December 30, 2011

best of 2011: year in review

Welcome to Change the Word's Best of 2011, where I will recap the best moments from the blog and entertainment community. Today, I review some of my biggest writing moments in the year and on the blog. Consider this my self evaluation of sorts.

My writing journey
I finished the first draft of my first novel in February. I started the book and wrote the first 50,000 words during National Novel Writing Month 2010. Completing the first draft was one of the best moments in my life. Even though I know it needed a lot of work (and still needs work 10 months later), I have a vision of where to take it.

I proudly participated in NaNoWriMo 2011. I crossed the 50,000-word mark with a day to spare thanks to lots of planning and support from my friends, family and fellow writers. In 2012 I hope to finish even earlier and generate better quality writing. Conditioning needs to start now, and I need to make daily novel writing a habit. I also plan to finish this novel.

The blog
In July, this blog took on a new meaning and life for me. When I started it in 2010, I created the blog, because I felt like it was something I, as a writer, should do. But in July this changed when I decided to make it a way for me to challenge myself as a writer and connect with other readers and writers.

I also rolled out a redesign of the blog earlier this month. I considered waiting to do it until 2012, but I figured there was no point in waiting — I liked it and wanted to share it.

Generating new and interesting content spearheaded the changes to the blog. A few notable additions to the blog this year included:
•  Project Boy Meets Girl
•  Project BFF
•  Reading in the Kitchen
•  Novemberpalooza
•  12 Days of Writing

Thanks to old and new friends, I also welcomed many talented writers on this blog as guests. In particular, I would like to thank Samantha Robey from Chick Lit Plus for allowing me to join her blog tours. Thanks to her, Change the Word will host more author interviews, guests posts and new book reviews. I am excited about what this will mean for the blog (and for all the new books I will get to read and share with you).

It's amazing how quickly everything changed from there. The past six months, this blog has become what I wanted: a platform for sharing ideas and connecting with others. I can't wait to see where this goes in 2012.

Farewell until next year
This will be my final post until 2012. I hope you'll join me in celebrating what you have accomplished in 2011 and dream of where your life will take you in 2012. Some say the world is ending next year, and I don't know about that. It might, it might not. There are no certainties, and you can only control what you can control. Regardless, I have a good feeling about 2012 and what it will bring for my life. I wish the best for you, too.

Thanks for your readership and support. I started the blog for myself, but having great readers motivates me to keep going.

December 29, 2011

best of 2011: favorite reads

Welcome to Change the Word's Best of 2011, where I will recap the best moments from the blog and entertainment community. Today, I will look at my favorite reads.

A few could be labeled "New-to-Me." It seems I can be behind with the times, and several of my reads fell into that category. I decided to include them, even if it's delayed (it's not the writers' faults I'm late to read).

(Click on the book title to see my review when applicable.)

My Top 10 Favorite Reads of 2011

10. Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett
From the review: "Fast paced and intriguing from the first lines, the novel delivers on the high expectations set from the beginning. The well-crafted and captivating story is about mother's dedication to save her inexplicably ill son and his journey to find proof of life after death. The mother's troubled brother and the boy's dedicated doctor join the duo on their quest for answers."



9. Destined to Fail by Samantha March
From the review: "The novel unabashedly covers sensitive topics ranging from domestic abuse, abortion versus adoption, safe sex practices, and so on. The book handles the issues with sensitivity and precision, which makes it approachable. Through JJ's narrative, March raises awareness for important women's issues without being preachy or judgmental. By doing this, the book becomes a solid read for young adults, the audience who probably most needs this message."



8. Recession Proof by Kimberly S. Lin
From the review: "Recession Proof is a fast-paced story and quick read that shows the importance of taking ownership of one's own life and being surrounded by positive people who will help you be the the person you want to be — not hinder it."



7. The Summer We Came to Life by Deborah Cloyed
From the review: "Cloyed hit the mark in create both an entertaining and emotional story. "The Summer We Came to Life," shows the importance of the bonds of family — even if that connection is not by blood."



6. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
I know, I know, 2003 called and it wants its book back. My mom let me borrow this book, and I sat down to read the first few pages before calling it a night — thinking I'd finish it throughout the week. I stayed up to finish the book that night. I cried. I thought. I felt. Most of all, the feelings lingered, and I didn't regret the lost sleep. That says it.

 

5. Mini-Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
From the review: "A solid addition to the Shopaholic series, Becky's antics are funny. She has a knack for finding difficult situations, but coming out on top in the end. Her quirky and positive outlook are always enjoyable to read. Though she and Luke are more upperclass than middle, the issues they face are similar to the ones other couples must deal with. Where will they live? How can they handle their headstrong daughter? Should they have another baby? How over-the-top should Luke's surprise party be and how many thousands of dollars should she shell out? OK, maybe not all of the problems are completely relatable, but Kinsella has a knack for making them feel like it."



4. The Next Always by Nora Roberts
It might not be on my list of all-time favorite Nora books, but a reader can always count on one of her reads being well-written and enjoyable. Though the characters, plot and themes of book one in the Inn BoonsBoro trilogy are reminiscent of those we've seen before I didn't care. I considered Beckett, Clare and their story the 2011 retelling — and I'm fine with that. The story was interesting, the characters were appealing and I enjoyed the read. If you're expecting to be blown away by innovation, you might be disappointed. If not, it's worth the few hours it will take to read.




3. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
After finishing National Novel Writing Month 2010 a winner — and learning that author Sara Gruen penned her novel during a previous NaNoWriMo — I wanted to read the book before it became a movie. And it's good. Really good. The movie was OK, but this is another one of those stories that once I started I couldn't stop. I read the first few chapters during lunch after picking it up and I stayed up until early the next morning to finish it. The book was well-researched, well-written and wonderful.




2. Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella
From the review: "While carrying Kinsella's signature wit and humor, the book also touches on tough issues, such as lost friends, backstabbers, adultery and family problems. But Lexi has a good heart, perseverance and a true desire to love that she tackles each problem as it comes. As usual, Kinsella delivers a well-crafted and entertaining story about a woman overcoming the obstacles and challenges thrown at her."

 

1. Persuasion by Jane Austen
Talk about being a little late to the party, but after being a Jane Austen fan since high school (and almost 200 years after she wrote it), I read Persuasion. It's fantastic. Not only did the book inspire my latest Work-in-Progress, but it also contains one of the most romantic lines I have read: "You pierce my soul." SWOON. My heart flutters every time I even think about the line. (I just got goosebumps writing it.) If you like Jane Austen's other stories, you will love this one. Of all her stories, I find it the funniest and most emotional.





Your turn: What were your favorite reads of 2011?

December 28, 2011

best of 2011: top entertainment picks

A word cloud of my most frequently used words in 2011 in Facebook status
updates, Tweets, emails and instant message conversations.

Welcome to Change the Word's Best of 2011, where I recap the best moments from the blog and entertainment community this year. Today, we cover my favorite moments in entertainment. Instead of creating a top 10 ranking, I picked one or two favorites in each category.

You will notice the lack of books on this list. Don't worry, my top 10 favorites reads of the year will appear tomorrow.

With that, I introduce my top entertainment picks 2011: 

Movies 
•  Comedy: Bridesmaids

•  Drama: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2
and Jane Eyre




Television
•  Comedy: 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation 
•  Drama: Bones
•  Best line: "It's like, why didn't I resign in disgrace 12 years ago?" (Parks and Recreation)

Music:
•  Best album: Adele - 21


•  Best love song: Lady Antebellum — Just a Kiss
•  Best breakup song: Chris Young — Tomorrow
•  Best song to cry to: Adele — Someone Like You
•  Best song to jam to: Bad Meets Evil featuring Bruno Mars — Lighters
•  Best workout song: LMFAO — Sexy and I Know It  
•  Best car sing along: David Guetta featuring Usher — Without You 
•  Best car dance music: Maroon 5 — Moves Like Jagger 
•  Best Nebraska reference: Lady Gaga — You and I 
•  Best I-had-to-look-up-the-lyrics-to-sing-along song: Kenny Chesney — Somewhere With You
•  Best music video: Katy Perry's Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)

Internet
•  Websites: www.savvyauthors.com and www.chicklitplus.com
•  Meme: Feminist Ryan Gosling

Moments (SPOILERS)
•  Colin Firth wins Academy Award for Best Actor.
•  The Royal Wedding. My friends and I made T-shirts and drank mimosas, people, and then we went to work. It was an epic experience.
•  The gingerbread office scene in Parks and Recreation's mid-season finale.
•  Brennan telling Booth she was pregnant in Bones' season finale.
•  The Emmy nominees for best actress in Comedy rushing the stage during the awards show for a beauty pageant moment.

Miscellaneous
•  New Tech Device: iPhone 4S (If you don't have Siri, then you don't even know.) 

Now it's your turn: What were your favorite entertainment moments from this year? I'm sure I missed more than a few, so let's hear it.

December 27, 2011

best of 2011: readers' choice

Welcome to Change the Word's Best of 2011, where I will recap the best moments from the blog and entertainment community. Today, we count down my top five most viewed posts on the blog from 2011.

5. The Teacher and the Doctor
I love Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series. And so did you, it seemed. The couple appeared in Project Boy Meets Girl at No. 3 on my list.

4. Plotting for NaNoWriMo
With NaNoWriMo looming, I decided to be prepared for my 2011 venture into 50,000 words of mania. Using note cards, pens and a note card holder, I created a mobile plotting device that enabled me to plan my characters, major scenes and chapters. I received great feedback from fellow writers who used this and succeeded at meeting their goal. I can't think of a better compliment than that.

3. Book Review: Destined to Fail
Samantha March — the pen name for the creator of Chick Lit Plus — shared her debut novel with me, and I gave it a four-star review. The story tackles tough issues that make it a a good read for anyone with a high-school or college-aged daughter.

2. Something Delicious This Way Comes
Another "Reading in the Kitchen" post, in this edition I made cauldron cakes from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. They were delicious, fun and a great treat to share with my friends for Halloween.

1. American as Green Pumpkin Pie
The post that started it all. To kick off my "Reading in the Kitchen" series I made green pumpkin pie from Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter. While I think I will wait for my pumpkins to ripen every year before making traditional pie, this treat was tasty and a fun break from the norm. I also learned how to make pie crust — a skill I have already put to good use.

Thank you for continuing to read my blog. I look forward to the posts and changes the new year will bring.

December 25, 2011

merry christmas!


Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah or Happy Sunday from Change the Word, wherever the season finds you, today.

I'm likely knee deep in wrapping paper, candy and a good book. Forget about playing with new toys, Christmas has always been one of my favorite days of the year to read and watch holiday books and movies.

In honor of the day, I thought I would share some of my favorite holiday books and movies.


