011

Networking and the Single Writer

There is a truth that we writers can't ignore: We need to network effectively if we want to be successful. If we fail to network, we're going to be alone. Single. And that's something we can't afford, because writing is not done in a vacuum. 

There's a little maxim, or mantra, that I live and work by. The purpose of writing ... get ready for it ... is to communicate.

"No kidding, Sherlock," you say, because this fact seems so obvious, no one should have to say it. Right?

Trust me, you do have to say it. There are some quote-unquote "writers" out there who don't seem to care about their readers, or their fellow writers, for that matter. They tell you what's wrong with your writing, but won't hear a critique of their own. They talk about themselves ad infinitum but won't sit still to listen to a mere two or three sentences about someone else's project. They don't chat with anyone on Twitter; they only share links to their work.

They don't understand that writing is a two-way street.

That's not the attitude of a true writer. The real writers are the ones who listen as well as talk, and who think about audience all the time because they know the secret. Writing is a two-way street. You're not supposed to be alone in the process. And you are never alone in the product, because when all is said and done, whatever you've written has a reader at the end of it. That precious reader brings his or her own thoughts, opinions, ideas, insights, values, questions, experience, and outlook to whatever you've written.

The reader shares in the creation of your work by interpreting it. And thank God for that, because communication doesn't happen if someone isn't reading, listening, and responding.

Can you see how that relates to networking? Networking is also a form of communicating, and it's crucial to us. It brings us readers, yes, and influencers who can help us bring our writing to others. But networking also brings us people who will help us to grow and think, and we can help them grow and think in return.

Give and take.

Now, it's not always easy to create aflow of giving and taking. It takes effort. It takes time, because relationships don't grow on trees; they're made. You have to craft them, like Michelangelo carving marble. It's an art.

It takes thought. Especially if you, like me, are introverted by nature. I genuinely like other people. They fascinate me. But I'm not a natural extrovert, so when I network, I need to set aside time for it and plan how to do it. Sometimes I'm better at it than others. Sometimes I fall flat on my face. But I get back up with one thought in mind: What might be interesting and useful and encouraging to the people I'm communicating with? Because networking is about the other person more than it is about you. A radical notion. But true.

Even if you're more naturally extroverted than I am, building a meaningful network of friends, colleagues, and readers who give and take with you is going to require some thinking on your part, some planning, and some empathy.

It also takes commitment. It takes sitting down and building a meaningful network on Twitter, Facebook, your blog, and everywhere else you are connected to others. Not just on the Internet either. This also applies to the times you're there in person with others. You find meaningful connections when your network is made up of people who add to your world and whose world you can add to in return. Give and take.

Networking means being generous and considering others, not just yourself. Remember, you are not single anymore; you're part of a community

It involves a balancing act. For me, the challenge comes in balancing a day job, freelancing, teaching, a blog, and a novel-in-progress, Facebook, Twitter, writing groups... Oh, and family and friends too, who may need me to be there for their surgery, their divorce, their job frustrations. You know, the normal stuff.

No doubt you have a balancing act of your own that requires just as much thought and skill to manage as mine does. And that's okay. It's important to find the balance as we live our lives, meet our obligations, and build networks that mean something. We can do it as long as we remember, we are not meant to be alone. Not in writing. Not in life.

Life is about others, just as much as it is about ourselves. It's a two-way street, just like writing. And that's how we should approach networking. Or we're just going to be the single, lonely person in the room that no one really wants to talk to.

Your thoughts? Share them below.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cheeze-Its Are Out to Get Me

It started when I was just a wee child, on my mother's knee. She fed me delicious cheese, and I was hooked. I quickly became a junkie...provolone, mozzarella, muenster... It didn't matter, so long as it was cheese.

It wasn't long before I graduated to cheesy snack items, like Doritos and Cheetos. But when I met the Cheeze-It cracker, a devastating love affair began, filled with obsession, longing, secret meetings, and eating of whole boxes at one sitting.

Yes, I admit it. I'm addicted to Cheeze-It crackers.
I try to avoid them, but it's impossible. They line up, box by box, along the shelves of the grocery store in a riotous variety of flavors that I can't ignore. They lurk on the aisle endcaps, forcing me to notice their svelte orange-red cardboard, their jaunty crackers dancing on their box fronts, and their yummy cheddar hunks, tempting me with tasty goodness.

