One of the more popular blog topics targeting writer discusses why writers procrastinate.

One recent blog asked whether perfectionism caused writers to procrastinate. At last count there were 171 comments on the blog. Many agreed perfectionism to be an issue and offered advice, the most popular to write the draft and let the revision stage improve the manuscript. Easy to say, hard to apply, isn’t it?

For me and I expect a lot of writers, perfectionism never factors into the equation because some of us can’t even get started. Now that is true procrastination.

The reason (to me) is simple. Sitting down to work on a writing project, whether it is an outline, a first draft, or revising an existing project, means you have decided to commit a block of time to essentially create something from nothing. Many writers fail because they realize that block of time can be used to accomplish other tasks. Housework, yard work, running errands, exercising, watching TV, playing video games, playing golf, or, too often, grabbing a nap, all of which I’ve used extensively in place of writing.

The remainder of this blog is not about why, or what you can do other than follow Nike’s advice, ‘Just Do It!’ You have probably read that ad nauseam.

It’s a confession of sorts and a success story of my own battle with the procrastination demon.

I use Excel extensively to maintain a daily to-do list of tasks ranging from taking medication to preparing for the following day, with a lot of the tasks listed above in between.

When it comes to writing, I track the time spent on each writing project and writing-related tasks. This serves not only as an incentive and a boost to my psyche when I accomplish what I planned, it also gives me an idea of how long it takes to write a short story, a blog, or a novel, which helps me plan my time for future projects.

Weird? Okay, I’ve been called worse, but it takes just a few seconds to record start and end times and nobody needs to see the log but me.

This is relevant because I have documented proof I should wear the crown (probably should be a dunce cap) as King of the Procrastinators.

Every day I review my task list. Writing is and I suspect will always be the hardest, not only because it’s creative, but regardless of how much time I allocate, I won’t know until I finish whether I’ve been productive or have created another deposit for the virtual trash can.

So, what do I do? The tasks that are the easiest and the ones which I can accurately predict the time required always take priority.

Writing always falls to the end.

What happens throughout my day is the “same old story.”

And so starts my “confession.”

Once I finish non-writing-related tasks, I write journals, filter through Emails and put in appropriate folders for later handling. Emails dating back several months are still sitting in the “Writing” folder.

Now it’s time to see how many friends I can request on Facebook and how many connections I can make on LinkedIn. By the time I “retweet” selected posts, I can breathe a sigh of relief and it’s time for lunch and a much needed (but not deserved) break.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I go to the gym. Yes, staying healthy is important, but given my age, I need time to stretch so I don’t pull every muscle in my body. Following the stretching and the workout at the gym, it’s usually late afternoon and I’m tired from the workout. Unfortunately (or conveniently) my mind is in no condition to write, so I will work on anything I can find other than writing projects, even if that means taking a nap or lolling on the porch.

The dinner hour has suddenly arrived and so there I am, the table is cleared and and I’ve now been up for twelve hours or more.

I could go to my office or take my laptop to another room and dedicate an hour to a writing project, but wait! Those emails are screaming for my attention. I should handle them, because once I get those out of the way, I’ll be free of all those distractions and I can spend the day doing nothing but writing!

Sadly, it rarely happens. Old habits die hard and yes, I ask myself almost every day what am I waiting for? What event will allow me to rearrange my priorities and do what I should and want to do, leaving everything else for later? Let’s face it, if you’re like me, most of what we do can wait until the end of the day, some can be delayed for several days or more.

I knew I needed to be the catalyst for such an event, because I felt my best when I wrote, even if the result was incoherent first draft material. I was making progress and I felt good about it. So why do I avoid doing the one thing that gives me so much satisfaction?

I committed to and finally made the change on October 1st, 2015. Why not? A new month – why not a new approach?

At the time I was working on a short story and a novel, which I was revising for the (I lost count) time. I needed to make those the top priorities on my to-do list.

I did, and at the time of this blog, more than two weeks later, not only has it become more of a habit, each day it gets easier, and even though other tasks now get pushed to the bottom of my to do list, to my surprise and delight, the sky has not fallen.

