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On routines.

Published October 11, 2019 by mandileighbean

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So I’ll be completely honest – despite all the declarations I made in my last post, I am still having a hard time with prioritizing writer … which explains why this week, I’m not updating until Friday (which I have no cutesy, alliterative title for). But every day is a new day, no?

And I have been *thinking* about writing. I have a couple of ideas for a couple of new projects kicking around and with the help of a particularly awesome beta reader, I’m sure I can make them all realities. And I do some of my best thinking while walking in the mornings. Every morning, I wake up between four o’clock and four-thirty and I immediately make my bed. I’ve read time and time again that developing both a morning and evening routine helps with anxiety, and that incorporating the making of your bed is essential. I wrestle with the sheets and tug the comforter until it’s even, and then I head downstairs and change into workout clothes. I make sure my wireless headphones are charged, turn on Amazon Music and Map My Run, and take off for just over two and a half miles. I walk the boardwalk just a couple of blocks from my home. My pace suffers when I brave the shadowy, far ends of the boardwalk, but my brain never slows. I feel enchanted by the moon glittering on the water when it’s full and hanging low in the sky. Sometimes, an egret will be poised with magnificent dignity in the water but more often than not, I’m praying to avoid the skunks which seem to overrun my sleepy, seaside town at particular times throughout the year. When I get back home, I shower and eat breakfast before doing my hair and makeup. I grab my lunch from the fridge and fill my thermos with coffee, and then I’m out the door and on my way to work.

I’ve tried to get to work early enough where I can write, but as of late, I’ve been having trouble meeting that go. I’ve been lazy and slow-moving in the mornings. It’s a goal to incorporate writing into my morning routine since reading is a crucial part of my evening routine.

What about you, dear readers? Are you night owls or early worms? Let me know! Do you have any tips for a solid morning or evening routine? Feel free to share in the comments!

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On passive and active voice, and a problem I didn’t know I had.

Published September 25, 2019 by mandileighbean

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Finally! A timely blog post for Writer Wednesdays! I know this isn’t impressive since I skipped posting last week, but last week was my 31st birthday, and I think that’s a good reason to alter a schedule.

I was successful in my search for beta readers, and I am pleased to announce I’ve already received useful feedback! What’s interesting is that both a beta reader AND a potential publisher mentioned I use the passive voice too much. At first, I was shocked. How did that happen? When did that start happening? Is it because I’ve been reading a lot of European fiction? What’s going on? So I decided to do some research.

According to a potential publisher (who rejected my manuscript because it was written in “7.6%” passive voice), American audiences have been more inclined to purchase books in active as opposed to passive voice. The publisher in question didn’t attach an article or a summary about where exactly the numbers came from, nor did the publisher explain its computations for arriving at the figure 7.6%. But that’s my pride whimpering because one of my beta readers mentioned that the passive voice I used at the beginning of a short story made it confusing. The good news is that the publisher said it would consider the manuscript if I rewrote it in more of an active voice. Deciding my next move, and facilitating my next stage of evolution as a writer, led me to investigate the debate (not that there necessarily is one … but I digress) between passive and active voice.

In active voice, the sentence of the subject performs the action. According to Purdue OWL’s Writing lab, “Using active voice for the majority of your sentences makes your meaning clear for readers, and keeps the sentences from becoming too complicated or wordy” (read more here). In such sentences, “The action is performed upon the sentence subject, meaning this sentence is passive (indirect)”. So sentences written in passive voice are less clear and less concise than those written in active voice because they need more words to express the action. Purdue OWL elaborates on this problem with passive voice:

Sometimes the use of passive voice can create awkward sentences…. Also, overuse of passive voice throughout an essay can cause your prose to seem flat and uninteresting.

And I feel like that is a major problem with my prose! I was re-reading (and revising and editing) my new project, and I was thoroughly unimpressed by my opening. It was coldand impersonal to a fault. Oh no! I have lost my writer’s voice!

Then again, choosing passive voice is sometimes an option. “While active voice helps to create clear and direct sentences, sometimes writers find using an indirect expression is rhetorically effective in a given situation, so they choose passive voice.” But this should only happen in certain writing situations. “The passive voice makes sense when the agent is relatively unimportant compared to the action itself and what is acted upon.” Passive voice is okay when emphasizing action, but after doing my bit of research, it seems like it’s more trouble than its worth to use passive voice.