How can I resist?

Oh, I wish I could place the blame elsewhere. On MSG, say. But Cheeze-Its don't contain MSG. They aren't made with addictive food additives. It's just the cheese...the darned, tasty, irresistible cheese! And I can't say no.

Even their ads are charmingly enticing. How devious! I can't turn away from the mix of charm and humor that says, "You want me, baby. You know you want me."

And I do. I yearn for Cheeze-It crackers, like the deserts yearn for rain. It's embarrassing and humbling. And it's hard to admit. But for my own recovery as a cheese addict, I have to tell you about it. Maybe one day, I will live in a world free of temptation.

But until then, I'll have to put the Cheeze-Its back on the shelf, and buy something else.

Like Cadbury milk chocolate bars. Because chocolate is good for me. Right?

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Mention: George R. R. Martin

If you’re a writer—not just a fantasy writer, but anyone who wants to study someone who is doing things well—then you need to read a little George R. R. Martin.

Now, admittedly, you might not read a lot of him. After all, his fifth book in the A Song of Fire and Ice series clocks in at nearly a thousand pages, and he’s not even done telling the story yet. I can see how you might not have time for that.

But it is worth it to pick up one of his books to study two things: character development, and scene writing. Martin is excellent at both of these important tools in the author’s craft. His characters stand out as unique and believable people, and that’s a feat, given that there are so many characters whose stories are being told in these books. If you’re looking to learn about how to write different characters inhabiting a fantasy milieu, Martin is someone to study and consider.

The other thing that Martin does well is craft a scene that holds your attention from beginning to end. This is particularly noticeable in the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, which has the advantage of being new and driven toward action and character development to hook readers for future books.

But it’s also noticeable at the start and end of each chapter. Martin usually starts off with a sentence that grips you, and usually ends at a mini-cliffhanger to keep you reading. In his case, this is essential to his structure. He switches from viewpoint to viewpoint, and tells the overall story from at least ten characters, and this number grows as you go on further in the series. It’s a bit overwhelming, and the only way to keep a reader going is to make each chapter a scene with punch. Martin for the most part does this consistently.

For those of you who read but don’t write, Martin is a mixed bag to recommend. I personally enjoyed A Game of Thrones greatly. It’s fantasy, but told very realistically, as though it’s an in-depth look at what life is like in medieval Europe and the Near East. A lot of the characters are likeable, and those who aren’t likeable are at least understandable. No one is a full hero, or a complete bad guy. Instead, they’re real people with a mix of admirable qualities, brutal failings, and wounded parts.

As I’ve gone further in the series though, I’ve been reminded why I gave up on reading fantasy series years ago. The fifth book is sitting on my chair at home. As I said, its nearly a thousand pages. And the first chapter (aka prologue) starts with a character Ive never heard of. But who wants something new, especially now? I want to see how this story ends, and I wonder if Martin and I will ever get there.

A Song of Fire and Ice was originally pitched to publishers as a trilogy. Now, though, Martin is five books in, and probably won’t finish the story for at least three more books. An octology? Octet? Octopus? It is certainly starting to feel like an octopus of a story, with so many arms that I’m getting a little weary. I suspect there are some readers who feel the same, but many others love Martin now as much as ever.

So, should you read Martin or not? This is definitely a personal decision for you to make. How much time are you willing to commit to reading a series? Does it bother you to read novel after novel without an ending in sight? If so, then Martin's a no.  But if you are willing to commit to a series that is still being written, you should give Martin a try. He’s definitely one of the better writers on the fantasy shelves.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Muse and Movement (aka, Why You Need to Exercise in More Ways Than One)

There is something about physical movement that helps your creative muse move on paper. This is a simple but profound truth to tap into if you are a writer or any other kind of artist. 

The reality for writers is that we can easily sit all day long. Well... Maybe not easily. Depends on the person, I suppose. But what I mean is that our creative endeavor finds us either curled up around a pen and paper, or gleefully hunched over a computer, tap-tap-tapping away at the keys. To write, you must sit. Sedentary. All the force going into transforming a concept from your brain into action in print.