Making this change wasn’t easy. I wasn’t yet fully awake and not in an optimal mental state to write. Even once I rearranged my priorities, I still wrestled with the perfectionist demon, and needed to constantly remind myself that the revision stage would make the writing better.

In the first few days, although I didn’t spend a lot of hours, I accomplished more than I ever imagined, and as time passed, I allocated more hours of the day to working my projects.

To put these accomplishments in perspective, I referred to my writing log.

From October 1st to October 18, 2015, I logged a total of 38 hours toward my two projects. In the process, I completed the first draft of my short story/novella (almost 21,000 words), and revised 17 chapters of my mystery novel (total word count of almost 54,000).

Over the previous 4 months, I logged a total of 85 hours on both of these projects.

If I continue at this pace from the last 18 days, over the next 4 months I will log a total of 272 hours, more than 3 times my previous four months.

The moral?

If the self-proclaimed King of the Procrastinators can win a battle with the procrastination demon, so can you!

Give it a shot. Trust me, you’ll feel better.

I welcome all comments.

My Author website:

https://www.wordpress.com/jstrandburg

Order Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid here:

http://www.amazon.com/Hustle-Henry-Cue-Ball-Jack-Strandburg-ebook/dp/B00BJ83O5K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144732&sr=8-1&keywords=hustle+henry+and+the+cue-ball+kid

Order An Appointment With God: One Ordinary Man’s Journey to Faith Through Prayer here:

http://www.amazon.com/Appointment-Ordinary-Journey-Through-Prayer-ebook/dp/B00CWRZ5GI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144792&sr=8-1&keywords=an+appointment+with+god%3A+one+man%27s

 

The State of the World

“Please give me your report, Agent 302,” The Supervisor said.

“Sir, you assigned me to follow an average man on an average day while he completed his tasks.”

“I trust you found it interesting as well as productive.”

“Somewhat. I followed him to the grocery store. He dodged and weaved through the aisles as if in a death-race, sometimes bumping into other carts, raising his voice at others to make way, as though there was nothing more important than the gathering of his food and supplies.”

“He sounds like an impatient fellow.”

“Indeed. On more than one occasion, he encountered someone who left a cart in the center of the aisle and wandered off, leaving him little choice but to knock the cart out of the way, sometimes a little more forceful than I believed necessary. The look on his face spoke volumes, and if he chose to vocalize his thoughts, I’d expect he’d say, ‘not everyone has all day to read the labels of every single solitary package in the store without consideration of other shoppers!’”

“Your man seems on a mission,” The Supervisor observed.

“Yes, not made any easier by the reactions of the label readers.”

“How so?”

“Responses ranged from an idle shrug, a blatant display of apathy, more often a dirty look, or in a few cases, a nasty comment which often included profanity. The more of these types our man encountered, the more impatient he became, and impatience breeds frustration, which I feared might have led to anger and perhaps violence.”

“That would not be good.”

“In another aisle, he encountered two women with carts facing opposite directions, standing next to each other, making conversation without regard to other shoppers, as though that particular aisle was designed specifically for them. This left the man with no choice but to turn the cart around in a huff. He certainly could have made a scene, but thankfully chose a path of lesser resistance.”

“Your man possesses a degree of self-control.”

“Yes, but he continued to be tested while speeding through the remaining aisles. Some shoppers lingered, appearing to analyze every possible brand of a particular food product to perhaps determine the best choice.”

“Finally the man arrived at the checkout area and chose the 20-items-or-less line, but when he counted the number in the cart, there were 25. His face once again betrayed his thoughts. What if he stayed in the line? Would the clerk actually count the number of items and ask him to choose another line? The person ahead clearly had in excess of thirty items and if they could flaunt the sign and disregard others, why couldn’t he?”

“It seems it is one thing after another.”

“I agree, and at this point he probably felt like a higher power had singled him out for a life of frustration. He stood there for a time, lips pressed together, knuckles turning white, but to his credit, he finally turned the cart around the chose a different line.”

“I expect by this time you gained a measure of respect, perhaps even admiration for him,” The Supervisor noted.

“Most certainly, but his burdensome journey was far from over.”

“Please explain, Agent 302.”

