Take That Leap

From the time I was a child, I thought it would be so cool to celebrate something on February 29. Birthdays, anniversaries — imagine having them roll around every four years or so like the summer or winter Olympics or the presidential election:

I’m 12 leap years old today! (That’s 48 regular years.)

We’ve been married for 10 leap years. (That’s 40 years.)

Alas, it was not meant to be. So, instead, I like to use February 29 as a day to look at my life and ask myself, “Have you taken any leaps in the last four years? In your career? In your personal life?”

My answer to that question is usually yes — or at least I aim for it to be. At the end of December, I took a literal leap when I went ziplining for the first time with my family in Cancun, Mexico, but really when I’m talking about is taking a leap of faith: having the courage to embark on something when you’re not sure how things are going to turn out or how that journey is going to end.

I’ve always believed in challenging myself to do better, be better — a little something I picked up from my mom — and to do that you need to (if I may quote Col. Nathan R. Jessup from A Few Good Men) “roll the dice and take your chances.” If you succeed, your world will have grown and you will have grown right along with it. If you fail, you will have learned a little something from the experience, so that you can try again next time.

A win-win.

A colleague and friend called me this morning to ask my advice about whether or not she should embark on a new project, never having done that particular type of work before. Without hesitation, I answered, “Of course.”

It has been said that every journey begins with a first step. As far as I’m concerned, why not make it a leap?

Have you taken any leaps in the last four years? In your career? In your personal life?

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My Writering Hole

I’ve been hammering out the last third of the sequel to Baby Grand for the past few weeks at Panera Bread (which is one of my favorite places to write, not only for the free WiFi, but for the rockin’ Mediterranean Veggie sandwich) and have found myself gravitating toward one particular two-person booth — one that’s close enough to the ice machine for when I’m thirsty and far enough from the front door that I don’t catch pneumonia. I always sit on the same side, so that I can face the restaurant and people-watch. I consider it my spot (God help anyone who sits there!), my home away from home, the place where the words flow as smoothly as the turkey chili. Do you have a writering hole?

Sequel Hell

Where have I been? In sequel hell, that’s where. I’m about two-thirds of the way done with the sequel to Baby Grand, and overall, the writing has come fast and loose (although frequently interrupted by my day job), but with anxiety and trepidation. Writing a sequel is such a delicate balance of satisfying the fans of Baby Grand, who expect bigger and better of their sequels (as they should!), and making sure things are clear and understandable to those readers who choose to bypass the original book and plunge right into the sequel (if you’re like me, you have on occasion picked up the third or fourth book in a series and have been completely lost — it’s not fun). That means I spend most days wondering if I’m explaining too much, or not enough. It’s ugly, and I’ve been eating way too many Dark Chocolate Raisinets. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. And my calorie count.

New Year, Same Me. And That’s Okay.

7K0A0223[1]What is it about a new year that makes people rush to the gym, throw out the stuff in their fridge and replace it with everything organic, or plunge into a new novel with wild abandon?

I’m exhausted just writing that.

Of course, all of these actions are admirable. But if there’s one thing I learned, it’s this:

  • I am the same me on January 1 that I was on December 31.
  • Improving, getting better, learning from mistakes, finding new solutions, being a better person is great, but it can happen any day, at any moment, not once a year.

I think we have a tendency to use January 1 as a springboard for strict or short goals, a once-and-for-all kind of objective, and then when we don’t meet those goals, we think of ourselves as failures. And that’s unfair to us.

My advice to you this year is to try not to put too much pressure on yourself. Set a reasonable goal. Or two. Or three. Work hard. I mean, work really hard — not like when my kids say “I’m trying my best” when they know that they’re not. Go after whatever it is you want. Go get it. I truly believe you can. But give yourself a break if you stumble. You’re only human, after all. Just get back up and try again tomorrow instead of waiting for the next January 1.