Whatever you're writing...fiction, nonfiction...the words have to move. If you're telling a story...true, make-believe...your characters have to move. That's what action is. Poetry flows (or moves). Prose has a pace...slow or fast...but it is always in motion. That flow forward is what drives the reader onward. No flow, and you lose the reader. That's why there are plenty of resources on how to write action, or how to write scenes. Your writing has to go somewhere.

If you want to get that flow on the page to begin with, you have to move yourself as a writer. Yes, that means actually writing instead of dreaming about it, planning it, talking it over. Doing is a form of movement.

But you also need to move physically. There is something about physical movement that gets your brain going and starts the flow of ideas. I don't know why. I'm sure brain scientists can study it (and maybe they already have). But there is a connection between moving your body and creativity. 

I notice this for myself in two key ways: when I'm walking and taking in the scenery, and when I'm doing something meditative in motion, like yoga or Tai Chi. The combination of physical movement, along with allowing the brain to wander, does wonders for loosening up thoughts and freeing me up to write without hindrance. I've heard other writers say the same. There's just something about it.

It works.

How do you get yourself in motion, physically and on the writing page? Do you have a routine for beating writers block with movement? Maybe you've never tried this, and now you think you might. Or maybe you've found one type of exercise helps you, while another form does nothing at all for your creativity. Share your thoughts. I'd love to hear them. Let's all get moving together!

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Sleep-Deprived Have You in Their Sights

If someone you know isn’t getting enough sleep, don’t be sympathetic. Don’t offer to help. Don’t even talk to the person. Just back slowly out of the room and then run for the hills. Why? Because that person is looking for a target, and you don’t want it to be you.

This is the conclusion from a recent study of sleep-deprived college kids and how they mishandle everyday situations because they’re overtired.

If you’re thinking, “Wow, sounds like a group of college professors came up with that study,” you’re right. An associate professor of psychology at the University of Arkansas chaired the research.

As an adjunct professor of freshman composition myself, I can attest that this is only fitting. College students don’t get enough sleep. College students are frequently ornery. In fact, if I were doing the study myself, I probably would have investigated whether college students blame everyone else for their problems simply because they’re college students. (Perhaps I’ve taught too long.)

But someone else was in charge of the research, and he decided to focus on the lack of sleep as the reason (or excuse?) for bad boy and girl behavior.

The study’s results indicate that people who are sleep-deprived engage in what is called counterfactual thinking—thoughts that are simply untrue. Among laymen, of course, this is called delusional thinking. But that term is so critical, so harsh, so violence-provoking. Counterfactual sounds much fluffier, like a soft pillow and blanket.

And that’s what you want when you’re dealing with overtired people, because if you tick them off, they’re likely to take your head off.

As the authors of the study point out, you can expect far worse behavior than eye-rolling in the Wal-Mart line from people who are getting too little shut-eye. That cop pulling you over? If he’s overtired, he might nail you with a bigger ticket than usual. And if your boss is too sleepy at review time, you might be getting the boot instead of the corner office. All because of a lack of rest.

The study’s conclusion: You need to get enough sleep. I couldn’t agree more. Everyone knows that after lunch, you need a good snooze. Now, you can justify building that little bed nook under your desk, just like George Costanza did.

Maybe this study is even the answer to the zombie apocalypse. After all, if you’re a zombie, then you’re spending your time eating brains, moaning a lot, and lurching around parking lots with your arms out in front of you like Frankenstein. But when’s the last time you took a nap? Not since you were alive, right? No wonder zombies are so cranky and so determined to attack the living. They’re just not getting enough rest. That can be solved with sleeping pills and a good eye mask. Think about it.

But for the time-being, we can all expect people to continue to be sleep-deprived. Our culture encourages it. Employers don’t compensate for it. And the zombies don’t take meds. So, there’s only one real way to avoid becoming a target:

Sleep with one eye open.

For more on the actual sleep study, read about it here: Sleep Study

Copyright © 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday Mention: The Artist’s Way

Expand your creativity with Julia Cameron’s renowned book, The Artist’s Way. You won’t be disappointed.

Do you feel your creativity is slammed up against a brick wall and going nowhere fast? You’re not alone. And you’re not stuck permanently either. There’s a great tool to help you take down the wall, brick by brick, so you can fly forward as an artist. It’s called The Artist’s Way, a 12-week personal, at-home workshop for identifying and being true to your inner artist.