Books:
•  What Child is This? by Caroline B. Cooney
•  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
•  The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
•  The MacGregor Brides by Nora Roberts
•  How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Christmas Movies:
•  Elf
•  A Christmas Story
•  It's a Wonderful Life
•  Love Actually
•  Scrooged

New Year's Eve Movies:
•  Sex and the City
•  When Harry Met Sally

Today, I'll be reading Nora Roberts' The Next Always, because I haven't yet, and it's been taunting me on my shelf since November. What are you favorite holiday reads and watches?

Happy holidays!

December 23, 2011

12 days of writing - week 3 winner


Congratulations to the 12 Days of Writing's week three winner,

Aja.

You are the winner of the Top Chef cookbook.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the challenge. Happy holidays and merry writing to all.

twelve days of writing - recap

Thank you everyone for following the 12 Days of Writing. I enjoyed putting this together and appreciate the positive feedback I received. I'll hope to do something similar next year — only bigger and better of course.

Here's a rundown of the 12 days:

No. 1: Use your family's annual holiday letter as a writing exercise.
No. 2: Rekindle the love for your story and write through tough middles.
No. 3: Persevere.
No. 4: Look for story inspiration in your daily life.
No. 5: Learn people's real love stories.
No. 6: Make writing your business.
No. 7: Take a break to see other people.
No. 8: Talk to your family and learn their stories.
No. 9: Build a writing community.
No. 10: Know how to give and receive constructive criticism.
No. 11: Remember that even you have a story to tell.
No. 12: Make your own opportunities.

The week three winner will be drawn and announced at 2 p.m. CDT. Be sure to check back then to see if you're a winner.

Remember, you have until then to answer any of the prompt questions by leaving a comment on the post for your chance to enter. No limit to entries per person!

December 22, 2011

you can get it

Twelve Days of Writing No. 12: Make your own opportunities.

It is the last day of this series, which means it is time to get real.

Here's the deal: Success does not happen on its own. You have to want it. You have to work for it. You have to overcome obstacles and even then results are not guaranteed. It does not matter if you are writing a screenplay or going for a promotion at your job. You will have to work for everything you get.

You will also likely find it rare for someone to come up to you and offer you everything you want. Unless you are already famous, no one will offer you a book deal unless you write a book, make it good and get out there. And no matter how supportive other people are, you have to be your biggest cheerleader and advocate. You are responsible for what you do.

Don't be discouraged by this fact. Use it to empower yourself to make opportunities. Why wait for something to happen for you? Make it happen for yourself.

Want to be a book reviewer? Start a blog. Review books that you read on your own. Eventually, people will see what you are doing and offer you books to read. That's what I did.

Want that book deal? Write the book. Have people critique it. Get an agent/ publisher. Self publish. Do what you have to do.

When I think of people who have made opportunities for themselves, one person who comes to mind is Samantha Robey. She founded Chick Lit Plus, and also released her debut novel under the pen name Samantha March. She did not wait for someone to ask her to do either — she took the initiative and made it happen. I met her through the Twitterverse, and now I'm pleased to participate in her Chick Lit Plus blog tours.

Samantha was kind enough to do an interview with me so I can share her story with you. Maybe it will give you the inspiration you need to make your own opportunity. 

Laura Chapman: How did you come up with the idea to start Chick Lit Plus?
Samantha Robey:
I've always been a big reader, and it really just came to the point where I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to talk to people about the books I read. I anted to hear other's opinion on the books. I wanted to connect with the authors. And I want to be published myself. In 2009, after googling around the Internet, I found a book blog that was everything I wanted to have for myself. I sketched out my own ideas, did some more researching, and hired a blog designer within the week and Chick Lit Plus was created. I have always said it was my best idea yet.

LC: What are the services and products you offer through your website.
SR:
Let's see here:
1. Book reviews
2. Author interviews/ guest posts
3. Lots of giveaways!
4. Blog tours via CLP Blog Tours
5. Freelance editing services - includes proofreading, content editing, manuscript critiques, etc.
6. The Chick Lit Reading Challenge - this will be my second year hosting it.
7. And I recently just published my debut novel under my pen name Samantha March — Destined to Fail, so I feature a section on Chick Lit Plus called For Writers - writers helping other writers.
I think that's it but… more to come in 2012.

LC: How did starting the website change your life?
SR:
It really, truly did. Before I started Chick Lit Plus, I had my goals and dreams. But since I have started my site, I saw what hard work and perseverance could do. Chick Lit Plus absolutely helped me become a published writer. The resources and connections it opened me up to have been incredible. And now to use my experience and knowledge to help authors and run my business from it — life changing in every way.

LC: What outcome has most surprised you since starting the website?
SR:
How hard it can be. How much work goes into a blog. I had no idea when I first started this that it would grow to what it has now. I had no idea I would be where I am now. But I think it is because of the work that I put into it. I have two to three original posts every day — including weekends. I'm constantly updating what I'm reading, what's next on my bookshelf, what I got in my mailbox. I post book reviews three to four times a week. I interview an average five authors a month. I write original content on books, writing, celebrities, fashion, beauty and fitness. I'm marketing myself for hours a day, chatting on Facebook or Twitter or updating my Amazon or GoodReads page. Oh yes — then I red. I average three books a week, but my to-read pile is still out of control. Is it exhausting? Yes. Do I fear carpel tunnel? Every day. But do I love it? Yes. Is it my passion? Without a doubt. There are times where I feel down, where I feel like I can't have a day off, away from my laptop. Where I feel that I can't pick up a book without feeling the weight of a deadline on my shoulders. Then I just have to remind myself that I'm lucky. I'm doing what I love every day. Trust me — it's worth it.

