Awesome Paper Art

Maybe it is because I spend so much time creating work that, hopefully, one day will be printed on paper, but I am in awe of the creators of wondrous paper art.

Check out the work of artist Kirsten Hassenfeld.  I thought the installations were my favorite pieces among her work — check out the details of “Dans La Lune.”  But then I took a close look at the two-dimensional art.  Wow!  It may be simply that it reminds me of my grandmother’s willow ware plates but I am definitely entranced.

Special thanks to Ann Martin of All Things Paper for bringing this artist to my attention.


Characterization Exercise: No Two Characters Are Created Equal

Here is another installment in my series of characterization exercises.

No Two Characters Are Created Equal:

Are all of your characters  alike?  Or does each one have a unique personality?  This is vital too strong fiction because if your characters are too much alike:
  • Your reader won’t be able to tell them apart.
  • They probably aren’t very interesting.
  • They may even be stereotypical or otherwise two dimensional.
If you aren’t sure, test this out by considering how your main character and the designated sidekick or best friend would react in a given situation.  If possible, pick something from your story or somehow tangential to it.  For example, let’s say that your story takes place at school and your two characters find the answer key to the chemistry final.
  • What would they do?
  • How are their actions/thoughts the same?
  • How are they different?
  • Why does each of them react in the way that they do?
If there are a lot of similarities or, worse yet, no differences at all, you probably have some work to do.
This is especially important when you write something with a cast of characters – a whole class of students, an army patrol, an office staff, a sports team or a Cub Scout pack.  Even when a group of people are in an organization based on a specific set of values or with rigid rules, there is a range of acceptable action.  It may be a very narrow range, and some of it may be internal/thought, but it should be there.
Put the effort into character development and you’ll be rewarded.  Skip it and your readers will quit reading when they realize they’ve mixed up your characters . . .  again.

Goals: Wrapping Up August

With only 5082 words written last week it might look a bit dismal but I’m really happy with what I accomplished.

I did some really good writing for  The nonfiction picture book is about ready to go.  I’ll finish that this week.  I worked up a graphic for the biography job and I contacted a new company — I’ll be auditioning for them this week.   And I did some preliminary work on the new web site.

Given that I also had almost a day and a half of family errands, that looks really impressive to me.

This week looks pretty good for hitting 6000 words in spite of the fact that I have a business meeting tomorrow.  Since it is off-site, I’ll do my errands for the week before hand and take some writing with me too.   What will I be working on this week?

  • I need to get a bit ahead on my Prayables work.
  • I want to finish up that picture book and get it out.
  • I’ll start reworking the text for my web site.
  • And of course my blogs.

I’ll also pick my next project to work on as that picture book will be winding down.  I always have way too many choices.

I hope everyone is meeting their writing goals and making the progress they want to make!


Free On-line Classes

Now that the kids are in school and you have SCADS of free time (ROFL), here are some free online courses that might interest you.  Open University, the institution offering these classes is based in England and a leader in distance learning.
Start Writing Fiction. This class will take about 12 hours to complete.  Following is the description, quoting from their listing:  “Have you always wanted to write, but never quite had the courage to start? This unit will give you an insight into how authors create their characters and the settings for their work. You will also be able to look at the different genres for fiction.”
What is Poetry. This class is also about 12 hours long and here is a brief quote from their own description. “Have you always wanted to try to write poetry but never quite managed to start? This unit is designed to illustrate the techniques behind both the traditional forms of poetry and free verse.”
Writing What You Know. Is a slightly shorter class, 8 hours, that focuses on improving your descriptive writing.
Approaching Poetry is a much longer class, 20 hours, designed to help you better understand what you are reading when it comes to poetry.
Approaching Prose Fiction is the corresponding course, also 20 hours, for fiction.
Take a look around while you are on their site.  You will find classes in history, foreign languages, energy science and more.  Who knows what might come in handy for your current project?

What to do with a Writer’s Stacks

Special thanks to Betsy Byrd of FuseNews for bringing this product to my attention.

Who among us doesn’t have stacks of books, magazines, photo copies, printouts and more cluttering up our office?  Come on.  Admit it.  Frankly, I know that even if my desk collapses, my legs are safe because the approximately four stacks of “stuff” will catch the desktop before it reaches me.

