Inspiration and S’mores



I’m doing Camp Nanowrimo right now. For those of you who don’t know what that is, Camp Nanowrimo is a writing challenge, a contest of sorts, with a fun theme of going to camp.

For me, it’s motivational. In the pre-published world, no one gives you deadlines. You can meander with a book for a year or two and never make progress. Or even drop it completely and start something new. There isn’t any accountability or motivation, except your own internal drive (which to be honest does flag upon occasion.)

Camp Nano helps me become laser focused and completion driven. To sweeten the word-count pot, because of the public commitment to finish X amount of words per day, there’s a social pressure to finish.

The program works for me because I was wired by public school to get assignments in by due dates. I was never late with homework. The loss of points terrified my A-grade-obsessed self.

That part of me is alive and well and thrives on assignment completion. Camp Nano allows you to set your own goals (unlike its autumn cousin Nanowrimo in November where it’s set for you at 1, 667 per day.) I find that setting a challenging but not overwhelming goal keeps move me forward on my I-don’t-wanna-do-this days, my this-sucks days, or my I-don’t-even-know-why-I write days. Can’t throw it away. Can’t stop. Can’t question myself or my ability. The words must be written. Assignment due!!

One tool I’ve found helpful in keeping pace is a book by Martha Alderson, “The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts.” It’s designed to be uses with Nano or during a period of first drafting.  The daily prompts encourage you to dig into character, visceral senses, and gently guides you in getting the story down without killing the flurry of words.

In fact, when I read a few prompts before writing, I am brimming with ideas on how to deepen the story. I believe this guidance will assist when I go back to edit, as well. The structure and character development will be solid before I even start.

I may not finish my first draft this month, but thanks to Camp Nano and my Prompts book I will have an excellent start. And August is looking good as a ‘finishing’ kind of month.

Is anyone out there doing Camp Nano or has done Nano in the past? Any tools you recommend to meet your daily word count? And in general, how to you force yourself to get things done, even when it’s hard? Are you carrot person? A stick person? Other?  Please let me know in the comments.

Dance Academy vs Dance Moms (or drama vs. melodrama)


dance academy

Netflix is a strange, beautiful and addictive medium. I pish-poshed it when it first came out with its mail order DVDs. Why did I need mail order DVDs when I could just go to the video store?

The Earth rotated around the sun a few times and slowly I jumped onto the Netflix, super-bullet train. I have not regretted it since. Beyond the instant streaming of almost any entertainment I want to see, it provides a window to the world.

I would never have found all the strange BBC shows I’m latched onto. Doctor Who and Sherlock are two of the best new television shows I’ve seen in a decade, with a very different sensibility than American shows, faster paced, with a more subtle, drier sense of humor. And the writing! I could gush, but I digress (fodder for a future blog post perhaps?)

I also stumbled across two other series that caught my attention. The first was an Australian teen drama called Dance Academy. I had a rare free moment to vegetate in front of the idiot box and with my daughter and found this Australian teen drama and thought: Young people? Dancing? Maybe it will be like Fame. I could waste a few hours on this.

A few WEEKS later we had blown through all three seasons and began to rewatch them. Crying and laughing and raging along with the characters. They start as emotionally-awkward, searching teens to learn about themselves and others, to figure out what love means, how friendships matter, and how grief can affect us all. They grow up before you, and it’s breathtaking, unflinching writing that brings it all to life. (And the dancing is phenomenal.)



After the emotional catharsis, we hunted to find something that may fill the ballerina-shaped void in our lives. Dance Moms popped into our queue. It’s a reality TV show about how young girls and their mothers deal with studio politics, the teacher, and each other, set in the competition dance world. We watched it. The dancing was beautiful; the mothers ornery, argumentative, and somewhat entertaining, but it didn’t satisfy as Dance Academy had. The stories left an unfulfilled empty sensation like eating a vat of cotton candy, when expecting a steak dinner.

There was crying and intense moments, we were curious to find out what happened next, but not emotionally invested. I don’t think I could even recall the names of the students (except for the one girl Maddie Ziegler who went on to star in those Sia videos), but I think she stuck because she was so incredibly talented, and has found media attention through other avenues.


I was perplexed as to why a real life drama didn’t move me emotionally, while a teen dance show had me sobbing uncontrollably. Then I put it in terms of drama vs melodrama.

Dance Mom’s had a sort of drama. Someone cheated and got extra lesson from the teacher, one girl is picked as favorite, the studio creates a hated-cross-town rival. Tears were shed, tempers flared, dancers danced, but there was no substance. No real moments that drew the audience in, and made you realize they were just like you. It was all forced empathy. A little girl crying, instantly evokes a measure of sadness. Someone is cut from the team, anger at the unfairness. A mom ignores her daughter, pity for the poor girl. But these emotions are one note, simple, melodramatic. Pushing hot buttons to illicit emotion.