1. Avoid starting a sentence in active voice and then shifting to passive.

Unnecessary shift in voice:
Many customers in the restaurant found the coffee too bitter to drink, but it was still ordered frequently.
Revised:
Many customers in the restaurant found the coffee too bitter to drink, but they still ordered it frequently.
Unnecessary shift in voice:
He tried to act cool when he slipped in the puddle, but he was still laughed at by the other students.
Revised:
He tried to act cool when he slipped in the puddle, but the other students still laughed at him.

2. Avoid dangling modifiers caused by the use of passive voice. A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence.

Dangling modifier with passive voice:
To save time, the paper was written on a computer. (Who was saving time? The paper?)
Revised:
To save time, Kristin wrote the paper on a computer.
Dangling modifier with passive voice:
Seeking to lay off workers without taking the blame, consultants were hired to break the bad news. (Who was seeking to lay off workers? The consultants?)
Revised:
Seeking to lay off workers without taking the blame, the CEO hired consultants to break the bad news.

3. Don’t trust the grammar-checking programs in word-processing software. Many grammar checkers flag all passive constructions, but you may want to keep some that are flagged. Trust your judgment, or ask another human being for their opinion about which sentence sounds best.

So the question now becomes: how do I fix my problem with passive voice? I realize that using it makes my sentences longer, makes my voice cold and impersonal, and makes my meaning unclear. I think this problem with passive voice started with my second manuscript because I wanted to talk about things that happened before the story technically started, so I wanted to use some kind of past past tense. I got into a bad habit of using passive voice to play with tense, but now it’s time to break the habit.

What writing rules/concepts do you still struggle with? Comment below and let me know, and I can feature a mini-clinic on this blog!

 

On the difference between critics and beta readers.

Published September 12, 2019 by mandileighbean

I know I announced last week that my blog would be updated every Wednesday, but in light of what yesterday was – the eighteenth anniversary of September 11th, 2001 – it seemed in really poor taste to try and peddle my poetry and blog post when minds and hearts should really be focused on the anniversary of the day that changed everything. I’m humbled and completely knocked off my axis when I think about the enormity of that day, from the tragedy to the heroics to its function as a clear and distinct demarcation between a world that was and a world that is.

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So this week, I update on Thursday.

And this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about critics. I was fortunate to see “IT Chapter 2” the night it premiered with Dad and I LOVED the film (and this marks the second time a trip to the movies to see a film based on a work by Stephen King has brought Dad and I closer). It was brutal in its violence and in its tragedy, but it was also beautiful and refreshing in the way it honored the essence of King’s original story. That novel has always held a special place in my heart. Forgive me if I’ve shared this experience before, but I can vividly remember where I was when I read the last page of the novel: I was in my parents’ old van on my way to my twin sister’s softball game at our high school. It was uncomfortably crisp outside, so Mom and my little brother and me were all waiting in the van until my twin sister got up to bat. I was stretched out along the backseat and I was sobbing. I was crying hard enough to cause my mom to turn around and try and comfort me in her unique, no-nonsense way. She said to me, “Mandi, you know those aren’t real people.”

And I laughed, but what I really wanted to do was launch into an impassioned, breathless declaration about the heartbreaking genius of it. I wanted to tell her that it was all real and true in the sense that to be brave, loving, and selfless adults, people need to stay the faithful, simple, and vulnerable children they started out as. And that life is all about connecting deeply with others and staying true to those connections no matter the peril. And I wanted to tell her I was so moved because I belonged to no such club, not even one for Losers. I felt no cosmic kinship with anyone and were I to face a demonic, child-eating clown in a damp and filthy sewer, I’d have no one to call. I realize now that last bit is not entirely true – and never was – but it felt true at fifteen.

So when I read reviews by people who had seen the film and criticized it for not being scary or for being too long, it annoyed me because I wanted to assume they just “didn’t get it,” like I could degrade them into people less intelligent and less empathetic and less open-minded than me. I felt the same way after I saw “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” I was almost offended that people in the theater weren’t as enthralled as I was, that they weren’t blown away by the gorgeous cinematography and the originality in creating a modern fairy tale.

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I had to stop myself. I had to remind myself that art is for everyone, first and foremost, and that everyone is entitled to their opinion. And my enjoyment of a film (or album or novel or whatever) should not be diminished or lessened by someone else’s displeasure. I was turning into the very thing I hated: a critic. Sometimes it seems to me that critics purposely dislike what is popular just to preserve an elitist status and perpetuate the notion that critics knows something the rest of us don’t. And maybe that elitism works both ways, in the sense that those that rally against critics (myself included) do so in defense of the “general” viewer (or listener or reader or whatever). Separating the “casual” imbiber of art from the learned intellectual critic serves both sides because with sides, someone can always be right and someone can always be wrong.