Author Julia Cameron takes a tack on creativity that I absolutely love, and that has helped artists of all kinds clear their own personal stumbling blocks out of their way. She says, in essence, that you don’t have to “suffer” to be an artist. You don’t need to cultivate a drinking problem (I’m looking at you, Hemingway) or a drug problem. You don’t need to be a selfish, blocked artist taking out your anger and frustration on other, successful artists.

In other words, you can be well-adjusted and still be a good artist. Cameron argues, in fact, that when you get rid of your baggage, you will find it easier and better to make art. This is a groundbreaking idea in some ways, because it blows the conceit that only troubled people make good art right out of the water.

I’m among the many, many people who have found The Artist’s Way immensely helpful as I pursue writing a novel and maintaining this blog. Cameron’s book is filled with exercises, designed to be done weekly for a 12-week period. You can come back to the exercises as needed. And you can maintain the habit she recommends—writing 3 pages in the morning when you first wake up, about whatever is on your mind the moment you wake up—for the rest of your life.

If this sounds like something a therapist might ask you to do, you’re right; it is. But it’s a great way to get those heavy, weighing thoughts out of your mind and onto paper, where they fall into perspective. The morning pages are especially useful, as they’ll reveal to you what you have a tendency to think about. (I tend to whine about getting up when I want to stay in bed.) What’s great about this is that it helps you see thoughts that get you nowhere, so you can put them aside and decide that they don’t need to keep you from writing, painting, or otherwise creating and living.

Together with a commitment to write daily, The Artist’s Way has become a key to keeping me sitting at my computer working on my writing. And I can honestly say that pushing aside my own roadblocks has helped me to notice some of the more interesting things in my head…like tons of creative ideas for novels. I can live with that. I can create with that, actually.

Bottom line: If you are an artist with a tendency to hit blocks, The Artist’s Way is a worthy investment. It’s widely available. Visit Julia Cameron’s website for more information.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Writing and the Day Job

My day job is an occasional topic I cover on Twitter. As much as you can talk about anything in 140 characters or less, that is, which means one coherent, sentence-length complaint.

That sounds like I have only complaints for the day job, of course, but that's not true. My job not only pays the bills and then some, but it's also quite frequently fun. I like the people I work with. I travel to different countries, expenses paid. And I enjoy some great challenges to my creativity. Cool, right? Right. I love that.

The only thing I gripe about is the workload, and that's because I'm a writer, so I have a "second job." I like to call it my "real job" in my head, where I can also pretend I'm tall and rich. Imagination is a great thing. But as usual, I digress.

Back to my point: As a person who writes for her day job, I know that the more slammed I am at work, the less energy I find myself having for my personal writing. Or the less time to spare for it. I don't like that. But a lot of us have to deal with this exact scenario. In fact, a majority of writers find themselves working a day job and fitting their writing in some-when else.

There's plenty of advice out there for how to balance your personal writing and the job that pays the bills. I'll bet you've heard it too. Get up early and write. Stay up late and write. Write on the weekends. Write on your lunch break. Write when the boss isn't looking. And all that is true. (I'll leave it up to you to decide the ethics of writing when you're supposed to be working, but I've heard people say they do it. So there it is.)

Anyway, the real issue for me isn't finding the time. It's finding (or preserving) the necessary energy. I suspect others have this problem too, but it's especially hard when you write and edit all day long for someone else. When I get off work, I have to give myself time to switch gears and rest my brain before I can come back to my writing. There's no way around it.

What has helped me the most, I suppose, is recognizing that while I do need that brief rest period, I can't afford to let it go on too long. If I read a little too long, or get busy with errands or cleaning a little too much, before I know it, time has flown and I'm ready for bed. It's a careful balancing wire I have to walk: just enough time to recharge, and then get right back into the battle of my own novel. And even this blog.

(Sorry about the battle reference, by the way. I'm just finishing Jim Butcher's Changes. Talk about fight scenes galore. Great stuff. I'm still Harry Dresden in my head at the moment. Go go, Gadget wizard.)