If, on the other hand, you aren’t using your stacks to ensure your own safety, you might want to put them to work in another way.  Check out this stack  chair, sold through Hidden Art.  Wonderful!   Meeting space for 4?  No prob. STACK CHAIR


Research — Enough is Enough

One of the questions I get most often about writing nonfiction is:  How do you know when you’ve done enough research?

I begin new projects by doing a lot of research.  When I’ve got a huge pile of material together, I start writing.   Too early?  Too arbitrary?  Maybe.  But it also helps me spot the holes in my research.  What don’t I know that I need to know?

This leads to more research.  Eventually, I realize that I’m done.

Sometimes I know that I’m done because everything “new” that I find merely repeats something I’ve already read.

Sometimes it is because I spot mistakes that other people have missed.   This can be frustrating — which fact is correct?  Then you have to look at the sources and try to figure out where they got their information.  Remember, it doesn’t always matter if you find fact A in 10 places and fact B in only 1.  If 9 of the sources for Fact A are all getting the data  from the one remaining source, that doesn’t make it any more accurate than Fact B.

But sometimes spotting mistakes is  just funny.  Last week, there were news alerts about a baboon loose in my community.  They even flashed up a photo that “a woman” had taken of the ape in her backyard.

My husband had e-mailed me the link to the article so I clicked on it while he and I talked on the phone.  One look at the photo and I knew it was bunk.

Me:  The story isn’t true.  That’s not a baboon.

Him:  Most mom’s would want to know if someone was hurt.

Me:  They can’t be hurt by a nonexistent baboon.  That’s not a baboon.

Him:  What is it?

Me:  Give me a minute.  It isn’t a mandrill, but there’s another closely related ape.  Let me do a search.  Drill. That’s what it is.

Him:  (laughing)

Me:  What?  Quit laughing at me.

When I got off the phone, I even did a search on “baboon” to see if the photo came up.  Nope.  I got some photos of mandrills but no drills.  I only got drills when I searched for that specific term.  And, yes, I found the photo she copied.

You know you have done enough research when you can immediately tell that something is inaccurate.  When your husband just laughs?  You know you’re a nonfiction author.

Just in case you want to know what each of these animals looks like, here are some links to photos.  I opted against posting the actual photos because I don’t want to violate anyone’s copyright:

Baboon (olive baboon specifically)


Drill (the actual photo that was copied)

Awesome creatures, aren’t they?  But, really.  Who on earth could mistake a drill for a baboon?


Goals: Meeting Goals now that school is in session

Missed my goal by a bit again this week, pulling 5035 of the desired 6000.  Still, I think I’m going to stick with the higher number.  Why?  Because I think that aiming for a higher number is likely to result in more writing than will aiming for a lower number.

I just about finished reworking a nonfiction picture book and got some more writing done for

A big part of the problem is that way too many people assume that since school has started I must be blessed with scads of free time.  The proof?  I’ve had no less than 5 phone calls this morning.  The number to do with business? Zero.  Granted, one was my husband making sure I got everyone to school with neither tears nor bloodshed, but not the others.  One person just assumed that I am easier to catch than my husband; the charge for passing on these message is $40/my minimum hourly rate for non-writing activities.  The other three?  From one person who needs something and knows school has started.

So I really don’t think that reducing my goal is the solution.  Instead, I am having talks with people and pointing out deeply unappreciated facts about freelancing.

1.  I have to work to earn an income.

2.  We need my income.

3.  I am willing to do whatever the caller wants within the limits of the law and my own sense of morality.  Other conditions?  See the above hourly rate.

Nope.  I am currently not the most popular kid on the block but it is a reality that my editors and I are prepared to live with.  If you are having troubles meeting your goals, examine your taxi duties.  Insist that people coordinate with you ahead of time.  If the calls are too frequent or they refuse to work with you on scheduling, help them find alternatives.   Resistance?  You betcha but it is a small thing to work through if it means you get some of your writing time back.  Face it, with school back in session, I should have an easier time meeting my goals.  Not a harder time.

So now that we’ve established just what a meanie I am, here are my goals for the week.