“When he found a line with only two people in front of him, each with carts no more than half full, his face clearly brightened and his shoulders relaxed. Less than a minute later the light above the register flashed and the clerk called for a price check. His eyes closed, his head dropped. He appeared defeated and deflated. He turned and looked behind him at two more shoppers who joined him in line and apparently realized at this point it’s futile to try another line. With the way the day was going, it would most assuredly be worse, so he remained and waited his turn.”

“Some days it is not worth going out of the house.”

“Or getting out of bed which for him would have been a better choice. Fifteen minutes later, he paid for his items and walked out to the parking lot, his jaw tight as he muttered under his breath.”

“I get the distinct feeling his day of frustration is yet to end.”

“You are right. He walked outside and stopped for a moment and looked around the parking lot, which at this point contained rows of vehicles as far as the eye could see. He seemed to struggle with recalling where he parked and threw up his hands in disgust. Finally he decided he’d better start searching, because it certainly wouldn’t come to him. He walked down the aisles with purpose and was fortunate to find his car in the first row he selected.”

“Things are improving and the future looks bright.”

“Not for long. When he arrived at his car, he noticed someone parked their pickup truck in the space next to him who either didn’t see the freshly-painted white lines or didn’t understand their meaning.”

“What do you mean?” The Supervisor asked.

The pickup truck parked too close to the driver side of his car to allow him to open the door wide enough to enter.”

“So much for a bright future.”

“He cursed aloud and kicked the fender of the pickup truck with his foot.”

“It would seem he approached the breaking point.”

“It would appear so, because he brandished his keys while looking in every direction. I believe he planned to deface the pickup truck in some manner, but he saw me and changed his mind.”

“What happened then?” The Supervisor asked.

“He opened the trunk of his car and put in the packages, then went around and entered through the passenger side door. I noticed he struggled a little with maneuvering over the console in the middle, perhaps wondering if he should have purchased a car with a bench seat.”

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”

“Truly it is. I wondered whether he planned to wait for the owner of the pickup truck to return, but the ice cream was melting, the milk was getting warm, and given the attitudes of others to this point, what good would it do? He decided on discretion and started his car.”

“It sounds like a wise decision.”

“I believe so. He needed to back up and pull forward a number of times before clearing the space without inflicting damage on the pickup truck. What happened next bordered on the ridiculous.”

“Oh?”

“He needed to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision with a car coming straight at him.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The rows in the parking lot are all one-way and large white arrows painted on the ground clearly indicate right-of-way, not to mention anyone with a speck of common sense would notice the cars pointed at an angle and even if one missed seeing the arrow, it should be obvious they were going the wrong way.”

“What did he do?”

“First, he pounded on his steering wheel, then put the car into gear with the engine still running. He got out of his car and walked over to the car in front. The driver rolled down the window and they engaged in a shouting match. He asked whether the man was blind or stupid or both. The other driver simply told him to ‘get a life, what’s the big deal, and can’t he just move to the side because there is room enough for two cars.’ He threw up his hands and walked away before turning and said, “you know, I don’t think blind people should be allowed to drive.”

The Supervisor chuckled. “It would seem our man is prone to sarcasm with a dry sense of humor.”

“After what he endured to that point, I expect he wanted to buy a gun and blow his brains out.”

“Indeed. Please continue.”

“He returned to his car and by this time several cars were behind him waiting for the situation to either escalate or resolve. One driver beeped his horn but it might have been directed at the oncoming car going the wrong way. Our man got into his car and moved to the right to allow the “blind driver” to pass, not bothering to look in his direction. I mean, what else could he do?”

“A sign of surrender, perhaps.”

“Perhaps, but it doesn’t end there.”

“I find it hard to believe he could endure much more.”

“At the end of the street he stopped at a red light. There were three lanes. The ones on the outside were left-turn and right-turn only, while the middle lane offered the option of turning right or going straight. Our man waited in the middle lane with his right turn signal flashing, and a red sports car driven by a young man with a young girl in the passenger seat pulled up to the right-turn only lane. The window was down and music blared from the car radio. Our man didn’t so much as acknowledge their presence, keeping his eyes focused straight ahead. When the light turned green . . .,”

The Supervisor raised a palm. “Don’t tell me, the red sports car drove straight ahead and cut off our man before he made his turn.”