LC: What advice would you have for other writers who feel like they nee to create new opportunities for themselves?
SR: Do it. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Don't tell yourself differently. If you have an idea, something that you feel will work and you have done research on it, just go for it. No one is going to make the opportunities happen for you. You have to make them yourself.

LC: Is there anything else you would like people to know about your website/ writing career/ self?
SR: Just that I'm grateful. I'm so extremely grateful for everyone who has supported me and Chick Lit Plus these past two years. I don't think I would be published if it weren't for the enthusiasm, support and persistence of others to never give up. To the wonderful feedback I have gotten from authors, readers, bloggers, and clients. For the first time in my (kind of) young life, I feel that I'm on track. I know what I want to do and have some good ideas on how to get there. And for that, I am grateful.

For more information about Samantha, visit her websites:
http://www.samanthamarch.com/
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Samantha-March/104518512989033
http://twitter.com/#!/SamanthaMarch23
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5287274.Samantha_March
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/97812
http://www.amazon.com/Destined-to-Fail-ebook/dp/B005XNI560/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320108498&sr=8-1

Giveaway challenge: What opportunity have you created for yourself? What was the result?

LAST CHANCE TO ENTER: Answer in the comments below to be entered to win this week's Twelve Days of Writing drawing. Be sure to check back Friday at 2 p.m. CDT to see if you are this week's winner. Read about the contest and what prizes you can win here. This week's winner will receive the Top Chef cookbook and recipe kit. 

December 21, 2011

learn your stories

Twelve Days of Writing No. 11: Remember that even you have a story to tell.

While completing a questionnaire this summer to include in the "About Me" section on this blog, one of the prompts asked what stories are the ones people must say about me. I had a couple in mind, but wanting to get them straight from the source, I called my mom.

When I asked, she shared three stories. They just so happened to be the ones I had in mind. All three were also Christmas-related, which makes it all the more fitting this time of year.

Story one:
"When you were 18 months old, we put you down for a nap and while you were sleeping we put up the Christmas tree and decorated it. When you woke up, we brought you out and your eyes were as big as a saucer. You kept turning around in circles looking at it. You were very amazed and very cute."

Story two:
"When you were 3, we were at church Christmas Eve and you were up on the stage singing. You were on TV and the camera stayed on you. You were just beautiful, your eyes were so shiny. And all of the sudden this little hand went up and went for the nose, and they sped away from you real fast."

Story three:
"The other was that same Christmas. You loved the songs you were singing at church, so you would sing them all the time. Dad was tucking you into bed and he said something about Christmas being over and you said, 'Christmas is not over. Christmas is in our hearts.'"

Being a little vain, these stories always make me smile to hear. More importantly, they taught me that I can never say I don't have my own stories to tell.

Giveaway challenge: What is the story your family most tells about you?

Answer in the comments below to be entered to win this week's Twelve Days of Writing drawing. Be sure to check back Friday at 2 p.m. CDT to see if you are this week's winner. Read about the contest and what prizes you can win here.

December 20, 2011

what goes around

Twelve Days of Writing No. 10: Know how to give and receive constructive criticism. 

You are writing a book, play, poem, screenplay or whatever. That's great. In your mind, it is the best story ever told. Or maybe you are honest enough to know it needs some work. Regardless, the story is your creation, the love of your life (or at least the moment) and a product of your labor and dedication. Wanting to reaffirm the greatness of your story you share it with friends, family and your cousin's nephew's former hair stylist hoping for feedback.

Their response? "It was good." Or, "I didn't like it." Or, "I don't get it." Whatever the answer, unless there is some constructive criticism in their response you likely will not be able to make your story better. (Here's a quick news flash: No matter how awesome you are, and trust me you are great, you can always become better. That's the nature of humanity. Our potential is limitless.)

Knowing how to give and receive constructive criticism is a valuable party of the creative process. Gaining another person's perspective can strengthen your story, or put you on a better path. But how do you do it?

Receiving Criticism

•  Listen. This can be difficult. I struggle with this every time I share my writing, because I grow unabashedly attached to my work. But learning how to receive the criticism is quite simple: SHUT UP AND LISTEN.

•  Look at the big picture. Take a step back. Fully comprehend the feedback you are receiving. After your buddy is done, ask follow-up questions to make sure you understand any suggestions. Keep your cool and be polite through it. This person has taken their time to help your story. The least you can do is let them.

• You don't suck. Even if your pages are covered with red ink, or the feedback seems completely negative, know that you don't suck. It's easy to think you do, but you only suck if you give up and decide you don't want to become better. If you feel like crying, because the reviews were bad, go ahead. Have a little cry. But then, wipe your tears and wash your face and move on. You have work to do.

•  When comments get rough, give yourself a big hug. If you're still feeling bummed, come up with some sort of mantra like, "You are awesome, Laura," and say it to yourself in the mirror a few times. You'll feel like better eventually.

Giving Criticism

•  Be helpful. It is your goal to help the writer become better, and you need to follow through with this. Don't go into attack mode or be condescending.

•  Be respectful and use a good tone. The golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated never goes out of style. Also, communicate with the writer and not at. You'll be amazed how much better your message will get through.