But that’s not the purpose of art or entertainment, is it?

Do what you like with critics, but that doesn’t mean a writer shouldn’t get opinions about her work. Writers should have a couple of trusted, honest beta readers (like critics in a milder, more individualized form) that can help them hone their craft. I have two, but am looking for a third. I am looking for a passionate reader to read my works-in-progress and share their opinion on the work.

Anyone interested? Comment here.

Until next time, friends ❤

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On a September to remember (fingers crossed).

Published September 4, 2019 by mandileighbean

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I know I j u s t updated this blog less than a week ago, but I want to get into the habit of updating weekly. On Wednesdays. Because Wednesdays are for writing. Get it?

And I love starting fresh in September. I became a teacher- in part- because the schedule was so appealing to me. I love feeling like I can start again in the ninth month of the year. That makes me feel like anything is possible.

This September, I’ll be 31 years old. I’m S U P E R excited to say goodbye to 30 (I’ve had a horrible year), but I still have some misgivings about embarking on another trip around the sun. When I bring this up, everyone emphasizes how young I actually am to assuage my fears over getting older. But just how long has “your 30s are your new 20s” been a thing? I’ve been quick to conclude it is a fairly recent development, but now I realize that may only be because I wanted it to be fresh when I turned 30. With one year of my third decade about to be under my belt, I have to ask myself if there is any truth to the clever, little saying, or if it is just a way to help those of us without money or power or fame to feel better about our inescapable mortality.

I’d like to think there’s truth to it, not only because I’m now in my 30s but because as we live, we gain new experiences, which can make us wiser as long as we’re open to that possibility. I get upset because I’m nearly 31 and I’m not married (and not in a relationship, or even close to being in one) and I don’t have kids and I haven’t made it as a writer. And because I understand “Sex and the City” now. Or at least I think I do. It’s hard to tell when Candace Bushnell, the author of the essays that inspired the show, now regrets choosing her Carrie Bradshaw lifestyle over having kids (you can read the article here). And if the gorgeous elegance of Carrie Bradshaw proves to be empty and superficial, what am I doing? In my darkest, loneliest moments, I convince myself that it is too late, that I’ve been living a lie by clinging to an empty promise of grandeur sold to me by the mass media.

But that’s kind of bullshit too, isn’t it? I mean, I’m only 30. I have half a century to live. Have I really missed any shots at anything? Thus why I’m declaring this a SEPTEMBER TO REMEMBER! I will not fear turning 31, but I will embrace it by accomplishing a few goals:

  • lose five pounds
  • submit a polished entry to the Owl Canyon Press Hackathon
  • finish revising Moody Blue
  • hold a contest on this blog at the end of the month

What are your goals for September? Are you getting any writing done? What are your thoughts about aging? Comment below and let’s have a conversation.

 

On going back and forth.

Published August 7, 2019 by mandileighbean

I feel like this summer has mostly been a disappointment. This is mostly my own fault for being lazy and creating grandiose expectations to which no mortal, or season, could live up to. Then again, I reason I shouldn’t be so hard on myself because “summertime sadness” is more than just a popular song. It’s a real thing and I’ve decided the best way to combat it is to be productive and to always keep moving forward.

I wish someone would tell my subconscious. I keep having dreams that are mostly ominous.

For example, the night before last, I had a dream (that I can only piece together in vague shades as it rapidly faded in the ways that dreams do) where I was being chased throughout my childhood home and into its backyard by a tyrannical T-Rex who roared and roared out orders. My family and friends were warning me not to run, feared I would make things worse, but eventually everyone started running with me. And apparently, dreaming of dinosaurs indicates that it’s time for the dreamer to put things behind her and she symbolizes she is stuck in a situation holding her back. Well, that makes perfect sense to me; this is the first summer in six that I haven’t been rushing to my cell phone, hoping and praying for a text message, that I haven’t invented reasons to reach out, only to end up disappointed and ashamed. It’s hard to move on from someone who embodied all your future happiness (or so you thought) but it’s good when that someone is only narcissistic and manipulative.