  • Write 6000 words
  • Finish formatting a packet of materials for church
  • Finish a graphic for a freelance job
  • Either start reworking my web site or my submissions database

It does sound like a lot, but I have definitely discovered that without goals I get a lot less done.

Hope everyone else is meeting their writing goals or finding a way to get there!

–SueBE  or MMM (Mean Mean Mommy)

Creative Style

Special thanks to How About Orange for the post that led me to the Psychologies magazine quiz, “What is your creative style?”  Unlike your average magazine quiz, I really wasn’t sure where they were going with the answers.  Subtext:  I couldn’t tell how they were trying to pigeon hole me.

According to the quiz, I “communicate through creativity.”    The basic statement is 100% accurate although the detailed discussion was much less so, but isn’t that always the danger of getting terribly specific?

Other possible outcomes were:

Creativity is a magical world.

Creativity is a release.

Creativity is a form of expression.

Creativity enriches you.

Creativity gives me insight.

Why not give it a try and see what you get?


Cynthia Morris and Affectionate Awareness

I was going to try to write something on much the same topic.  This weekend several members of my critique group were beyond discouraged.  I had one of those days yesterday.  Honestly, why can’t they just load a veterinary tranquilizer with dark chocolate and save everyone from my moods?  But then I was catching up on e-mail (ie not writing because I was in a mood and my inner brat was in control) when I came on this article.  I’ve posted it here with Cynthia’s permission.  Cynthia is one of those people who never fails to inspire me.  I am definitely going to play with these exercises today and will get back to you next week with the initial results.–SueBE

The creative process always involves some destruction!

Tune in to Affectionate Awareness and Feel a Lot Happier

by Cynthia Morris

Deep in the process of my novel’s revision, I’ve seen myself move through elation, aha exuberance, despair anger, frustration and determination.  My inner critic has been piping up, too.  Here’s his contribution:

  • You’re not a real writer.
  • You can’t really write a novel.
  • See? It’s not good enough and it never will be.
  • You don’t know how to write.
  • How the heck are you going to pull this off?

I hear the voice, take a deep sigh and plunge in.  But as you can see, I often feel like I’m padding out of my depth, riding the waves of the creative process and barely staying afloat.

Then one day, while taking my necessary nap or “noodling” time, I recalled a strategy I use with my clients, but with a twist.

I said to myself, “What if you adopt an affectionate perspective? Like a sweet big sister who absolutely loves and believes in you.”

I tried it. “Oh, sweetie, I understand why you’re scared. It’s okay. You can do it.” And it worked. I immediately felt lighter and more relaxed. Now, when I’m irritable or impatient (behaviors I’ve noticed really just mask my fears) I ask that voice for help.

Feeling empowered by this new perspective, I mentioned it to a friend. She told me she referred to this voice as affectionate awareness. When I’m coaching clients or training writers to develop a healthy writing practice, I call this voice the champion. It’s the opposite of your inner critic, and it thinks you’re the most amazing creator in the world. This part of you completely believes that you can make whatever you want.

This strategy works even better with use of the word “affectionate.”  This immediately conjures up a feeling of tenderness and compassion. It’s like pushing a love button – the word “affectionate” almost instantly changes my mood and pushes those negative emotions and fears aside.

Words carry power.  And when dealing with our inner critic, we need strategies that work.  What word shifts you from creative despair to creative optimism?

I think of my friend and coaching colleague Kathy Loh to
help remember affectionate awareness

Today, right now even, tune in to your champion. Offer yourself affectionate awareness. When you have 15 minutes, grab a pen and befriend your champion. Try this:

  • interview your champion
  • write a character sketch: her looks, tastes, beliefs, name . . .
  • choose a word that triggers your love button, or use affectionate

Remember that your champion can be as vocal as your critic — but much more helpful.  Listen to it when it encourages you to keep going.  Pay attention when she reminds you that your efforts are worth it even if you don’t see results right away.

What word invites your champion to the scene? How often do you listen to her input? Share your champion with us!

Copyright 2010 Cynthia Morris. Cynthia coaches creative people to confidence and completion and inspires life as a creative adventure. Visit to get an infusion of inspiration for your art, writing and life.