Concrete Detail

Erika Hayes, Author – Write like a reader, read like a writer and edit like a beast!

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Photo Credit: unknown source, Google image

This is not a post just for writers.   At the end of every month, we get a chance to start new.  Summer is drawing to a close and the kids are back at school and soon the days will be filled with the busyness of family gathering and frivolity.  A practice I have found that is not only enjoyable but helpful is to review the last month and look at what I have accomplished, then I can also move forward the things I need to get done in the next month.  I also like to record the things I am doing at the beginning of a month.  In my planner at the beginning of every month is a page that you can record the following things I am currently:

  • reading
  • planning
  • watching
  • eating
  • loving
  • feeling
  • listening to
  • celebrating

As I go back over the year, I can see so many things that I enjoyed over the year.  You could add anything you are interested in doing to this list.  For instance, I have added:

  • writing
  • studying
  • church
  • exercising
  • creating
  • working on
  • going

This is not my complete list but you get the idea.  Taking time to review your goals for that month will also make you much more productive.  At the bottom of my monthly review is a “Monthly Goals”  I fill this out with what I need to accomplish by the end of the month.

Taking just a few minutes at the end of the month to look forward to what you get to do over the next 30 +/- days will keep you focused and hopefully encourage you to see all the possibilities ahead.

Enjoy your last day of August 2018!

Beating-the-Block

It happens.  There are times when you just don’t “feel” the words pouring out of you.  The problem is we all too often label it as “writer’s block” and blame the block for not writing.

Truth is, writing is an exercise, like going to the gym.  There are days we wake up with a pep in our step and can’t wait to hit the elliptical or weights.  We are excited about getting back into shape.  Then there are the days when the hardest thing we do is open the door to the gym and walk in. We move sluggishly around the equipment and struggle to get our sets done.  Yet somehow we manage to get in that workout and usually feel like we overcame.  Then there are the days when the will simply refuses to get in the car and go to the gym. Then the guilt sets in as we cram one more donut into our mouth and promise ourselves we will start again tomorrow.

Writing can be much the same way, the hope is that we don’t get to the third scenario in our writing (or workouts). The question is how do we overcome it?

Let’s take a look.

  1. Honor that you are struggling. It’s okay to not sit and produce a massive amount of words.  It’s even more okay to write crap on the days you struggle.
    • Try this:  Sit at your computer or whatever you are writing on, and pick a word any word,  type it over and over until you have a break through.
    • Try this:  Write about a memory that is good.  Don’t try and turn it into a story just write down what you remember.
    • Try this: Write jibberish.  Just put down words that come to mind, don’t think about it just write down what ever words pop into your mind.
  2. Understanding what may be causing the problem.  Something is happening in your story that is causing you difficulty.  You may need to work out some details that you are not even aware of yet.
    • Try this:  Read a book.  Not your book just a book. Now read it like a writer not a reader.  Look for the things that may be causing you trouble.  Sentence structure, character descriptions, dialogue.  Return to your piece and see if anything you examined in that book helped you recognize what is causing you to struggle.
    • Try this:  Get out some index cards and write out the scenes you have in your novel then reorganize them into “what if’s”. Consider that you may need to move something around.
    • Try this: Journal.  Focus on you, and how you are feeling.  What is in your mid that is keeping you from the page?  What burdens are you carrying, what are you worried about.  Write it out and get it out of you.  You don’t have to share with anyone, just put out the feelings so you can acknowledge them.
    • Try this:  Read the last few scenes you have written  for the day before you go to bed.  Allow your brain to work on it while you are asleep.  (This works with any kind of complicated problem.  The mind works well when you aren’t interfering.)
  3. Take a break.  Sometimes our work needs to cool.  This does not mean you don’t write, it means you work on something different.
    • Try this:  Find a writing prompt (I post several on this site.) and make today the day you write on prompts.  It will allow you to relieve your mind and still be productive
    • Try this: Mind map.  Get out a big piece of paper and pick subject or a character and just go crazy.
    • Try this:  Get physical.  Take a walk, go to the gym (haha).  Do something that will take your mind off writing for a while. Then get back in the chair.