Bottom line: Writing my own stuff is too important to me not to do it. But writing for the day job is necessary to pay the bills. So the give-and-take in those two arenas for my brain's creativity is going to have to go on. It's all worth it. But some days it slows me down. Like today. Which is why this blog post is a little later in the day than I'd like. (About 12 hours later, to be honest.)

But... It's up. Because I am more than a gal who writes for her day job. I am a writer, period. I am the Chipper Muse. Hear me roar.

(Do chipper lions roar, by the way? Or only angry ones? I don't know. But it still adds up for the word count, doesn't it?)

How do you balance your day job and your personal writing? And if you write for your day job, like I do, what helps you recharge your creative juices? Share, share, share...

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Being Nice? It May Cost You

Remember when you were a kid, and your parents told you to "be nice?" Maybe you were supposed to "be nice" to your younger brother and let him tag along with you and your friends. Or maybe you needed to "be nice" to the other kids in your class, even though they were jerks who didn't pick you for their kickball team. Whatever the case may have been, the bottom line was: You needed to be nice.

Well, I'm here today to tell you, you don't always have to be nice. It's overrated.

I hear your protests: "What? How can you say that? It's so un-Christian. And it's so...mean." Yes, yes it is. But here is the reality of the world we live in. We can't always be nice.

There is experiential proof of this. Just consider the guy who caught the baseball from Derek Jeter's 3,000 home run hit. He was a nice guy who gave the ball back to Jeter and the Yankees without charging them a million dollars for it in a sale that would have been totally legitimate, because the ball became his property as soon as he grabbed it in the stands. He could have sold that ball on Ebay. But he didn't. He gave it back. And because he was nice, the Yankees gave him some good seats to their games, for which Mr. Nice Guy now owes the IRS taxes for being nice.

There is also scientific proof, called Game Theory. That's the idea, proven with experiments, that you get the most benefit from any system when you are occasionally generous, mixed in with mostly giving other people back what they give to you. In other words, if you're too nice, eventually you get tagged for it.

Now, I'm not saying that you should never be nice. That's silly. But it is a good idea to figure out what it actually means to be nice to begin with.

Believe it or not, that's a contested term. Nice. What does that really mean? Well, you can look it up online and get advice on how to be nice. You'll be told to smile, say hello, ask others how they're doing, listen to them, and offer help when you can. I wouldn't call this being nice. I'd call this being respectful. And I can tell you that I've met many people, Christian and otherwise, who fail mightily on this front.

But we're not here to talk about respect today. We're talking about being nice. And I suspect that the real definition of being nice is to overlook wrong things. That is something we should do...sometimes. But other times, you can't overlook the wrong thing. Sometimes, you have to address it. That's the key. Figure out when to be nice and overlook a wrong thing, and figure out when to be "not nice" and let the other person have it.

Sure, that sounds mean, especially if you're used to being nice. But I'm telling you, it can pay off to address problems, even if people tell you "it's not nice." In fact, there's plenty of evidence that being nasty is to your benefit. The point is that it's possible to be too nice... When you can't say no, when you let people walk all over you, when you apologize for something that isn't your fault, you've passed the boundaries of rational niceness and entered the realm of being a doormat. And that's the time to stand up and push back.

If you don't stand up and push back, you're going to get steamrolled. And that kind of experience definitely is not nice. You won't like it. And you can refuse it. That doesn't make you mean. It makes you sane. And when you make good choices, you can genuinely be nice when the situation truly warrants that behavior from you. You deserve it to be nice only at the right times, and never at the wrong times. And so does everyone else around you. So go ahead, be a little less nice than you usually are. You'll be glad you did.

How do you feel about it? I know this is a controversial opinion. You can disagree if you like. Or maybe you agree. Let me know. Be honest. But don't expect me to be "nice" about it. Heh heh heh.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Mention: Global Table Adventure

“Visiting the world via stovetop.”

That’s how Sasha Martin describes her admirable effort to cook a meal for each country of the world. When finally complete, Sasha’s kitchen-centered journey will have taken her and her blog readers to 195 countries, for 195 meals, in 195 weeks.

Sasha’s journey is all the more admirable when you know that she is doing it all from the food-forsaken land of Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Tulsa is not known for its rich variety of cuisine, I can attest to that.) Finding ingredients for each dish can prove a challenge, but Sasha makes it work, which is quite a feat.