“Naturally. He slammed on the brakes and laid on the horn for a good ten seconds. The response from the other driver was a one-finger salute out the window.”

“More apathy and blatant disregard for others.”

“Yes, but by this time I expect our man felt too tired and defeated to do much else, so he continued on his way. He arrived at a four-way stop sign in a subdivision. I learned later his house was two hundred yards down the street. His car was the only one waiting at this time and when he pulled ahead, a car from the left drove through the intersection with clearly no intent of slowing down, much less stopping. Our man slammed on the brakes and turned his car to the right in an attempt to avoid a collision but in my opinion, it was not possible. The other driver slammed into the back door on the driver’s side, which was fortunate. Otherwise, lives might have been lost.”

“This is very sad, especially since he was close to his home.”

“Most certainly. The noise of the crash attracted a number of homeowners, which turned fortunate for the offending driver.”

“How do you mean?” The Supervisor asked.

“Our man was bleeding from a head wound but otherwise his injuries didn’t appear life-threatening. He flung open the door to his car and jumped out and ran over to the other car. The driver was a young man, probably no more than eighteen or nineteen years old. Our man dragged him out by the shirt collar and threw him to the ground. Two men who came out to respond to the accident stopped him before he inflicted harm upon the young man.”

The Supervisor sat back and tented his fingers in front of his mouth. “Our man had a quite a harrowing day and it sounds as if everyone he encountered couldn’t have cared less.”

Agent 302 took a deep breath. “I don’t know whether this average day in an average man’s life is typical, but it seems these people all have their heads stuck in a dark and foreboding place very offensive to the olfactory nerve.”

The Supervisor smiled. “You do have a way with words, Agent 302, and I must tell you, your report coincides with that of our agents around the world.”

“Thank you, sir. The people all seem to be in a hurry and won’t take a few seconds to obey the laws decreed by the powers on the planet, and from what I’ve learned these laws do not seem overly restrictive or demanding. Like most laws I suppose, they exist to keep the planet safe, but most people appear too focused on themselves.”

“I see. What is your recommendation?”

“I believe we need to abandon our plan to insert ourselves into this society and find a different planet to harvest. These earthlings will most certainly be more trouble than they are worth.”

“I agree. You have done well, Agent 302. We will leave this decaying world.”

My Author website:

http://jstrandburg.wordpress.com

Order Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid here:

http://www.amazon.com/Hustle-Henry-Cue-Ball-Jack-Strandburg-ebook/dp/B00BJ83O5K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144732&sr=8-1&keywords=hustle+henry+and+the+cue-ball+kid

Order An Appointment With God: One Ordinary Man’s Journey to Faith Through Prayer here:

http://www.amazon.com/Appointment-Ordinary-Journey-Through-Prayer-ebook/dp/B00CWRZ5GI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144792&sr=8-1&keywords=an+appointment+with+god%3A+one+man%27s

Process or Program?

This is for all those unfortunate writers (like me) who aren’t blessed with the ability to start writing and keep writing a complete story without the need to stop and outline or at least brainstorm a plan for the flow of the plot.

Frankly I don’t know if there are many out there like that but whoever you are, you have my respect and admiration (and more than a tinge of envy).

I’m prolific out of the gate when I have an idea for a plot or a character and have started a story with as little as three random words, using the almost unlimited resources from books and the Internet for creative writing prompts. You could open up a dictionary and pick out three of four random words, although realistically they do better when referring to a character, a place, an object, and/or an event.

It’s what follows that initial burst of flowing words where I usually come to a screeching halt. What happens next? Why are these characters doing what they are doing at this place? What are they after? It’s time then to start planning, outline, and brainstorm the answers to these questions.

There are a number of ways to approach outlining, one of which is to employ a writing software application. Dramatica Pro, Wizards for Authors, Scrivener, Write Now, the list goes on and on. There are a number of free applications available for download, a few of which I’ve tried. There is a market for writing software, mainly because writers are looking for help in organizing their work, and like me, are searching for ways to write a novel or short story faster and more efficiently, minimizing the time between the germ of an idea and a work worthy of submitting for publication.

I won’t make any claims as to the worth of any of these applications. I’m sure there are writers who use them with some degree of success. I have experimented with a few of them and they all have redeeming value.