The most important thing to beating the block is simple.  YOU MUST WRITE. It doesn’t need to be on your work in progress, but you must write.  A writing prompt or two., journal your day,  jibberish, a what if scene, a mind map, blog post, your acceptance speech for the Nobel prize, it doesn’t matter what it is, the only way to beat the block is to write.

Not getting in the car is NOT an option.  Now go lift some weights!

 

I read a lot!  Like A LOT!  Every once and a while I come across a book that really resonates.  For the writer, it can be a lonely road and that road can get discouraging from time to time.  This is why I am always reading books about the craft.  To remember I am

  1. not alone
  2. to be encouraged
  3. to seek out new ideas for how to better my experience

The book Fierce on the Page was one of the best books for encouraging writers I have ever read.  There are practical useful ideas on bettering your writing journey as well as the author, Sage Cohen, shares her personal journey.  She is a poet and mother that shares the things that  both encouraged and discouraged her, some resonated with me some did not.  Her ideas on how to overcome your worries and discouragements are organized very well and thoughtfully presented.  It is more than a book on “How to Write”  it is a book that will help you achieve through understanding your walk.  She has some of the best exercises for writers I have ever done.  It is filled with more than encouragement, there are actual ideas and things a writer can do to better their journey.

One of the other things I loved about the book is the short chapters.  A page or two which made it easily digestible.  I originally started out thinking I will read a chapter a day and use it as a warm up.  It was so engaging that I ditched that plan and read it in just a few short days.

One thing I did not care for was the author shares a bit too much about her divorce and her use of mystical things in her religious practices.  That’s just me.  It wasn’t offensive but after a while I was distracted by it.  I eventually just “skipped” over those aspects and was still able to glean a great deal from the concepts presented.  With that said, I wanted to state I applaud Ms. Cohen for her willingness to be open and vulnerable. I read a few reviews that shared my view on the one thing I didn’t care for, but to be honest, she goes to great lengths to be honest and share a part of herself in this book.  It was brave and I am sure difficult to put it out there for all us to criticize.  With that in mind, it is important to understand while she and I do not share the same religious beliefs, it’s okay.  It doesn’t make what she went through or what she can share from her experience any less valuable.

Ms. Cohen has a poet’s heart, she has created a fantastic book that will encourage everyone.  Don’t get hung up on the stuff that you may not agree with, if you do, you will miss out on the great ideas and fantastic knowledge in this book.

NOTE:  Ms. Cohen offers a free workbook on her website to accompany this book.  How cool is that?  There is information in the book for you to join her community of support as well as get the workbook.

 

Disclaimer:  This review was not requested by Sage Cohen or the publishers of her book.  I did not receive any goods, services or compensation for this review. 

NFL: New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals

Photo Credit USA Today 


Tuesday the productivity day! Today is your day to get something great done.  According to a study by Accountemps, Tuesdays are the most productive days of the week.  This has been true every year since they began surveying in 1987. Mondays surprisingly come in second place, leaving Wednesdays third.  According to the 300+ Human Resources managers that were polled, Thursday and Friday are tied for the least productive days of the week.

That doesn’t mean you can’t make every day a Tuesday.  When you make a plan to be productive in your life you usually will be.  Let’s look at some ways to make your day productive.

  1. Plan it!  Take the first fifteen minutes of your day to decide what is your priority for the day. Then cut your to-do list in half.  Be realistic, what can you actually do in a day.  If your list has fifty items it can feel defeating. Keep a running task list but don’t work off of it. Make your to-do list from your running task list giving priority to the most important task you have.
  2. Prepare for unexpected.  Set aside an additional thirty minutes in your schedule for the unexpected. Things will come up during your day that requires immediate attention, if you prepare for them you will not be overwhelmed when they come up.  If you are lucky enough to not have urgent task pop up during your work day you will have extra time to tackle the lower priority items from your running task list.
  3. Take breaks.  Sitting at your desk working without breaks will prevent you from having fresh ideas.  Getting up and walking around the office (or home) can help give your brain the break it needs to work out the task at hand.
  4. Set aside time for email. During your planning time set up times when you will check your email, learn to resist the urge to check in times other than your set aside time.  (Exception would be #2).  When you set aside time to check your email you will be able to focus on it when the time comes and not get side-tracked in the vortex that is the internet.
  5. Attack the top priority items before lunch.  It’s true. After lunch, we are in the home stretch, literally.  Productivity goes down after lunch so be sure to tackle the tough stuff first.
  6. Multitasking is not a thing.  Having a daughter that has a Masters degree and working on a Ph.D. as a research cognitive psychologist, she has educated me in the truth that there is no such thing as multitasking.  To be productive stop trying to do fifteen things at once.  Focus on one thing finish it then move onto the next.  (Follow that plan from step one!)