•  Look for the good, not only the bad. I guarantee every story has some redeeming quality about it. Identify it and make sure the writer knows what they did well. When a person knows, they'll keep doing it.

•  Sandwich your comments. You start with a little bit of praise. "Hey, Laura, I really like how you had the characters meet. It was funny, and the timing was great." Followed by something to work on. "Laura, you use forms of 'to be' quite often. Use more active verbs and it will move the story along better." Then, finish off that sandwich with another slice of praise: "You have beautiful eyes, Laura. I get lost in them." Or something like that.

•  Offer a solution. Don't just tell a writer they should fix something without giving some instruction. Be specific. It drives me nuts when someone says, "You might want to work on (vague topic)," then leaves it. Instead, try the previous example of, "you're using a lot of 'to be' verbs, but should keep your voice more active. It's challenging, but it keeps the story moving at a stronger pace."

In General

Criticism is one person's opinion. You, the writer, ultimately decide what you will do. Don't let that stop you from making changes, though. Change might seem scary, but it often leads to something good.

Giveaway challenge: What are other ways to be a good critique buddy? 

Answer in the comments below to be entered to win this week's Twelve Days of Writing drawing. Be sure to check back Friday at 2 p.m. CDT to see if you are this week's winner. Read about the contest and what prizes you can win here. This week's winner will receive the Top Chef cookbook and recipe kit.  

December 19, 2011

make friends

Twelve Days of Writing No. 9: Build a writing community.

On several occasions, I have heard writers say they had to kiss their social lives good-bye to succeed. Writing is time consuming, and when you add in work, family and other commitments it leaves little time for anything else.

Writing may be a solitary activity, but it does not have to be. Like most things in this world, writing can be enjoyable when you share it with others. I am not saying you have to co-author a novel or screenplay, but you can still make it a group sport.

Here are a few ways:

•  Join or create a writing group. Hold weekly, biweekly or monthly meetings to discuss your projects, attend conferences and so on. This is a great way to meet fellow local writers.

•  Work with critique partners. Before you ever send your work to an agent or editor take some time to share it with others. While having a spouse, sibling or friend read it works, having a buddy or few to swap projects to critique is even better. A critique partner will be honest with you, and vice-versa. You build a relationship around your writing, which enables you to know each others' strengths and weaknesses.  

•  Hold mass writing sessions. This is something I started doing recently, and I love it. A couple of friends and I get together regularly to write. Each of us puts our headphones in, turn on our computers and zone out while we write. We often do not speak much while we work, which is perfect. Even though we may not be directly interacting, having one, two or 10 other people writing at the same time motivates me to keep going. Perhaps it is the competitor in me, but when I see someone else typing away furiously I get jealous and think, "I can do that, too."

•  Join online writing groups. Whether you go to Twitter, join websites such as Savvy Authors or Women's Lit Cafe, you will network with fellow writers outside of your geographic location. Some of my favorite fellow writers are people I have never met in real life. You can swap war stories, motivate each other and give and receive advice.

The best part about doing this? You will find out you are not alone. The solitude that comes with writing can be isolating and depressing. When you are going through the journey with other people, you have a solid sense of community.

Also, another set (or 10) of eyes can make a project better. You might think your story is fantastic on its own, but one comment from a friend can take your story from great to fan-freaking-tastic.

You also learn more when you have other people involved. I can honestly say that every time I receive feedback on my writing I learn something. The lesson is not always profound or life-altering, but it is still a learning experience.

Giveaway challenge: How have you benefited from being part of a writing community? 

Answer in the comments below to be entered to win this week's Twelve Days of Writing drawing. Be sure to check back Friday at 2 p.m. CDT to see if you are this week's winner. Read about the contest and what prizes you can win here. This week's winner will receive the Top Chef cookbook and recipe kit.

December 17, 2011

changing change

If you are reading this post then I am sure you can see some changes have come to Change the Word.

In preparation for the new year and new developments on my blog, I wanted to give it a different look. When I set out to create this blog, I knew I wanted to continue to work toward something bigger, better and more enjoyable for the readers. The redesign is part of that vision. I believe in experimentation and trying new ideas until you find the right fit. I hope you like it.

There will be more changes to come in 2012, but I don't want to spoil the fun by revealing them all, today. I can tell you I am excited about them, and I hope you will love them when you see them, too.

Thank you for continuing to read. Have a great weekend.

December 16, 2011

12 days of writing - week 2 winner

Congratulations to this week's winner...

JacieLynn

I have already contacted Jacie, who will be taking home the Allusions Not Illusions package. That means there is one more prize up for grabs in next Friday's drawing: the Top Chef cookbook package.

Thank you to everyone who participated this week, and don't forget to try again next week.

keep it in the family

The Twelve Days of Writing No. 8: Talk to your family and learn their stories.

One of my favorite past-times is going through photos or yearbooks with my parents and asking them questions about them. I've heard about their high school days, family members I have never met and their favorite trips.

Mom won a beauty pageant in high school. What meant most to her was being named Miss Congeniality by her peers. Dad worked a paper route to save money to buy the trap set he still uses, today. He bought it piece by piece for a couple of years until he had it all.

Before she passed away, I interviewed one of my grandmothers for a school project. The assignment was to complete a survey with someone from a previous generation, and she was a good sport about it. At the time, it was a way for me to do my homework. Looking back now, I cherish those moments we spent together. I heard about my grandma, my grandfather, their families and their lives.