Given over twenty-five years in the IT field, I’m well aware of the work required to design, code, test, and implement these programs. The developer must anticipate the errors which might occur and the responsibility to stand by to support their product is an awesome one.

I prefer a process to organize and design a story. Software programs will do only as much as the developer allows, even if they are is a writer or consulted a writer while designing the application.

A process allows the writer to design, outline, and organize a story on a piece of paper, a Word document, an Excel spreadsheet, a whiteboard, or a chalkboard without restrictions on rules.

In the coming weeks, I will document my experience in using Excel for things such as timelines and character profiles.

My Author website:

http://jstrandburg.wordpress.com

Order Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid here:

http://www.amazon.com/Hustle-Henry-Cue-Ball-Jack-Strandburg-ebook/dp/B00BJ83O5K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144732&sr=8-1&keywords=hustle+henry+and+the+cue-ball+kid

Order An Appointment With God: One Ordinary Man’s Journey to Faith Through Prayer here:

http://www.amazon.com/Appointment-Ordinary-Journey-Through-Prayer-ebook/dp/B00CWRZ5GI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144792&sr=8-1&keywords=an+appointment+with+god%3A+one+man%27s

 

An interview with Kate Collins COO of Solstice Publishing, www.solsticepublishing.com

Are you a founding member of SP?
Kate – No, but I’m thrilled to be part of it now. There’s something very exciting about working with people who have a clear vision of the future and an idea of how to get there. Melissa knows where she wants Solstice to go, and it’s a privilege to be able to help her get it to that level.

I see you are an author as well as the COO of Solstice. How and when did you make the transition from writing to publishing?
Kate – I was an author first, and then Melissa gave me the opportunity to work with her at Solstice. I think it’s given me a unique perspective on what happens on the business side that many authors don’t get.

Do you work with agents?
Kate – Yes, we have a few agents whose clients have signed with us. We have far more unagented authors, but that doesn’t matter to us. Having, or not having, an agent is a personal choice for each author.

How many people are working for SP today?
Kate – We’ve got about twenty or more people, counting all our editors and proofreaders. There’s a whole amazing crew that works on the books that the authors rarely interact with.

You’ve done some recent reorganization at SP. Can you describe the company’s current structure?
Kate – We’ve got an amazing staff now. Our Editors-in-Chief do a wonderful job in reading submissions, answering author questions, and the like. It makes it easier for me, as COO, to help Melissa grow the company. We can spend more time finding opportunities to promote the titles on a daily basis now.

How would you characterize SP publishing today?
Kate – Growing, expanding, and thriving! Melissa’s done a great job in the recent changes, making it easier for all of us to get things done and help out the authors even more. We’re all big on communication, and the new chain of command really keeps the flow moving towards getting the titles released.

How do you attract new authors?
Kate – The normal venues of social media, and referrals by our authors. They’re our greatest asset, and best referral network.

On average how many submissions do you receive each month?
Kate – That varies so much! We really can’t put a number on it. One month can see three, the next have 20.

How does your staff choose which to publish?
Kate – That depends on the EiC that reads it and what they feel makes a good book. We’ve got a general guideline to go by, but it’s up to the individual Editor in Chief to make the call.

Is there any disadvantage being characterized as a “Midwestern Publisher?”
Kate – I didn’t even know there was such a thing! LOL. We’re a publisher. Period. Sure, we’re not one of the big 5 out of New York City, but we’re growing. Given the nature of communication now, it’s just as easy to email someone or ask them a question on FaceBook over sit down at lunch in Central Park and make a deal over a couple of drinks.

Do you have a virtual staff with everyone in different locations communicating via email?
Kate – Yes. In some ways, it’s an advantage. Our staff is able to work at different times, making it so someone’s available to talk with authors outside of what many would think of as normal business hours.

How many authors have you contracted with?
Kate – Probably around 200 currently, but the number fluctuates from month to month as new authors are accepted.

How many books do you publish each year?
Kate – That varies so much! It’s impossible to give an accurate number.

How many active books do you currently have?
Kate – Best estimate is around 400 titles out right now. We release new books almost every month, though, so it’s pretty fluid!

Are your contracts for authors or for individual books?
Kate – We contract each title separately, instead of by author.