In contrast, the excellent writers of Dance Academy understood the concept of the unsaid, the power of the slow burn, the intense satisfaction of a deliberate reveal. As with books like Game of Thrones, the stories showed us that not everyone lives in black or white, not everyone fits into a category of goofy, love-struck, or mean girl, but are multilayered individuals with good and bad sides. Those are the stories that resonate and pluck that deep chord of our soul. That make us say: yes, that’s the way it is.

I had fun watching both shows, and if you like dance I would recommend either. But if you want to be truly emotionally engaged with a story that will stay with you long after you shut off the television, then go with Dance Academy.

Thanks for stopping by! Please leave a comment. Do you have a guilty pleasure show worthy of binge watching? Any characters that resonate? Storylines that ripped out your heart ,or made you laugh? Please share!


One Man’s Trash

SPECIAL: Congratulation to Stephen Sottong winner of a crit.  

2 randomly selected commenters will win a 5-page critique from either Pam or Tina. Please mention in your comment if you would like to be included in the contest. Must comment by midnight 6/19/2015 and must submit pages by 7/15/15. Please allow a four week turnaround time. Now read below and comments away!




A couple of weeks ago, I had an epic clear-the-house-out-the-kids-are-grown garage sale.

We (I should say I) have been a bit of a hoarder and had allowed my clutter, from baby toys to a giant entertainment center, accumulate over the last ten years.

I am not a garage sale person, so I had no idea how to display, price, or advertise my wares. The internet provided me with some basic guidelines. I got my signs posted, my itemed stickered and placed on tables. I felt prepared.

But I wasn’t .

I had envisioned my Star Wars themed toys, girl’s dresser, Fisher Price toy box in mint condition, a Bassett headboard would be hot items.  I priced these high, expecting them be sold within the first day of the sale.

But I was wrong.

Every group of people from men, to women, to couples, to children were attracted to vastly different things.

The men wanted tools, yard supplies, building materials, fishing stuff. I had few of these items, but what I did have sold quickly. Even my non-working weed wacker was sold to a gentlemen who had a handy gleam in his eye and ‘new project’ on the brain.

A woman came and sorted through piles of stuffed animals, some for her collection, some for her dogs, some for selling on EBAY.

An older couple who must still have their VCR intact, grabbed a box of my VHS tapes.

Some of the objects I thought for sure would fly from the shelves, lingered on the last day, and only sold after deep discounting.

I had a lot left overs, but it was worth the effort. If nothing else, the sale taught me a lesson. Every human is different with different taste, wants, and needs. This thought is both daunting and encouraging to a writer.

In a recent contest I entered, I got some crazy feedback . Most loved the story and gave me scores in  the high nineties out of a hundred. Then there was that one judge. She may have been having an off day, or just hated YA, or perhaps it was just her honest opinion, but she absolutely hated every little thing about my story. From the protagonist, to the grammar, to the storyline, (she did like the setting though-yeah!) she scored me fifty-three. Really. Half of what I’d earned from the other judges.

I got upset, until I remembered the garage sale.

Some people just love stuffed animals and don’t need a Star Wars collectible. Some customers adore Twilight and others would not wipe their bum with the pages. Interest, tastes, needs, differ.

Sometimes you just hit people at the wrong time.

And I also will apply this way of thinking to writing in general. Even if your writer’s group thinks a mermaid/vampire romance is a horrible idea, but there may be a market for it. If you enjoy the concept, why not someone else? Don’t allow a few naysayers suck your passion. You may just need to put up more garage sale signs to cast a wider net.

I will take her critique with a boulder of salt and see if I can salvage advice that would improve my story. I won’t let it bother me. Because the saying is true. One reader’s trash is another reader’s treasure.

Comment below. Have you had a weird garage sale experience? Got an extremely harsh critique? Share below. Or just stop in to say ‘hi’.




What Yoda Teaches Me About Motivation

I was thinking of a Star Wars quote from Yoda; something like “try or try not, do or do not.” Or maybe it was: “there is no try only do.” Anyway it got me pondering about the connotation of certain words and motivation.

(Self editing note; Apparently neither of these is a quote from Yoda. Because the powers of Google cannot let this stand I’ve made an offering of the correct quote to the internet god’s volcano of quotes: Do. Or do not. There is no try~Yoda in the Empire Strikes Back)

First I should probably explain connotation. It’s the feeling expressed by certain words. For example, we can describe a person with pressed lips and a wrinkled forehead as a “scowl.” The word scowl has a negative connotation. We think of scowls as a mean expression. Now if I described this same expression as “thoughtful” it changes the image a bit. We soften the features of the imaginary person. Thoughtful has a positive connotation, meaning we tend to think of “thoughtful” as a pleasant expression. I’ve completely changed the mood of the person by changing only one word. Yet, if I were to describe the facial features of both words, they would be very similar in the basic explanation.

Poets, writers, and politicians seem to have a grasp on this little mis-mash vortex where English crosses with psychology. So you’ll notice that people will choose words carefully to provoke emotion when telling a certain story—to paint a very specific picture. Riling up emotion isn’t difficult, especially if someone already is predisposed to feeling a certain way about a topic. You can change someone’s mind by not changing the action, but simply the words used to describe the action.

