Thursday, July 16, 2015

Writing Tips from Author, Marielena Zuniga

I'm excited to welcome Marielena Zuniga to my blog today for the writing tips segment. She'll be talking about using meditation to help your writing. I personally really loved this post because I have a lot of trouble focusing and staying on task.


Here is a bit about Marielena:

Marielena Zuniga is a creative writer and award-winning journalist of more than thirty-five years. She has been a staff writer for newspapers and magazines and worked in public relations in corporate and nonprofit environments. 

For the last ten years, her writing has focused on spirituality and women's issues and her feature articles have appeared in national and international magazines. She has earned prestigious journalism awards and her inspirational writing has won a few awards in the Writers Digest Magazine Annual Writing Competition. 

Her first novel "Loreen on the Lam: A Tennessee Mystery" (iPulp Fiction) http://www.ipulpfiction.com/indexLOREEN.html draws on her Southern roots. She was born in Texas and spent her summers as a child in Tennessee. Her book is a far cry from her inspirational writing and her quiet, spiritual personality and has been known to make people laugh, which still amazes her. She resides in Bucks County, PA. 

And now, here's Marielena:

How meditation can help your writing

I used to meditate. A lot. You know – that process where you sit down, light some candles or incense, and attempt to quiet your thoughts. Some days my “monkey mind” was all over the place with my to-do list, never in the present moment.

Other times I fell into a zone of deep peace and the comforting “now” where I focused on my breathing, forgetting past and future. Whatever happened was OK. No judgments. I simply allowed whatever was there – to be.

Now, I’m returning to mindfulness meditation as a daily practice for many reasons. And one of them is for my creative writing.

What is mindfulness meditation? Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, defined it as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

Now don’t let that scare you. Those are all ingredients to help your writing and enhance creativity. And I’ll let you in on a secret. You can’t fail at mindfulness meditation because it’s all about accepting WHATEVER is happening during the practice, no matter what it is.

So, how, can meditation help with the writing process? You’d be surprised.

A safe space to take risks. As a writer, I am always a little anxious. I am always putting myself “out there” – something that’s never been easy for me. When I quiet my thoughts, I can find a safe spot to land, a place that soothes the raw edges of my insecurities and helps me become a bit more of a risk taker in my writing.

Frees us from perfection. The mind loves to judge. As a writer, I am my own worst critic. I tend to feel what I’ve written is never good enough. But when I meditate, I give myself permission to be free of my own tyrannical judgments, as well as the opinions of others. I tend to be more gentle with myself. And while revisions are necessary, I reach a point of acceptance in my drafts. In one of my favorite books, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” Annie Dillard writes: “The present is a freely given canvas. That it is constantly being ripped apart and washed downstream goes without saying.”

Being in the flow. Because meditation allows me to be open to my creative self, I find that words often flow more easily than they have in the past. Although writing my mystery “Loreen on the Lam” was hard work, the pieces seem to come together from another place within me. And I loved the process throughout.

Availability to new insights. When I still and quiet the mind, I am listening – not only to my breathing, heartbeat and the hundreds of senseless, random thoughts that run amok through my brain, but I am listening to what wants to be birthed and named. I am listening to the creative source that wants to have a voice. In that silence, insights, perceptions and ideas that may have been buried beneath the chaos of daily life begin to emerge.

So how do you meditate? Here are some simple pointers:

Set aside a time everyday. Try starting out for five minutes. Later you can add more time to your practice.

Find a place where you won’t be distracted. Sit upright, either feet on the floor or cross-legged, whatever is more comfortable. Close your eyes.

Focus on your breathing and only that. Breathe in; breathe out. Feel the breath entering your nostrils and going out.

Your thoughts WILL wander. This is normal. Meditation is NOT about emptying your mind of thoughts. It’s the opposite. You’ll be thinking about everything from what to make for dinner to revising your work in progress. When that happens, simply observe those thoughts, without judgment, let them go, and return the focus to your breath. Again and again and again. This is all part of the practice.

Ultimately, meditation, much like writing, is a discipline. And a practice. But it’s also about letting go and accepting whatever is happening in the moment. And as writers, we are constantly “holding on” to some aspect of our work.

But as artist/author Julia Cameron states so well, “The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.” When we surrender in meditation to the present moment, we allow a source higher than ourselves to express in our writing – and that can be humbling and surprising!

**********


Loreen Thigpen has a history of making bad decisions. But stealing Josh Montgomery’s tour bus from the Texas prison garage to go see her dying mom in Tennessee might be the worst decision ever.

Loreen on the Lam is chock-full of colorful characters worthy of Elmore Leonard – an escaped con, a battered wife, a deaf-mute Bible salesman and more. You’ll love them or hate them, laugh at them or cry with them, but you’ll root for Loreen in the end.