I noticed that you have a rather long list of books optioned for film. How do you work that, and what are the steps?
Kate – We’ve been approached by production companies who had interest in some of our titles. Due to confidentiality agreements, we can’t say more.

 

My Author website:

http://jstrandburg.wordpress.com

Order Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid here:

http://www.amazon.com/Hustle-Henry-Cue-Ball-Jack-Strandburg-ebook/dp/B00BJ83O5K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144732&sr=8-1&keywords=hustle+henry+and+the+cue-ball+kid

Order An Appointment With God: One Ordinary Man’s Journey to Faith Through Prayer here:

http://www.amazon.com/Appointment-Ordinary-Journey-Through-Prayer-ebook/dp/B00CWRZ5GI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144792&sr=8-1&keywords=an+appointment+with+god%3A+one+man%27s

Since 2008 when she secured her own first book contract, Melissa Miller has become the head of one of the fastest growing mid-market publishers in the USA. This year (2014) she capped her achievements by being announced an International Best Selling author and two of her books were optioned for film.

Now Melissa, as chief executive officer of Solstice Publishing based in Farmington, Missouri, is paving the way for other budding authors to bring their creations to e-readers and print.

I have a personal reason to thank her. Solstice accepted my first book, Tread Carefully on the Sea, after I’d spent nearly a year trying to place it with a publisher.

I asked Melissa a few questions

1. How do you conclude that books are likely to sell? Is it pure instinct or do you have a formula? There isn’t a formula to know what will sell and what won’t. We look for well written manuscripts with interesting plots.

2. Based on your experience in publishing, what’s one thing you would advise today’s budding authors? One of the most important things new authors need to know is the importance of branding their name. The use of social media is going to be very helpful in their journey. The marketing and branding of their book is going to be a full time job. Writing the book is the fun part. After that the work begins.

3. Why do you think fiction is so powerful that almost everyone wants to read it – if not write it? I think fiction is so powerful because it’s not real. After a long day at work, or taking care of the kids, or cleaning the house, readers like to escape into new worlds. It’s nice to get away from reality for a while.

4. What were your favorite childhood books and how did that affect your career? As a child my favorites were Winnie The Pooh then as a teen I grew into loving Stephen King. Now as an adult I like a variety. I enjoy Stephanie Meyers, Cassandra Clare, Jeannette Oak, Nicholas Sparks and then of course all the great authors of Solstice Publishing.

Melissa’s company: With over 200 authors covering every category of fiction and rapidly expanding into non-fiction, Solstice is quickly gaining a reputation for fast paced suspense thrillers, sizzling romance, action adventure, science fiction, and a spooky collection of horror and paranormal reads. Critically acclaimed authors have achieved top spots on best seller lists, had their stories adapted to screenplays, and won movie deals with top Hollywood studios.

Melissa Miller is an Amazon International Best Selling Author under a pen name. She writes paranormal/ romance and woman’s fiction. She’s a wife and the mother of two boys.

A Day in the Life of . . .

Begin at the Beginning

 Perhaps the most popular piece of advice for writers is to begin the story in medias res (in the midst of things). Start with a significant event, something exciting to draw the reader into the story so they can’t wait to read what happens next.

Mystery writer’s typically open their story with a victim, usually a dead body, perhaps floating on the river or buried in a shallow grave in the woods. Romance writers might open their story with the discovery of a sordid affair. Science fiction writers might describe in great detail the explosion of an unexplored distant planet.

Readers want more than anything to know what happens to the main characters. They want to identify with the main character(s), love the protagonist, despise the antagonist, feel their pain and sorrow, and share in their joy. Memorable characters make or break a story and often an author’s success hangs in the balance.

Character’s lives are formed and affected by events, both historical (before the story starts) and ongoing (what happens during the story). An author might have the most interesting characters in the world, but if nothing happens, there is no story. It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George and Jerry pitch an idea to NBC for a show about nothing.

Coming up with a story idea and an effective opening which entices the reader to sit up and take notice isn’t usually difficult. A murder, an explosion, a car accident – throw in a character or two and you have a solid opening to a story.