This is not just “work days”.  If you want to make your life productive, this applies to all aspects of your life.  It will take time to adjust to a productive life.  It may seem like more work to plan, keep a running task list, schedule email times etc, but after a few weeks, you will find that you are completing more work than you ever thought possible.  Writers, this is true of your writing too.  Plan what you will do, when you will research on the internet when you will work on your author’s platform.  Prioritize when you write best and do it!

You can do it

Photo Credit: Erika Hayes

There are a lot of sites and programs out there for writers that are about “helping” you be a better writer.  Many of them are very helpful, and they do help writers avoid common pitfalls.

For a moment, however, I want to offer you something else. Instead of focusing on what you may not be doing right, let’s look at what you are doing right!

  1.  You are spending time in the chair writing.  That is probably the one that is the best.  It doesn’t matter if you are penning a letter, working on a writing prompt, writing a blog post or working on your manuscript when you are in the chair and clicking or scribbling away you are doing the most important part of being a writer, you are writing.
  2. You are following your dream. When you make the decision to take on writing as more than a hobby, you are doing more to follow your dream than the hobbyist.
  3. You are reading.  Check out the Pew Reseach Center’s look into who is and isn’t reading. Reading is what makes us better writers.  Stephen King, author, in his book On Writing states clearly, if you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have time to write.
  4. You are working hard.  Like most people that are writing (blogging, novels, non-fiction, poet whatever) you probably have another job.  When you balance your time so that you are able to sit down and write words you are doing something big.
  5. You are sharing your message.  While not everyone will agree with your opinions or even your writing style, you are putting your thoughts out into the world to allow people to judge you.  That is hard and you are very brave for that.

It is important to know that this post is not just about writers.  It’s about all of you.  Just getting up every morning is a success.  What can we do to keep doing it right?

  1. Pray.  Not just for your needs but for the needs of others.
  2. Volunteer.  Helping others will give you a realistic view of how much you really have
  3. Encourage others.  Finding a way to lift others will help you realize how many fantastic people there are in this world. (and not focusing on the ugly out there.)
  4. Give compliments.  Freely giving compliments makes others feel better and you will feel better as well.
  5. Journal.  Yeah, many times you can put in a journal the things you need to express.  You can vent safely and admit things that are really bothering you deep down.
  6. Believe in yourself.  This is hard in a world that is often tearing you down.  Trust that you are able to do the things you plan to do.  Keep those visuals around you, write yourself notes of encouragement too!  Believe that you can indeed do what you set your mind to!
Tell-this-story-Friday

Photo Credit: Erika Hayes


There is a lot going on in this photo.  One thing about visual prompts is they can also help set the mood of your writing.  If you are feeling gloomy this prompt may speak to you.  The story may already be flowing before you even finish reading this post.  If you are feeling sunny and bright today this may alter your mood or you may have a great twist on this image to put into the story.

Take a few moments and feel the motif of this photo.  What does it stir in you?  Sadness? Excitement?  Danger?  Safety?  Are you in the truck or the one behind the truck?  Why did the person behind the truck take the photo? Look at the entire image, is there anything odd or out of place?  Take in the details, then pen your story.

Sample :

On the Road to Summer

By: Erika Hayes

Yeah, even in the winter it gets hot in the desert.  The days are mild but sometimes a girl just needs a change of scenery.  Since I didn’t have much to do on Valentine’s Day I took a road trip.  Maybe I’d meet Mister Right if I left this godforsaken city and headed north.  I needed to find a place to reroot myself after Tommy.  That dirty rotten no good, well you get the idea.  I don’t want to think about Tommy anymore, that was a year ago and now I am ready to get this broken heart back in the game.  I threw my things in my car and decided to find a new place to settle by summer. 