But then my dream shifted and I was in the room I was sleeping in and unable to turn the lights on. They would flicker dimly and turn off no matter how many times I flicked the switch. To dream of lights that do not work as they should could represent a lack of insight, and could also mean the dreamer is unable to feel that safety is under her control. I don’t feel I’m in any kind of danger, but I most certainly understand the lack of insight; I never know what the hell I’m doing. And studying in Ireland is something I want to do and am afraid to do. It’s much easier to stay exactly where I am, after all.

But then my dream shifted again; I was driving over low bridges over water in Florida while I was panicking because I was late for work in New Jersey. This apparently symbolizes that an important decision must be made because the dreamer is at a critical junction in her life and might have to defend herself against others in her decision to grab an opportunity. Well, holy shit; Ireland it is.

But when I went to the high school where I teach to help with a fundraiser for the Executive Board of the Student Government Association, which I co-advise, I brought up the idea of taking a sabbatical to study in Ireland to my principal, whom I love and admire. And he told me no. He said I was too valuable, which is nice to hear, but he wouldn’t even entertain the conversation. I don’t think he’d actually deny me and I’m flattered by his sentiment, but I want to go. I want to study in Limerick for a year.

Later that night, I had a dream I witnessed a horrible, horrifying car accident, which is a very bad omen. But today, I received an email from Professor Joseph O’Connor from the University of Limerick. He sent me information about the Creative Writing program. I’d have to apply, offer up 3,000 words of original work to be judged. That’s terrifying; what if they say no? What if I’m not good enough? I’m sure I’d be accepted for continuing studying literature, but to be told no is still daunting.

I’m printing out a lame picture from the internet that looks like this:what-if-i-fall-oh-but-my-darling-what-if-44300870

Guess it’s time for me to soar. I’m going to request a phone appointment with the woman from the University of Limerick in charge of international students.

On writing reunions and summer reading.

Published July 18, 2019 by mandileighbean

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The beginning of July has been wonderful. I love the intense, dry heat as it is an excuse to be lazy and spend hours floating in a pool with a book in hand. I’ve had a slowly but surely diminishing pile poolside, and I’ve been nearly perfectly happy. It’s been difficult for me to carve out some time for reading during the school year that’s not dictated by my professional obligations. I’m hoping the I’m instilling reading habits in myself over the next two months or so will spill over into the Fall.

Nora Ephron wrote:

There’s something called the rapture of the deep, and it refers to what happens when a sea-diver spends too much time at the bottom of the ocean and can’t tell which way is up. When he surfaces, he’s liable to have a condition called the bends, where the body can’t adapt to the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. All this happens to me when I surface from a great book.

It’s been a long time since I’ve joyfully suffered from a literary case of the bends, far too long. I need to rediscover my love of reading and read in the totally immersive way I used to. Like in college. I always try to tell my students that they’ll never have the kind of time they have in college ever again to encourage them to use it wisely and selfishly. I read and read and read. I always had my nose in a book, whether it was for class or for pleasure. And I didn’t care if people thought me lazy. I didn’t feel a pressure to be doing something more constructive. Hell, if I’m being honest, I didn’t feel a pressure to do anything. While it’s true I had less responsibilities and was physically located in an atmosphere very much conducive to my bookworm lifestyle, there was something else at play that’s harder to articulate, a kind of freedom I worry I might never find again.

Anyway, while I was in college, I was reading A LOT of Stephen King. I had gone to see him read once or twice, had forced all my roommates to watch adaptations of his novel, and was head over heels, exclusively reading King. My love affair turned intense during my freshman year. I was living on the sixth floor of an older building on campus with four other young women. Our dorm room was huge; it was two large rooms (one for our beds and one for our desks) and there was a private bathroom through the room with our desks. It was also across from the laundry room and was where all the other Honors students stayed. There were parties and fun, but for the most part, the people I saw on a daily basis had their heads on straight.

I came home after class one day, super excited to continue reading Lisey’s Story by Stephen King. It was engaging and enthralling, and I was hooked. All I wanted to do was lay in bed and read, and I had been looking forward to doing so all day. But when I entered the dorm, I couldn’t find my book. It wasn’t where I had left it, which was where I always left it: on my pillow. When I turned to circle dramatically in despair and disbelief, I found my book in the clutches of my roommate Charlotte. Charlotte was a talented, gorgeous, intelligent, and wonderful young woman, one of the best roommates I had at college. I loved her. But I was pissed she had my book (but not as pissed as I was when she ate my cookie and left a note saying “Sorry, but I needed it,” but I guess that’s a story for another time). When I told her I was in the middle of reading it, she asked to finish the page she was on. I consented, and she placed a bookmark in the book. Charlotte assumed we’d be able to read the same book at the same time. I had my doubts.