It’s what follows the opening that sometimes bogs us down. Even more, it’s what comes before the opening, the events leading up to where your main character(s) find themselves that sometimes offers a greater challenge and often leads to the writer’s most feared adversary – writer’s block.

Most writers experience writer’s block at some point in their quest to write the Great American Novel and it comes in all shapes and sizes. You might draw a complete blank and cannot get started; staring at a blank page for what seems like hours until you finally surrender and turn on the TV. You might have a solid story line but struggle to organize your scenes and chapters. Or you know what the story is about, have a number of interesting characters standing by waiting to be cast into your imaginary world, but can’t decide what they do, and when, how, and where they do it.

Try doing a biographical sketch of your characters. They all had a life before the story began and thousands of events to draw upon. You don’t need much detail but deciding on the most significant events for your main character will allow you to brainstorm how your character dealt with, say, an abortion or a death in the family. Perhaps he or she was robbed at gunpoint or saved the life of a friend. Maybe they were bullied in elementary school and later on in the story meet one of their tormentors. Memorable events like these shape your characters and influence how they deal with life’s challenges.

I suspect most writers agree conflict is necessary to present an entertaining and hopefully unforgettable story. By brainstorming the life’s events of your main characters (by main characters I mean those contributing to the story), you can determine when and how these characters in conflict first meet and how their lives become intertwined.

I find the biographical sketch method useful in a number of ways.

  1. Provides the background story necessary to keep the timeline accurate.
  2. Brings your story to the point of your in media res.
  3. Encourages a natural reaction to ask What if?
  4. Helps to determine character motive.

What will emerge from this process is a timeline for the major characters.

For example, let’s assume your story begins with the protagonist getting death threats from person or persons unknown. Your biographical sketch reveals a few years ago he or she intervened in a hostage situation. The perpetrator was shot by police, arrested and served time, but died violently in prison. A biographical sketch of the scene determines who was there, what happened, and how the other characters will contribute to the story. You might decide a relative of the perpetrator was an accomplice during the hostage situation, was not caught, and seeks revenge on the protagonist.

From the time a person is born (the birth itself might be a memorable event) they meet people, go to school, fall in (and perhaps out) of love, experience death, travel to faraway places, and work a variety of jobs, all of which will not only provide ideas for an entertaining story but reduce the odds of the invasion of writer’s block.

My Author website:

http://jstrandburg.wordpress.com

Order Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid here:

http://www.amazon.com/Hustle-Henry-Cue-Ball-Jack-Strandburg-ebook/dp/B00BJ83O5K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385144732&sr=8-1&keywords=hustle+henry+and+the+cue-ball+kid

Order An Appointment With God: One Ordinary Man’s Journey to Faith Through Prayer here:

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I am proud to present an interview with Callie Taylor, main character from Waking Up Dead, a unique and interesting novel written by author Margo Bond Collins.

 Thank you for coming to chat with us today. Why do you think Margo Bond Collins chose  you to represent her/him?

Margo was driving to work one day and caught a glimpse of me as I drifted across the Civil War statue in the middle of downtown. Of course, I just looked like fog to her at the time. I had to expend some pretty serious energy to get her to hear me! But once she did, I was able to get my story out.

Tell us a little about yourself?

When I was alive, I was a technical writer in Dallas, Texas. But then I died—I was murdered, actually; I’ll spare you the gory details—and I ended up as a ghost haunting someplace I’d never even been. I’m now a ghost in Abramsville, Alabama. It’s the weirdest damn afterlife. . . and I’m apparently destined to spend it fighting crime.

What is your birth date?

None of your business.

Where do you live? What is it about that area that drew you?

I don’t live. I haunt. And I’m not sure what it is that drew me here. I just woke up dead in Alabama! But I do spend a lot of time with my friend Ashara and her grandmother, Maw-Maw. They’re two of the very few people who can see me!

 What’s your favorite music?

Right now? My favorite kind of music is whatever makes Ashara crazy. I like to change her music over when she’s driving. It’s easier to manipulate electronic objects than anything else, so it’s something I can do.

 Will we be seeing more of you or are you stepping out of the lime light?

Hardly anyone can see me. But my story isn’t done yet! I know I have things left to do; I just don’t know what, yet.

 What do you do to relax?