It wasn’t even two hours since I made my decision to pack up my stuff and find somewhere new when I ran smack dab into a winter storm on the rim.  It was like life was trying to say something. The fog came up and the snow came down.  At first, I was excited, snow.  I aint seen snow in years.  Then I realized my tires are a little well, worn.  My heart beat a little faster on some of the hills and suddenly 65 MPH seemed excessive.  I almost turned around when I felt the road under me slipping a little here and there.  I spent my life turning around, always headed back to what was safe. I decided after seeing the snow plows coming down the mountain that I needed to settle in behind someone that could help keep the road clear.  A semi was plodding slowly up the hill so I did just that.  I settled in.  Seems I do a lot of settling.  As I drove along I began thinking about the ways I’ve accepted that life is just a way and I couldn’t change it.   Well, no more I tell you. I am never going to settle again.  

[This is a sample from the short story,  On the Road to Summer by Erika Hayes.]

Tell-this-story-Thursday

Photo Credit: Erika Hayes


In the Hoh Rainforest, there are many creatures living.  One that lives there, is a snoggle.  Well, that is what I call it.  Wondering in the rainforest I came across this lovely tree that had long ago fallen in an odd manner but appeared to still be alive and kicking.  From a distance, it looked like a large head of some animal and I soon found myself making up a story about what it “really” was.  I came up with the snoggle. The best part of photographing and using visual writing prompts is you are able to experience your wonderings again and again.  The snoggle has since made his way into a story for kids.  I will share a bit of that story with you here.

Sample:

The Snoggles of Stanwick Forest

By Erika Hayes

 

It wasn’t all that long ago that the forests of Stanwick were filled with snoggles.  Loveable creatures that were sadly misunderstood.  Snoggles live to help the forest and those that live in it. When the forest or its creatures are in peril, snoggles can’t help but take action. 

This story is about Sanwoggle the Snoggle.  Sanwoggle was a larger than normal snoggle. Due to his enormous size, he was put in charge of a part the Stanwick forest where fairies liked to flit about.  The fairies liked Sanwoggle because he kept the humans from destroying their homes in the trees.  Sanwoggle liked the fairies because the would tell him that he was the most handsome of all the moss covered snoggles they have ever seen. While humans were afraid of the moss-covered monsters if they took the time to get to know the snoggles they would find only harming the forest would make a snoggle mean.  

The problem with Sanwoggles part of the forest was the men of the human kingdom liked fairies too. They would hunt for them because the fairies would sprinkle magic when they were afraid.  The king of Stanwick would pay large sums of money to anyone that could bring him even the smallest amount of fairy magic. 

 

That’s all you get!  Sorry, hopefully, one day you can purchase the book, but for now, I can’t give away what happens in Stanwick forest can I?

Tell-this-story-Wednesday

Photo Credit: Erika Hayes


This week is about exploring different images that can lead to stories.  This photo I am sure brings about all kinds of emotions.  I know I pulled out my camera and snapped the photo because I had lots of time to think about the story when it was happening.  Take a bit and write the story that you see in this image.

Sample:

The crawl isn’t the worst of it.  It’s not even the heat.  The black pavement is wriggling as the summer heat rises, but still, it is not the worst of it.  The waiting isn’t even the worst of it.  It’s the why.  Why did we all have to run? Why did I miss it? 

 The night is coming in close and the heat is still pounding away.  The horns no longer urging others to move along.  It is just quiet now.  Many of the cars have run out of gas.  The occupants have abandoned them hoping to find another way out.  

When I heard the trumpet sound in the east, I was afraid. A part of me knew I had made a mistake.  I sat on the edge for so long.  I had heard all the reasons from my family and friends, I was sure there would be enough time. I figured no decision was better than a yes or no.  I was wrong.  

I am sitting in this car, it’s about to sputter to a stop, the empty warning on my gas gauge started about fifteen minutes ago.  I just don’t know what to do.  I missed it.  I called home my mom and dad aren’t answering.  I know why.  They left.  They are gone.  I am still hoping against hope I have time.  I feel the heat and smell the fumes of the few of us remaining on the now gridlocked roads.  There is no way we are ever moving these cars again.  Why am I still sitting here?  