But what a wonderful experience. I was ahead of her, so she and I could talk about what we were reading while I did my best not to spoil anything. She used a bookmark and I dog-eared my pages (I’m a monster, I know). When Charlotte had a bad day, I set up a “bool” hunt for her just like the ones that appeared in the book. It was a radical, inclusive way to read to literally share a book with someone, and I cherished every second of it.

Reading, though a solitary activity for the most part, can be an impactful and communal activity (hello, book clubs!) and I feel the same way about writing. Last week, I was able to catch up with elegant, fashionable writers I met a few years ago in St. Augustine, Florida at the Algonkian Writer’s Conference. We talked about our triumphs and tragedies pertaining to writing, and discussed why we keep going despite the disappointments and rejections. It was a much needed afternoon and I cherished every second of it.

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Joanna Elm

Joanna Elm, accomplished author and one of the attendees, chronicled the excursion on her wonderful, absolutely wonderful blog which you can read here.

So, I’ve been reading and I’ve been writing. I’ve sent a finished manuscript to five literary agents and five small presses. I’ve also begun working on entering a few contests.

And I’ve reached out to the University of Limerick and am still gathering all the necessary information to live and study there for a year.

Hope all is well with you, readers. ❤

On interpretations and story lines.

Published May 9, 2019 by mandileighbean

The other night, I had a dream that I was in the shower and all my nail polish washed off in the water. I was pissed because in real life, I had just had a manicure and a pedicure and it totally stressed me out. When I woke up, I had forgotten the dream until I saw the red polish still on my fingernails as I reached for my phone (a terrible habit I need to break – summer objective #1!). I Googled “dream symbols nail polish” and as you can imagine, an overwhelming amount of information popped up. Some of the interpretations claimed to see nail polish in a dream meant the dreamer was focused on beauty and attention to detail. Other interpretations took it a step further and said that if the polish was a unique color (like blue or green or purple) then it showed the dreamer’s free spirit. But the interpretation I found that made sense to me was about how seeing nail polish in a dream meant the dreamer was dealing with rumors and “dirty words.” In my personal life, I’ve lost a close friend recently because this person told others that I hated them and said horrible things. I’ve been bitter and angry as a result, so the dream makes sense in that context.

But does that make the interpretation accurate? Does it have any merit, or am I just choosing what applies to me because I can only really look for what I am already seeing?

More recently, I had a dream where mice were running all over my feet and I was beside myself. I took to Google once again and was met with many different interpretations … again. But the website I settled on readily admitted that there are many unique interpretations for seeing mice in a dream, but that seeing mice in a dream was more often than not a bad sign. It mentioned mice representing feelings of inadequacy and of not being good enough, and the fear of being used, all of which are currently extremely relevant to me and what’s been going on in my personal life.

Are these really signs, or do people really only see what they look for?

I don’t know. Personally, I’m always looking for signs and I do believe there are miracles. But as I grow older, I find I have more and more trouble trusting myself. It is an incredibly frustrating sensation. And when it happens, I like to imagine I’m someone else to rectify the situation. I’ll ask myself, “What would Carrie Bradshaw do?” or “What would Harry Potter do?” or “What advice would Jane Eyre have?” I think of characters I admire and go from there. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing because maybe, just maybe, ink and pen and paper are stronger materials than blood and bone.

I bring up characters to ask about story lines. My prompt for this week is to: “Ask for fans’ favorite story lines and see if they have ideas or suggestions regarding what should happen next.” So for the next post, I’ll share more of my current project and ask for thoughts on what should happen next. But for this week, just tell me some of your favorite story lines. One of mine is from the SyFy network’s show “Haven” (based on The Colorado Kid by Stephen King … no surprise there, right?). The show was filled with “troubled” people, whose anxieties and fears and desires manifested into supernatural abilities. I thought it was a clever spin on the whole “sheriff in a small town” trope. And I fell in love with the character of Duke Crocker, played by Eric Balfour. (I should mention that I’ve always been attracted to men, both real and imagined, that have dark hair and dark eyes, and who are mostly assholes (from Michael Scott in “The Office” to Duke Crocker on “Haven,” and despite both shows being on Netflix, they couldn’t be any more different in plot and theme and genre. I hope that illustrates the depth of my issue)).

So let’s get talking! Please comment about your favorite story line from books and/or movies and/or television, and maybe it’ll be inspiring for all those aspiring writers out there (myself included!).

 

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