I drift. It’s kind of like sleeping, but it’s apparently what ghosts do. And when I’m not drifting, I watch a lot of television. Crime shows, mostly. Luckily I found Ashara and Maw-Maw and can interact with them. Until I found them, my afterlife was boring. BORING.

What’s your biggest turn on?

Now? Watching out for the people I care about. I’m no guardian angel—just the thought of all that responsibility gives me the creeps—but I do what I can to care for the people in my life . . . um. Afterlife. .

 What your favorite ice cream flavor, chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry?

Oh. If only I could taste food again. I can kind of smell it, which is nice. But not as nice as eating it was.

 Do you believe in ghosts?

I kind of have to, now, though I’m the only one I’ve seen so far!

 Do you feel the cover accurately represents you?

Sure. It’s a shadowy woman who disappears into nothing. That’s me these days, though when I look at myself, I still see just me, wearing the clothes I wore the day I died. Black slacks, gray button-down shirt, black leather jacket, medium-heel black boots. Casual professional. When I manage to cast a reflection in the mirror, I still look like me. Medium-toned skin, green eyes, dark wavy hair to my shoulders. But some people see me as a shadowy figure.

Waking Up Dead

Callie Taylor expected Heaven or Hell. She got Alabama. . . .

 When Dallas resident Callie Taylor died young, she expected to go to Heaven, or maybe Hell. Instead, when she met her fate early thanks to a creep with a knife and a mommy complex, she went to Alabama. Now she’s witnessed another murder, and she’s not about to let this one go. She’s determined to help solve it before an innocent man goes to prison. And to answer the biggest question of all: why the hell did she wake up dead in Alabama?

 Here is an excerpt from Waking Up Dead

When I died, I expected to go to heaven.

Okay. Maybe hell. It’s not like I was perfect or anything. But I was sort of hoping for heaven.

Instead, I went to Alabama.

Yeah. I know. It’s weird.

I died in Dallas, my hometown. I was killed, actually. Murdered. I’ll spare you the gruesome details. I don’t like to remember them myself. Some jerk with a knife–and probably a Bad-Mommy complex. Believe me, if I knew where he was, I’d go haunt his ass.

At any rate, by the time death came, I was ready for it–ready to stop hurting, ready to let go. I didn’t even fight it.

And then I woke up dead in Alabama. Talk about pissed off.

You know, even reincarnation would have been fine with me–I could have started over, clean slate and all that. Human, cow, bug. Whatever. But no. I ended up haunting someplace I’d never even been.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to work, right? Ghosts are supposed to be the tortured spirits of those who cannot let go of their earthly existence. If they could be convinced to follow the light, they’d leave behind said earthly existence and quit scaring the bejesus out of the poor folks who run across them. That’s what all those “ghost hunter” shows on television tell us.

Let me tell you something. The living don’t know jack about the dead.

Not this dead chick, anyway.

 About the Author

 Margo Bond Collins lives in Texas with her husband, their daughter, several spoiled cats, and a ridiculous turtle. She teaches college-level English courses online, though writing fiction is her first love. She enjoys reading urban fantasy and paranormal fiction of any genre and spends most of her free time daydreaming about vampires, ghosts, zombies, werewolves, and other monsters. Waking Up Dead is her first published novel. Her second novel, Legally Undead, is an urban fantasy forthcoming in 2014 from World Weaver Press.

 Buy Waking Up Dead on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Waking-Up-Dead-ebook/dp/B00FOXWLM8/

 Connect with Margo

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/margobondcollins

Email: MargoBondCollins@gmail.com

Website: http://www.MargoBondCollins.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MargoBondCollin  @MargoBondCollin

Google+: https://plus.google.com/116484555448104519902

Goodreads Author Page: http://www.goodreads.com/vampirarchy

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/MargoBondCollins

Facebook Novel Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Waking-Up-Dead/502076076537575

Tumblr: http://vampirarchybooks.tumblr.com/

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/mbondcollins/

Be sure to add Waking Up Dead to your Goodreads bookshelves: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18428064-waking-up-dead

Book Trailers:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0j_TmvpxxBw

http://youtu.be/KUBg83s4BOU 100%

My Author website:

http://jstrandburg.wordpress.com