My grandparents grew up on farms and worked hard. For fun, they would go to dances, church socials and card games.

Through all of this, I also learned about myself: who am, where I cam from and where I want to go. I learned that every person has a story to tell. Some are great epics, others are anecdotes, but they are all important.

As writers, we have an opportunity to preserve stories and settings and people for future generations. How awesome is that?


Giveaway challenge: What lessons have you learned from past generations that you use in your writing or everyday life? 

Answer in the comments below to be entered to win this week's Twelve Days of Writing drawing. Be sure to check back today at 2 p.m. CDT to see if you are this week's winner. Read about the contest and what prizes you can win here.

December 15, 2011

do something different


Twelve Days of Writing No. 7: Take a break to see other people.

Your love your family and friends, but sometimes you might need a break from them to meet new people or try different things. The same goes with writing. If you feel particularly stuck take a break. Spend some time doing something else. You can still be productive even if you aren't generating words for the current story.

Other ways to be a productive writer:

•  Write a stock pile of posts for your blog. That way, when the book writing bug is back you will be able to focus on the story and not have to worry about updating your website.

•  Don't have a blog? Start one.

•  Write a short story.

•  Work on character or story planning for a future project.

•  Make revisions on an earlier part of the story (or on another project altogether).

•  Find a critique buddy and swap stories. Your friend might be able to give you pointers to rekindle the spark, and you can do the same for him or her.

•  Read a book about writing and editing. It will help you build your technique and perhaps inspire you.

•  Read any book. Check out what your fellow writers are producing. It will help you understand industry trends.

•  Investigate industry trends by reading trade publications. There are all kinds of magazines, papers and blogs out there with information.

•  Write your query letter. It might be a little premature, but by writing the query letter now you can gain more insight into the story you're telling. It might give you that spark you need to get back to your story. Also, it's another step down.

All of these activities will keep your mind focused on writing and not let your skills go rusty. However, with any break make sure you don't take too much time apart. Otherwise it's not taking some time apart, it's breaking up.

Giveaway challenge: What other activities can you do to stay focused on productivity while also taking a break from your project?

Answer in the comments below to be entered to win this week's Twelve Days of Writing drawing. Be sure to check back Friday at 2 p.m. CDT to see if you are this week's winner. Read about the contest and what prizes you can win here.

December 14, 2011

know your business

Twelve Days of Writing No. 6: Make writing your business.

An author at a writing conference I attended four years ago shared advice I took to heart, but only recently put to use.

Stephanie Bond told us to make writing our business. Treat it like a job, not an occasional pastime, and you will produce results. It made sense to me. Unfortunately, your story will not write itself, and you must put the words down on paper (or screen) if you want it told.

But how do you do it?

Use these tips:

1. Create a schedule. Mark down all of the times that are already taken by work and other regular activities. Then, select blocks of time you would like to use for writing. Though any amounts of time will work, I like to find at least an hour at a time. Several hours all together are even better for me, because I can get in the writing zone.

2. Stick to your schedule. What good is a schedule if you don't stick to it? If your boss schedules you to work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday then you probably show up to work before 8 and stay until 5 Monday through Friday. If you say you will write from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays with a short break for lunch than do it.

3. Create a workplace. I'm a little lax in this part. I have a desk in my barbrary, but I do most of my writing in coffee shops, on my couch or in bed. I think the most important thing is to find a place where you are comfortable.

4. Have the right resources. Make sure your computer is in working order. Need paper? Writing utensils? Dictionary? Get them.

5. Give yourself a performance evaluation. When you do well, reward yourself by going to see a movie you wanted or have sushi. Bribery can work. 

By creating parameters for yourself to stick to and taking your writing serious, you can yield greater results.

Giveaway challenge: What other ways could you make writing your business?

Answer in the comments below to be entered to win this week's Twelve Days of Writing drawing. Be sure to check back Friday at 2 p.m. CDT to see if you are this week's winner. Read about the contest and what prizes you can win here.

December 13, 2011

can we guess your character's age? contest update

My entry into Brenda Drake's "Can We Guess Your Character's Age?" contest made it to the semi-finals. You can see that announcement here. Congrats to the 19 other writers who made it, too.

And now, I can officially reveal my character's age...

Elliot Lynch is 28.

Several of you guessed it perfectly, so congratulations to you.

What does making it to the semi-finals mean? It means that my entry — and 20 others — will be reviewed by book editor and literary agent assistant Gabriela Lessa. The top three winners will receive discounted editing service from her, which would certainly help an aspiring writer polish his or her manuscript.

Whether or not I win I am pleased to see my submission made it to the semi-finals. It means that at least a few people were able to guess my character's age. While I may have a lot of work to go before this book is query ready, I know I am at least on the right track.

I would like to thank everyone who left feedback on my original critique post. I value the feedback I received and already put some of it to work. It proved to be a great learning experience for me, and I love having those.

Here are a few lessons I took away from the feedback:
•  I need to put more action in my opening pages. It might mean completely re-working the beginning, and potentially cutting most of what I wrote for chapter one, but it will make my book better.
•  Less is more when it comes to providing background early in a story. Instead, wait to reveal more about a character's history until a couple of chapters in — it will add more suspense.
•  Watch my use of "to be" verbs. I am guilty of using these a lot and will strive to add more action verbs to my writing.
•  Don't take it personally when someone offers you a critique. It does not mean you suck. It does not mean you are wrong. But, when a person gives you a suggestion you should listen. It may make your work better.
•  Be positive and constructive when giving criticism. Most people who participated in this contest on my blog and others did this, and it makes a big difference. A writer usually becomes attached to his or her work, and if someone attacks it the person may get defensive or hurt. Neither of those ends well.