I open the door and get out as a blast of remaining day’s heat pushes against my lungs. The cars are almost all empty now and people are walking toward what I don’t know.  I decide to go back the way I had come.  It was better there.  I listen as the warning sirens are still screeching. The radio has been blasting the emergency message since this all began.  Is this happening everywhere I wonder, has all the world gone mad?  

I know what has happened but I still grip to my belief that I am in control of my life.  That I am my own master.  I want that to be true, but I know because I heard it, the sound earlier, it was a beckoning to those that love Him.  I recognize it from many years ago when my parents talked about what a glorious day it would be.  It’s not glorious for me. 

Then I get a crazy thought.  I want to have a glorious day. I feel the heat of my tears rolling down my face as I finally realize that I have made a terrible mistake.  All those years, He called me, I refused to hear.  I turned my back.  I walked away, I knew what was best for me.  Today, I am sure I do not.  I feel a lump form in my stomach.  It’s true.  It’s all true.  

I close my eye lean against my car and pray.  I pray for the first time in a long time. I am not afraid after I pray.  I feel peace.  I have hope.  I am not alone, I mean I am alone but not alone.  A giggle rises in my chest.  I look over and see this whole time, I have been in a safety corridor.  He kept me safe.  Even when I didn’t deserve to be kept safe. What a glorious day it will be. 

Tell-this-story-Tuesday

Photo Credit: Erika Hayes


A full moon evokes all kinds of feelings.  The question is what is the feeling you get when you see the full moon? Is it always the same?  What changes if you are gazing up at the moon and the night air is warm, thick with humidity?  What if it is chilly and biting?  If you are sitting in a familiar place or a place that you are uncertain of?  Do you think of monsters or romance?  That is the best thing about telling stories, one image can bring about so many ideas and thoughts.  Take a moment to consider some of the environmental aspects, and then write (turn off your inner critic), write a poem, a story whatever you feel when you look at this image.

Sample: 

Moonlit Magic

by: Erika Hayes

Noise surrounds me the party is in full swing.  Laughter, clinking glasses, children running about, beer bottles coming open and the thud of lawn games being played.  I cover my nose as the stench of my cousin’s cigarette smoke curls through the air.  I stand to escape.  Truth is I am looking for any reason to get away.  The party is an excuse to be outside, to have noise to cover the sounds of the night.  I walk toward the densely wooded area behind my home, the blue tinge covering the earth tells me the moon is in full bloom.  It hangs watching over me, reminding me of my longing. I pray tonight will be the night and I smile.  I look back and see my extended family as they play cornhole, look at scrapbooks and laugh through memories.  

The breeze is soft bringing coolness but it’s too soft for the rustling I hear behind me.  A low growl and I turn to see two captivating blue eyes watching me.  My heart thumps in my chest then he steps just out from the darkness.  Taking me by the waist he pulls me close and nuzzles my jaw.  He let out another low growl. The sounds of desire not warning,  “Did I scare you?”

“No, I knew you would come, I could feel you nearby,” I looked up at the moon, “it’s a perfect night.” 

“The moon is full. The air is warm, you smell delicious.”

“No nibbling mister,” I scold him as he nips at my neck, “Save that for later.” 

“Will you come with me?”  His smile is knowing. “I need a nibble.”

I look back at the gathering of people, they won’t miss me for an hour or so, “Sure, but I can’t be gone long someone will miss me.”

Nuzzling me again, “I hope they miss you then.”

His hands wander under my top.  I turn to him and let out a soft laugh, “You’re terrible.”

I can feel the excitement of the moonlit night pushing through us both.  I need him, he needs me.  My family can never know.  

“I’m anything but terrible, let me show you.” His hand finds the small of my back as he turns us toward the woods. 

I look back at my family. “They think you are gone.” 

“Then let’s go.” He laughs looks back at the people that cast him out when the affliction came.  “I only need you.” 

My husband reaches down and takes my hand and leads me away into the dark. His tail swishes with anticipation as we cut through the woods, and he lets out a howl of delight. They will know soon enough that he never left.