Sunday, March 31, 2013

Liebster Award Continued: Thoughts on Blogging

Last week I wrote about how honored I was to receive the Liebster Award for worthwhile blogs with fewer than 200 followers.

This week I have chosen bloggers I am nominating for the Liebster Award. They are all blogs by writers. They all have interesting points-of-view and are well worth getting to know.

In no particular order, they are:
As I said last week, there are responsibilities attached to this award. Each honored blogger must:

  • Thank the one who nominated him/her and leave a link to the nominator's blog.
  • Display the Liebster Award button on their website.
  • Answer 11 questions which I will pose.
  • List 11 random facts about themselves.
  • Nominate 11 deserving bloggers with fewer than 200 followers.
  • Inform the winners on their blog without leaving a link to his/her own blog.
Here are the questions I want each winner to answer:
  1. Why did you begin blogging?
  2. How long have you been a writer?
  3. What is your favorite blog besides your own?
  4. Where do you do your best thinking?
  5. Where do you do your best writing?
  6. How do you handle writer's block?
  7. Can people be taught to write?
  8. How much outlining do you do before beginning to write?
  9. Do you prefer reading fiction or nonfiction?
  10. Who (or what) are your greatest influences?
  11. If you could interview anyone, who would it be?
WHAT MAKES A GOOD BLOG?
  • Interesting, informative content.
  • Writing that is clear, precise and economical.
  • Consciousness of what readers want/need to know.
  • Thought-provoking questions.
I've noticed something as I've searched for blogs to honor. Many writers create blogs  that are so personal and idiosyncratic, they are more journal than blog. 

Do they really believe their personal thoughts and feelings are that interesting?

In general, our personal struggles are only interesting if  others see themselves in them. 

Struggling writers find the struggles of other writers interesting only when they are relevant to them!

Frankly, I don't care if you had a bad day and couldn't get anything done. Or if your dog ate your manuscript. Or if your kids missed the school bus. Those kinds of things happen to me too. To all of us, in fact.

You can make me care by making me laugh at your plight--and by extension my own--or if you tell me how you got out of your difficulties so I can apply the same wisdom to my own situation, or if you got up the next day and started all over again so I can see that perseverance  pays off.

But, in general bemoaning difficulties does not engender interesting blog posts.

Do you disagree? Have you found personal blogs that you love? What are they? What do you love about them?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Liebster Award


I just received the Liebster Award from Ryshia Kennie who writes a blog about writing entitled Once Upon a Time.

The award is given to interesting and valuable blogs with under 200 followers. I am honored to be a recipient. So thanks Ryshia for thinking of me. You can find Ryshia's wonderful blog at http://ryshia.blogspot.ca. Check it out.

Check it out.

As a Liebster Award Winner, I get to display the Liebster Award button on my blog.

But that's not all. Being a Liebster Award winner also entails certain obligations. I have to answer eleven questions Ryshia sent me. I also have to list eleven random facts about myself. So here goes, starting with Ryshia's questions.

1)  If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?
      Right here in San Luis Obispo, CA, I think. Unimaginative, I know, but I really love it here.

2)  What are you reading right now?
      Adyashanti's Emptiness Dancing. I am also reading Small Kindnesses by Fiona Robyn.

3)  What do you love about blogging?
      I love the opportunity to explore my thoughts about the writing process. I love getting comments.

4)  What would you rather have, a dog or a cat?
      A dog. I have three!

5)  Have you ever been lost?
     When I was a child I got lost all the time. I have a fear of getting lost.

6)  What's your favourite colour?
      Aquamaraine blue

7)  Coke or pepsi?
     It used to be Pepsi. Now it's Coke. Don't know why my taste changed.

8)  How long have you been blogging?
      Since July, 2012.

9)  What's the worst thing a stylist has ever done to your hair?
     Cut it so short I had to cover my head with a scarf.

10) Would you ever jump from a plane?
       Absolutely not! Do I look insane?

11) There's a storm coming in - which would you prefer, rain or snow?
       Snow for the silence of it and because it transforms the world.



Now for eleven random facts about myself:

  1. I exercise every day to stay in shape.
  2. I meditate every day to improve my spiritual connection.
  3. Fall is my favorite season.
  4. I love shopping.
  5. I worry too much.
  6. I watch reality shows on TV.
  7. If I could, I'd eat sweets all day long.
  8. I read incessantly and have since I was a child.
  9. I love Paris.
  10. My favorite movie is Sunset Boulevard.
  11. I had a crush on Frank Sinatra when I was a kid.
There is one other "catch" for recipients of the Liebster Award: we must find eleven deserving blogs to nominate. Since Ryshia has  provided only one criterion--that the blog must have fewer than 200 followers--I'm on my own to develop the criteria I will use to select great blogs. So here is the list I came up with. To be nominated for a Liebster, blogs must:

  • Be well-written and entertaining.
  • Discuss writing and the writing process.
  • Offer a distinct point-of-view and have a distinct voice.
  • Provide useful insights, information, tips or suggestions.
  • Avoid too much self-promotion.
Here are some "nice-to-haves":
  • Humor
  • Personal anecdotes
  • Plenty of "white space" making the blog easy to read.
If you think your blog meets these criteria or know of a blog that does, send me the link. I will be actively searching for blogs to nominates for at least the next week.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What Our Writing Says About Us

When we write we expose ourselves.