Following the blog is definitely educational. And sure to make your tummy growl. On Tuesdays, Sasha overviews the cuisine of the country she’s going to cover that week. She describes her planned menu on Wednesday (including the recipes in case you want them). Then she looks closely at the technique for making a specific dish on Thursday, followed on Friday with facts about the country of the week. She then cooks the meal, tests it on her family, and reports the results on Monday before launching into the next country’s cuisine.

Already, Sasha’s blog should sound intriguing to you. But if you’re not convinced yet, allow me to tempt you with two things that make this blog extra unique: the fabulous photography, and the video of Sasha’s toddler daughter sampling foods from around the world. There’s a lot of fun to be had exploring the recipes by food type (breakfast, sweets, drinks, carbs, and more). And if you have special dietary needs, like vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, Sasha offers alternatives and recommendations for you.

All in all, Global Table Adventure is a fun, well-rounded, artful, and tasty food blog. Visit it at Be sure to tell Sasha I sent you. I met her at a Tulsa Bloggers Meetup last year, and I can tell you, she is super. And so is her blog. You’ll be glad you checked it out.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Writing With Your Friends in the Room

Well, maybe this post should actually be titled, "Writing With Your Friends Outside, Humoring You While You Sit Inside Writing." Because that's what happened this weekend. My roommate and I invited a mutual friend over for an impromptu cookout. I prepped my part of the meal. Then I sat down to write and got into an unexpected groove, just as the mutual friend showed up.

Uh oh. Not exactly polite.

Creativity is a pain in the rear-end sometimes, I tell you. It's hard to train yourself to discipline that muse to show up within the right hours of the day. She's fickle, fiercely independent, and argumentative. So when she shows up and cooperates by giving me a flow of writing, I don't like to turn her down.

Thank goodness my two friends humored me the other day. They lit the grill, prepped the steaks, and chatted while I finished typing up the scene I had in my head. Of course, I knocked out the writing fast, so I could eat and chat for the rest of the evening, muse-free.

But I've never been in that situation before: hit by inspiration in the midst of a "party." How about you? Have you ever faced a similar situation? What did you do about it? I'm curious, and I want to hear about it from you!

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

If you are a Christian, or if you are interested in the least little bit about religion and spirituality, I have important news for you:

You need to visit CNN once in a while.

More specifically, you need to read CNN's Belief Blog, a fascinating and highly informative look at what is going on in our world...spiritually speaking.

Let's start with 10 Things CNN's Belief Blog Has Learned. This list is the reason you need to read the Belief Blog on a regular basis. Number one on the list: Every story has a faith angle. Number five: It's impossible to fully understand the news without knowing something about religion.

That's true. If you want to be informed, you need to understand different religions and religious trends. CNN is offering you that information. Take advantage of it.

Here's another reason to read the Belief Blog: 

You get articles like Rick Warren's take on the church's effectiveness in handling HIV/AIDS. Warren is the author of the wildly popular book, The Purpose Driven Life. The article he wrote for the Belief Blog focuses on why the church is the best weapon against HIV/AIDS, and not for the reasons you may think. His thoughts will challenge how much you're willing to go out of your comfort zone to truly help other people.

And one more reason to check out the Belief Blog: 

It covers everything. All religions, even those who have no religion. All areas of news, from politics to culture, science to opinion. All things are open season. And that will challenge your faith, your reasons for believing what you believe, and the way you think about the world you live in.

Yes, that's a good thing. It strengthens your understanding of what you believe and what you value. At the same time, it helps you communicate with those who don't believe the same as you. What an advantage this gives you in the world.

So, give the Belief Blog a chance. And then stop back here to share what you think. I'd love to hear your opinion.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Monday Mention: The Napkin Dad

Fun on a napkin? And philosophy too? Yes. It's all at The Napkin Dad...a guy who, you know, draws art on napkins and stuff.

I am not an artist. Oh, I like to draw and doodle. I enjoy painting pottery at those pottery painting places you see around town. I'm just not particularly strong at the visual arts. 

But I love looking at artworks, and I admire those who make them, because I know it's a gift. And part of an artist's talents lie not only in what he does, but in how he chooses to do it...technique, style, medium.