I also appreciate the compliments and encouragement some posters left. It definitely made my day to read them. Thanks again for your help and for making this contest beneficial win or lose.

true love

Twelve Days of Writing No. 5: Learn people's real love stories.

Love may not always be as poetic or perfect as it seems in books or in the movies, but it has its moments — even in real life. One of the greatest gifts we can give as writers is sharing it.

The good news? It's everywhere for you to learn and take inspiration from.

During a school trip to England, one of my professors' husband told a few of us students how he met his wife. By the end of the trip, I heard the story a few times, but each time I enjoyed it as much as the first. Each time he told the story, he ended with the same words, "I asked if I could walk her home, and I've been walking her home ever since."

Their story was sweet, and it definitely tugged at my heart. But the best part was the delivery. You could see how much he loved to tell it. It was his favorite story to tell, and one he had practiced well and recited countless times. Each time he arrived at the final line of the story, his smile was the same. He loved his wife and you could see it.

In moments where life is difficult, or seems impossible, it's nice to be reminded that a little love story can brighten your day.

I've always enjoyed learning people's love stories. It started when I was young.

I grew up asking my parents about their first date. I knew some of the particulars — they met on a blind date through mutual friends. Both in their 30s when they met, neither of them was looking to find love. But they did. I always found that terribly romantic growing up. I still do.

My parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary last December. When as the date approached, I wanted to know the whole story.

While still living in Houston, I secretly interviewed them in summer 2010 during a Skype conversation. When I came home for a short visit in July, we drove by the restaurant where they had their first date. It had just been torn down and all that remained was the sign in the parking lot. I told my parents we had to stop so I could take their picture next to the sign while it was still there.

I am glad we did. The sign and remaining parking lot were removed soon after, and a new building is in construction. Though the restaurant is gone, we have their photo, and now I have their story.

Here's my challenge to you: Talk to your parents. Talk to your friends. Talk to the person you sit next to on an airplane. Ask them to share their love stories. You'll be glad you did. You might also find inspiration for your own stories. Like Hugh Grant's character says in Love Actually, "Love, actually, is all around."

Giveaway challenge: What's your love story or your favorite true life love story? 

Answer in the comments below to be entered to win this week's Twelve Days of Writing drawing. Be sure to check back Friday at 2 p.m. CDT to see if you are this week's winner. Read about the contest and what prizes you can win here.

December 12, 2011

the writing process

Blogger's note: I am pleased to welcome Kimberly S. Lin to Change the Word as part of her blog tour to promote her debut novel Recession Proof. Today, she shares insight into her writing process.

Kimberly S. Lin
By Kimberly S. Lin
Guest blogger

I generally start out with a broad idea of the topic I want to write about then fill in the holes. With Recession Proof, I wanted to address the concept of never settling even if your current environment/society/family or your own insecurities may drive you to. With that basic skeleton, I then start introducing characters and settings that flesh out the topic and humanize the issue.

I do like to simply outline each chapter just to give myself a roadmap. I think of my outlines as storyboards and I’m like the director on a film. I’m a very visual person so I like to imagine the story happening in my head like a movie. I think that’s why a lot of my readers tell me that my book could be a film (wishful thinking?!).

But when I write, I can actually see my characters and the emotions on their faces when they deal with the situations that I’ve created. I also try and step into their headspace and tap into a memory that might trigger that emotion that the character is going through. I think writing, for me, is a lot like acting and directing a film, funnily enough.

Also I always hear other authors say this but now I know it is true- as the story progresses I get to know my characters as well. For example, I’m working on my second book and I’m on the fence about whether I like my main character for some reason. Helen, in Recession Proof, is a flawed character just like everyone else so it’s interesting figuring out why she’s driven to do the things she does and why she has those flaws. My characters are the cornerstone of my work, they drive the story.

I’m also a fan of letting my work “breathe.” I wrote the first half of Recession Proof in a year. Then let it sit for a couple months. Of course, it was because by then I started hating everything I was writing. After a few months, I picked it up and loved it again. However, it might just be a testament of my Gemini nature. In any regard, I hope my readers love it and my work resonates with them!


Kimberly S. Lin is a California native, graduated from UC Irvine with a degree in Economics. After college, she moved to Los Angeles and worked as a financial writer and hedge fund analyst but always dreamed of becoming a women's fiction author.

Utilizing her experiences, she writes stories that are witty, heartwarming and relatable to the modern woman.
 

Learn more about Kimberly by visiting her website or Facebook page. Read Laura's review of Recession Proof here. Thanks for stopping at Change the Word, Kimberly.

December 11, 2011

book review: recession proof

Title: Recession Proof
Author: Kimberly S. Lin

Kimberly S. Lin addresses the economic recession and the financial and emotional impact it has on young professionals in her debut novel Recession Proof.

When the story begins, 29-year-old Helen Smart is trapped in a dead end job and relationship. Neither are "the one," but she is too scared of the poor economy and life as a single woman to venture out on her own.

A likable and relatable protagonist, Helen faces reality after life-altering circumstances and finds herself without a boyfriend or a steady job. Free from her previous shackles, Helen sets out to discover what she wants from life both personally and professionally.