12/13/14

I just couldn’t let this date pass without a quick mention. I agree that it’s pretty darn cool to have our months, days, and years (in America, of course) line up nicely — it serves as a reminder of how chaotic life is and how we should take a moment (in this case, 24 hours) to appreciate these quirky little patterns that happen to come our way and slip into place on occasion. Like how you break for lunch and notice the time is 12:34 p.m. Or when your day couldn’t get any worse, and you look at the clock to see it’s 3:33 p.m., and 3 happens to be your favorite number! Or your wedding song comes on the radio when you and your spouse are in a heated argument. Or how just when you’re about to give up writing your novel because you can’t solve a plot knot and the answer comes to you in a heated flash while you’re driving to the supermarket — aha! Think of the world as all sorts of spinning circles — the circle of life; the revolution of the planets; the way the water swirls down the drain; merry-go-rounds and Ferris wheels; the passing of the years, January to January, and remember that every now and then those circles intersect just long enough to make us pause, to stop and think, Wow, isn’t that cool? That alone is worth smiling about today. So happy 12/13/14! I hope it’s a great one. :)

Judging a Person by her Cover

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking about journalism ethics at the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island. The topic of my presentation was “The Changing Face of News: Where Have All the Journalists Gone?” (When I decided on the topic, I had no idea that journalism and journalism standards would be such a hot topic in the news this week: The events in Ferguson, Missouri. The chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island. The Rolling Stone article about the young woman who had been reportedly raped at the University of Virginia—and the sudden backing away of Rolling Stone from the article.)

I had never been to the Ethical Humanist Society before, and I felt so at home there — such nice people and such a nice feeling of community. I was introduced to many people before I was asked to come to the podium and was struck by how learned and accomplished the crowd was (no pressure, Dina!). As I spoke, I thought things were going pretty well. I glanced around the room and thought attendees seemed to be enjoying the discussion and were engaged and interested.

Afterwards, several people approached me to tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation, which is always nice, but I particularly remember one woman, a tiny little thing, maybe in her sixties, who excused her way up to the front of the room to tell me:

“I truly enjoyed your presentation.”

“Thank you,” I said.

It looked like she had more on her mind. “I have to say,” she continued, “when I met you earlier…”

She struggled for the words, but I had a feeling I knew what she was going to say, because I had heard it many times before.

“…when I met you, I thought you were so sweet and…well, I have to say your youthful appearance and manner truly belies the mature, well-spoken, and accomplished woman you are with many years of experience.” She saw me smile. “You’ve heard this before, haven’t you?”

“Yes,” I said. “Many times.”

Have YOU ever been under-estimated? How did it make you feel?

3 Reasons Why Authors Should Care About Editing

In my How to Self-Publish Your Book continuing ed. class at Hofstra University, I talk about the importance of editing. Occasionally, I’ll have a student in class argue that writers don’t have to care about editing, since chances are they’re going to hand off their manuscripts to an editor — content editor, line editor, or copy editor — at some point before the publication of their novel anyway. So why spend the time worrying about stuff that you pay others to fix?

I’ll tell you why:

1. Knowing how to edit makes you a better writer. This is, by far, the most important reason to care about editing. As a writer, editing should be part of your process. (Personally, I’ll finish a chapter or two during a writing session, and the first part of my next writing session is spent going over what I have written during the previous one.) Editing, or “pruning,” as one of my current students calls it, helps us tighten our text and focus our ideas. It helps flag misspelled words or clunky sentence structure. And, as I like to say, the “magic” of writing is often in the editing — it’s during my revisions that I discover texture and nuance, because I am freed from the stress of just getting the plot down. As you edit, your story begins to take shape. Imagine a lump of clay that is molded into something beautiful bit by bit — a squeeze here, a pull there. With writing, it’s no different.

2. Knowing how to edit will save you money. Some editors work by the hour. And some of the good ones will charge you more than $100 per hour. If you hand them a cleaner manuscript, that’s fewer hours of work for them, and higher bank account balances for you.

3. Knowing how to edit will make you a better marketer. When it comes time to promote your work, you may be called upon to do quite a bit of writing: blog posts, written interviews, etc. Cleaner text = More powerful text. And more powerful text can lead to more sales.

Can you think of any other reasons why authors should know how to edit? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.