Enter the Napkin Dad.

Yes, he's a dad. Yes, he draws on napkins. His work is full of color and passion, very thoughtful, usually with a lesson or a word of wisdom. It's not that he's preachy. Rather, he developed his technique as a way to connect with his daughters on a daily basis and pursue his art at the same time. And since he's a dad, he used the napkins as a little educational tool too.

Extremely creative! And fun!

And yes, he's a nice guy too. I met him at a local bloggers meet-up, and he kindly let us hold his delicate artwork in our hands as he explained the origins of his artwork.

Check him out at The Napkin Dad's website. If you like what you see, consider buying some of his merchandise. And tell him The Chipper Muse sent you. 

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Flying By the Seat of My Pants

Are you a discovery writer, or a planner? That is the question. Whether tis nobler to suffer... Well, I won't quote Hamlet any further, but you get my drift. The question of whether to outline or not to outline is the philosophical heart of many a writers conference, class, or debate.

My answer to that age-old conundrum is simple enough: Why not do both? When you're ready, that is.

I say this because I tend to start out my projectswhether personal fiction, the blog, or my day job fundraising/PR copywriting—as a "pantser" (as in, I fly by the seat of my pants). Some people prefer to call this discovery writing, because you're discovering your plan as you go along.

Discovery writing (or writing without an outline) seems very dangerous to some writers. But I'll tell you this: Michelangelo was a pantser. Or at least, he claimed he was. He claimed the statue was already hidden within the marble slab, and he just had to carve off the excess, unneeded stone to get to the statue inside. That's pantser talk.

But Michelangelo also honed his skills with drawings of the human form. So he had an idea in his head of what he liked before he ever took chisel to marble. And that's how I start out too. This post, for instance—I knew I wanted to write about discovery writing versus outline writing. And I have opinions about the topic. Now they are spilling out. But I wasn't planning to write about Michelangelo. I guess he was just hovering within the keyboard, ready to be typed out onto the page, like his statues awaited to be released from the marble slab.

Being a pantser is a sensible approach for blogging. But when it comes to longer works, like a novel, it helps to have a road map. I'm growing much more appreciative of the idea of outlines for longer projects. But an outline doesn't have to contain every detail. And you can begin writing your novel, even without an outline. In fact, I recommend it.

Why? Simply put, discovery writing in the beginning of a project can help you unearth the ideas that are buried in your subconscious (like statues buried in marble, right?). You can play a little bit, get yourself in a flow, and have fun with your ideas before you buckle down to carve them into a genuine work of art.

Discovery writing also works great when you have an idea for a scene and you want to commit it to paper before you forget it. If you try to plan it out first, the scene may dissolve. So start typing. But be warned: your conscious mind may not pick up on all the hints your subconscious is dropping as it writes. So share the scene with your writing critique group or some good alpha and beta readers. See what they have to say about it.

I did that with a friend recently. The scene was a simple drive in the car between two key characters, engaged in conversation. My friend asked a totally brilliant question about what was happening to one of the characters. I said, "Huh? Wha? What do you mean?" Then I read the scene to myself and I realized my friend was right. I was dropping hints to lead her to a conclusion about that character and what was going to happen to him. And here's the coolest partthat conclusion was brilliant! It was going to add tension and raise the stakes of my story. What a smart subconscious I have!

Imagine if I had tried to outline and plan that scene. It wouldn't have worked, because I didn't have that idea for raising the stakes in my conscious brain, where I could see it. It was hiding in the well of creativity, and needed to be coaxed out with a game of hide-and-seek. Thank goodness I pantsed the heck out of that scene. Now I have a brilliant, workable twist to add to my novel.

But now that I have that twist in mind, I can plan for it. That's where the planning, outlining part comes in. I've discovered something through writing I've already done, and it will help me plan for writing I haven't done yet. I think this is why some wise writers talk about allowing room for our writing to be organic. Too much rigid outlining, and your subconscious may lose its voice. Not enough planning, and you may never actually finish your novel.

So don't choose one or the other. Do both. Play with the mix until you find what works for you. And write, write, write!

Oh, and tell me how you approach your writing? Are you a pantser or a planner? Do you do both, like I do? What works best for you?

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.