The plot is a (not-so-) simple road trip. Loreen needs to get from Houston, Texas, to Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee, to see her dying mother. The only problem is, Loreen’s in prison. Much of the action takes place in and around a bus Loreen steals – a bus owned by country superstar Josh Montgomery. The journey involves a family mystery, a murder plot, and a dash of mayhem.


Loreen on the Lam: A Tennessee Mystery is available through iPulp Fiction http://www.ipulpfiction.com/indexLOREEN.html and through Amazon and other outlets.

Facebook Author’s Page: http://www.facebook.com/Marielena.Zuniga

Twitter: @marielenazuniga

Blog: Stories for the Journey: Reflections on Writing, Life and the Spirit - https://mezuniga.wordpress.com/


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Writing Tips with Author, Sandra Carey Cody

I am thrilled to welcome author Sandra Carey Cody to my blog this week with a fantastic post about plotting one's novel. Sandy is an amazing writer and a wonderful person. I hope you'll enjoy this post and then check out some of her work!

Before we begin, here's a bit about your host:

Sandra Carey Cody was born and grew in Missouri, surrounded by a family who loved stories, whether from a book or told on the back porch on a Sunday afternoon. She attended Washington University in St. Louis, moved on to various cities in different parts of the country, and finally settled in Doylestown, a small town just north of Philadelphia. Wherever she's gone, books have been the bridge to her new community and new friends. 

She’s written six novels - five in the Jennie Connors mystery series and the standalone mystery, Love and Not Destroy. She is also the author of a number of short stories which are not mysteries - unless you consider (as she does) the day-to-day bump and jostle of ordinary life a mysterious thing. If you would like to know more about her work, you can visit her website: http://www.sandracareycody.com or her Amazon author page here

And now, here's Sandy!

 PLOTTING YOUR NOVEL OR STORY

For me, plot’s the … I was about to say the hardest part … but let’s be positive and call it the biggest challenge. What do I do when faced with a challenge? Break it down. Look at the basics. What is a plot? My trusty Webster’s defines it as:

“the plan of action of a play, novel, etc.”

Okay, now that we know what plot is, let’s break it down into manageable bits.

Come Up with a Plan:

It’s the planning that gives me trouble but, if I do a good job on the characters (a subject for another time), it’s a lot easier. I created these people. I know their secrets, what they’re afraid of, what they love and what they hate. So I should know how they will react in any situation, and those reactions are what move the story along. Sounds easy, right? All I have to do is give them something to react to, a problem to solve or a goal to achieve – and a reason to care about the problem or goal. Different characters have different goals - opposing goals. The antagonist (anti-hero) will do everything in his/her power to keep the protagonist (hero) from achieving his/her goal. This is the source of the tension that will drive the plot. When I know what problem the protagonist is facing, I’m ready to begin.

The Beginning - An Inciting Incident 

Something has to happen and it has to be strong enough to compel the protagonist to act. This is your inciting incident.  Place a major roadblock in your protagonist’s path, something that forces him/her to take action or make a choice. This is true not just for mysteries, which I write, but for all fiction. Think of your favorite half dozen stories in any genre. The first chapters may be wildly different, but they’re sure to have one thing in common: something happens or is foreshadowed as about to happen that will change life for the hero. He’s about to embark on a journey that will take him to places he never expected to go, to do things he never suspected he was capable of doing. In short, your protagonist is in trouble - facing a seemingly insurmountable problem. The plot is in motion. Things are starting to happen.

The Middle - Action, Overcoming Obstacles, Consequences, Cause and Effect
The middle is all about the hero’s response to the problem (the inciting action) placed before him in the beginning and the new problems resulting from that response. It’s about choices and the consequences of those choices. It’s about overcoming obstacles. By the middle of the book, the hero’s life is in chaos. Real life may be random, but in fiction, if the reader is to suspend disbelief, he needs to see the cause and effect behind the chaos. Events in the plot may (and at least sometimes should) surprise the reader, but once they occur, they should make sense. This doesn’t mean they are predictable. Your protagonist does something in response to the inciting action, expecting a certain result, but what happens is entirely different from what he intended. Things are worse instead of better. Someone (the antagonist) is doing his/her best to make sure the protagonist fails. So you need to write a series of scenes that show your character’s responses to the problems set in motion by the inciting incident and are linked by cause and effect.  Every time the hero responds to a problem, the anti-hero responds too, creating another problem for the hero to overcome. Forces of good and evil are at war. Your hero has new battles to fight, more obstacles to overcome. The battles become more intense, the stakes higher. Your protagonist has to become stronger, fight harder, to overcome them. These battles and the changes they create in the protagonist make up the middle.

The End - Resolution, Changes 

And, finally, after much travail and turmoil for both you and your hero, you come to the end. How is the problem resolved? How has the struggle changed your hero? Did he achieve his goal? Or come to accept that he could not and learn to live with it?  And, most important, have you been fair to the reader? Have you entertained him and made the time spent with your story worthwhile? That’s our goal as writers – always.

***
Check out some of Sandra's work on her Amazon page!