Some words are harder to pinpoint and can be negative or positive depending on the context. One group of people might like the word and take ownership of it. Another group would see the same word as an insult. Some words might change connotation depending on an individual’s cultural, environmental, or socio-economic status.

In counseling we’re trained on how to change someone’s behavior and emotions by using a technique called cognitive-behavioral therapy. And this is where my pondering on Yoda began.

So, consider the word “try.” Does it have a negative or positive connotation for you? I realized it had a more negative leaning with me. Here’s why: I’m from the country and pretty low on the socio-economic ladder with my background. We value what a person does rather than what they say. If I say I’m going to “try” it’s a pretty weak statement. Trying is not doing. Trying is saying I’m afraid of getting a little failure on my favorite shirt. There is only do it or don’t do it in my world. Yet, when I attended college there was an attempt to reframe the word try. “Give it a try!” or “At least you tried!” were supposed to be positive affirmations. And it did change the way I saw the word. It went from being a dirty word to something I’d give a second chance to…try again.

*insert mad giggle*

I noticed that when the word was introduced in my goals or if someone made a “try” suggestion in writing I’d avoid it. It usually wouldn’t get done. “Try to not use adverbs” I’d adverb all over the damn white space like a potty training toddler. Then I’d get frustrated and do the opposite. I’d cut adverbs from my life like a cheating ex-boyfriend. Try made me do silly things.

It was not just the word try that had this power over me, but other words, too. If I set a goal and it was connected to a certain behavior or emotion if it was positive then I’d do it. If it was negative, I wouldn’t.

So knowing that the words I used had a power over my behavior, I described my goals differently. Less of a suggestion and more of a command (also: I list only two simple goals a day. Something I learned in a Margie Lawson class. If I listed a ton of things, I could beat myself up later about not doing enough, so I learned to break things into small components and do them a little at a time. The more success I could introduce into my goals, the more motivated I would become. And it would change the connotation of the word “goal” to mean something I could attain, not an impossible set of posts I had to hit a ball between every time or I’d fail my team).

I noticed that a lot of people who weren’t athletes, or didn’t do well in competitions tended to shy away from making goals (like they floundered when introduced to competition and freaked out if it looked like they’d never win, or would be expected to count on others… or gasp, others count on them!). Is it the word or the action that makes them so distrustful of the behavior? Or just the action/word/behavior pairing they’ve learned over a lifetime that has shaped their emotion on a word?

Now the word controls their behavior. Wow, this is getting creepy.

Anyway, our history with certain words might make a difference on how likely we are to complete an action. And by eliminating ‘try’ it helped me with mine. Plus, I tend to adhere to the cognitive-behavioral framework and pair positive actions with positive thoughts to change my view on a task. Oh, I’ll still be the usual writerly stressed while doing it. “Will people like it? Will it sell?” But at least I’m doing it, and at least I’m not feeding myself negative answers like “It sucks” or “I’m never going to make a living at this” “People are laughing at you.” I could easily change the word “writing” into a negative, disappointing task if I were to pair it with hurtful phrases.

Think about the words you use and take care. They really are powerful.

I love comments! Every comment you make will help a writer break free from negative word/action/ behavior chains that are binding them into lack of motivation.

Why I Read YA Novels

And why you should be reading them, too.

During what I call the long hiatus when my kids were growing up and I had zero time to read for enjoyment. There were books that I did read. That I felt I had to read.

When my offspring picked up a new book, especially when they were very young I wanted to know it was age appropriate. I tried never to censor my children but to give them guidance, especially when the themes were mature. My oldest was such a fast and advanced reader I could never keep up, but we discussed what she was reading, what it meant, and how it affected her.

She would occasionally read aloud pieces of the more interesting, funny, or twisty parts. We bonded as a family over our shared love of story, books, and reading.

It was during this time, I found out that some of the best books being published were young adult novels. I think the secret is out in some cases the big name cross overs such as Harry Potter, The Maze Runner, Divergent, and the Hunger Games. But there are others like Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series, Kresley Cole’s Arcana books, and Sarah Maas’s Throne of Glass novels that make reading YA adventurous, fun, and compelling.

The protagonists of these stories are usually young people who are just out figuring life. It’s easy to identify with a main character who is struggling to find their place in the world. I think we all long to find something about ourselves that is extraordinary, or to feel motivated to follow a dream, or fight back against oppression, or find true love. All these universal themes are the life’s blood of YA fiction.

Some of the best writing today is in the YA arena. The books tend to be shorter, quicker, more intense reads. So even in my time-crunched life, I find intervals to consume them like cotton candy at a weekend carnival.

Family bonding, excellent writing, story telling about themes we all find compelling and motivating, quick and intense reads, these are just a few reason you should hop on over to Amazon and/or visit your local independent bookstore to widen your readerly horizons.

As beach season treads towards us with flip flops, beach towels, and books, I highly recommend you get out there and take a dip in the YA pool of literary awesome. It may be just what you need to cool off this summer.

Do you read YA? Do you have a favorite series, writer, or book? Or just say ‘hi’! Comment below!