Writers who write "confessionals" or autobiographies already know this. They consciously choose to present themselves to the world. Of course, when they write directly about themselves, they get to pick and choose what they reveal. They get to manage the readers' impressions of them.

But even we fiction writers tell readers a lot  about ourselves whether we mean to or not. It's in
  • What we choose to write about.
  • How our characters think, feel, and behave.
  • Whether the ending is happy, sad, horrifying or depressing.
  • Whether the world we present is a good or a bad place to live in.
This is, perhaps, obvious when it comes to general or literary fiction. When we don't work within a genre we get to create a fictional world that operates however we want it to. Our characters can be good, evil, or a mixture of both. They can be motivated by fear, love, envy, hatred, lust, ambition or greed. The environment in which they move can be dangerous, threatening, boring, peaceful, competitive, energizing, joyful or stressful. The problems we give them to wrestle with can be easy to solve, challenging to deal with, or impossible to overcome. And, of course, our plot can take any form at all. We are limited only by the breadth of our imagination.

You might argue that novels by great writers achieve a universality that makes the personality, concerns, quirks and interests of the author irrelevant. This is true, of course. 

It really doesn't matter what Tolstoy cared about when we read War and Peace. What matters is that we are swept away, inspired. 

It is completely unimportant what personal demons Mark Twain may have had to wrestle with when we read Huckleberry Finn, What matters is the humanity of the characters and how we empathize with them.

Nevertheless, the novels tell us that Tolstoy was deeply concerned with philosophical and spiritual issues about how to live a good life and that Mark Twain was heavily invested in exposing the hypocrisies and social mores of his time.

The themes we choose and the way we handle them say a great deal about us.

But what about genre writers? Don't they follow a formula laid down for them long before they ever begin to write? And isn't that formula completely irrelevant to who they are as people?

Yes and no. I believe the very act of choosing the genre tells us a great deal about the writer. 

EVEN IF SHE THINKS SHE'S CHOOSING IT BECAUSE IT'S POPULAR WITH READERS!

A romance--and I would argue that Fifty Shades of Grey and it's sequels is a romance dressed up for modern readers--demands a feisty heroine, and a dangerous, dark stranger who both attracts and  scares the heroine with a love which she first resists but ultimately surrenders to, and, in so doing, finds lasting happiness. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: YOU CAN'T WRITE A SUCCESSFUL ROMANCE UNLESS YOU BELIEVE IN ITS PREMISES.

The so-called cozy mystery is another example.  These are mysteries, often English and often set in small villages, where the writer exposes the personality quirks of the characters in the process of solving a murder mystery. Although the murder is a horrifying event, the characters are understandable and mostly sympathetic. The world of the cozy mystery is benign, and the author's goal is to expose the variations and complexities of human nature. Evil may be present but it is overcome.  Louise Penny's novels are examples. I believe that writers of cozy mysteries believe in the benevolent universe of these novels. If they didn't, they would write something else.

So think about your own writing. What draws you? What kind of people populate your stories? Is the world of your story a good place or a bad place?

Who knows: maybe you can learn as much about yourself from looking at the stories you write as you could ever learn by keeping a journal!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Transformations

This weekend I went on a spiritual retreat. We spent much of our time in meditation when we weren't receiving teachings. The retreat was restorative for a number of reasons. For one thing, it brought me back to a peaceful space I haven't experienced in some time. For another, it inspired me to return to practices that I once followed daily but which I have let slide for the last couple of years.

Most importantly, though, the weekend brought me back to the most fundamental of all spiritual "knowings", and that is the sacredness of existence in all its forms and permutations. For at the heart of all existence is a compassionate awareness which some call God, others call Buddha nature, and still others call atman. And, no matter how life may beat us down, turn us ugly, or make us callous, that shining, sacred, unchangeable heart of love and compassion can be aroused under the right circumstances.

Coincidentally, Rufus and I had adopted a rescue dog the day before, a Siberian husky named Spike.

Spike is two years old, the same age as Sunny and Storm, our existing Siberian huskies. He had lived his whole life chained to a post in his owner's yard. He had never been inside a house, never received any training or socialization, never been groomed. He had lived without companionship, for his owners mostly ignored him while they went about their lives.

We took him with the understanding that we could return him if he couldn't adapt to our household.

Almost immediately, Spike showed himself willing and able to adapt. He understood right away that eliminating in the house was inappropriate. He followed the other boys out to the yard to find an acceptable bathroom. He also adapted enthusiastically to indoor living--so much so that he showed himself unwilling to spend any time outside. He'd had enough of that! Best of all, he bonded with Sunny and Storm and with us. We were amazed at how affectionate and sweet-tempered he turned out to be.

The most astonishing to me, though, was how easily he learned to walk on a leash without pulling. The day after we got him, he was already walking with the pack as if he'd always done it.

We changed his name to Chance. He's not a Spike, an aggressive, threatening powerhouse. He is a wonderful dog that had never had a chance at life.

But now he does.
Chance in his new home


Here's the point:  the label Chance carried in his old home had no bearing on who he really is. He was not a fierce dog who needed to be chained so that animals and humans would be safe. Instead, he is an easy, companionable dog willing to learn the rules, desperate to follow and to please anyone who would take the time to teach him how to live with humans.

Maybe we can learn something from Chance. Maybe the labels we put on others are projections of our own fears and biasses. Maybe if we remove the labels we will experience what they really are underneath.