Likewise, Lin successfully creates a great cast of sidekicks, villains and a heartthrob based on reality rather than fantasy. Even the most over-the-top characters — such as Helen's step-mother, step-sister and niece — they are enjoyable and satirical.

Recession Proof is a fast-paced story and quick read that shows the importance of taking ownership of one's own life and being surrounded by positive people who will help you be the the person you want to be — not hinder it.

For me, reading Helen's story was a personal experience. Some of her conversations with friends about feeling trapped or scared could have been based on ones I've had. Like Helen, when the economy fell apart in 2008 I, along with most other people, refused to believe it would have any long-term effect on my life. The recession effected all of us more than we could have imagined. Our stories might all vary, but some parts remain the same.

I would imagine that most young professionals in their 20s and 30s are also experiencing a sort of existential crisis related to their expectations for adulthood and what they received in return.

Lin captures the feelings of isolation and disappointment people experience when they realize their life is not what they wanted. Best of all, the Recession Proof shows you are not alone, and as long as you have ambition and a willingness to work hard, there is hope for your future and dreams.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Kimberly S. Lin is a California native, graduated from UC Irvine with a degree in Economics. After college, she moved to Los Angeles and worked as a financial writer and hedge fund analyst but always dreamed of becoming a women's fiction author.

Utilizing her experiences, she writes stories that are witty, heartwarming and relatable to the modern woman.
 

Learn more about Kimberly by visiting her website or Facebook page. Check back tomorrow for a guest post from Kimberly as part of the blog tour for her debut novel Recession Proof.

December 9, 2011

12 days of writing - week 1 winner

Sorry, for the delay (our chili cook-off and holiday card writing party at work ran late), but here it is...

The winner of this week's Twelve Days of Writing giveaway is...

Nita. Who provided not one but TWO books with recipe ideas for future Reading in the Kitchen posts.

Please contact me at lmchap@gmail.com to let me know where I can send your prize. Also, pick your prize from here.
 
Thank you to everyone who participated in this week's challenges. Don't forget, you still have two more prizes to win in the coming weeks.


How to win:
•  At the end of each Twelve Days of Writing post I will have a prompt. Everyone who answers it in the comments section will be entered into a drawing for that week's prize.
•  Prompts will also be included on Reading in the Kitchen posts.
•  Entries must be received every Friday by 1:45 p.m. CDT.•  Winners will be announced on the blog at 2 p.m. CDT Friday.
•  Winners will have 48 hours to contact me at lmchap@gmail.com to provide directions on how I can deliver the prize.
•  Only one entry per post, but you can enter on every post.
•  Prizes will only be delivered in U.S. or Canada this year. (If participation is good, I may open it up to overseas next year.)

Click here to see what next week's prize will be.

sweet snow


 It snowed — I mean really snowed — last weekend in southeast Nebraska. Mother Nature gave me the opportunity to do something I've always wanted: make candy in the snow.

Snow begins to fall Dec. 3, in Lincoln, Neb
Mom read my sister and I Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods when I was 6 and Sarah was 3. Aside from the party at her grandparents' house, and all the maple syrup/ sugar action* going on in that book, the other part that got me was when Laura and Mary made candy swirls using hot molasses and snow.

(*To this day I still imagine that people in Wisconsin, Vermont or any of those heavily wooded northern states spend their winters making and eating maple syrup. If I am wrong with this assumption, please do not correct me. I need something to believe in.)

Candy made out of snow seemed like the coolest thing in the world to me, and I hoped one day I would make it.

That day came Sunday. We had a good snow the day before, which squelched in desire I had to commune with the outside world. As I sat at home by myself for a couple of hours it hit me. There was snow outside AND I had molasses in my cupboard left over from a previous Reading in the Kitchen recipe.

It was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

I searched around on the Internet to figure out how to do it. After reading  a few other posts, I decided to go with it and see what worked.

Here's how it went down:


Add 1/2 Tablespoon butter to pan over medium heat.
Add 1/2 cup molasses. So gross.
Add 1/4 cup brown sugar.
Bring the mixture to a natural boil and whisk it.
Don't let it burn.
I used a spouted pan to write in the snow. I put on my boots and picked
this pile from the middle of our backyard, because it seemed like the
amount least likely to be messed with by critters. If you plan to do this with
little kids, pour the mixture into small pitchers or mugs.
You don't want them to get burnt!
I began making designs in the snow. This is an L for "Laura,"
because that is my name.
I take a hesitant first bite. At first it wasn't bad. Kind of gooey
and sticky and molasses and brown sugary, which was to be
expected. Then I took a second bite. Then the aftertaste reared
it's ugly face. And I decided it was not good enough to eat
more. I tossed the rest out.


Final thoughts: Even though I didn't fall in love with this dish, I would still do it again. (I guess I just don't like the taste of molasses.) If I lived back in the pioneer days, and I did not regularly eat processed sugars, I bet I would have thought it was pretty delicious.

It was fun, took all of 10 minutes and it would be a great winter activity to do with kids. I encourage you to give it a shot with your young ones.

I'm looking for new dishes and books to feature in 2012. Leave me an idea for a memorable dish in a book in the comments below, and you will be entered to win this week's Twelve Days of Writing drawing. Be sure to check back Friday at 2 p.m. CDT to see if you are this week's winner. Read about the contest and what prizes you can win here

If you enter after 2 p.m., today, I will put your name in for next week's drawing. 

December 8, 2011

guess your character's age contest

I'm entering a contest sponsored by the fabulous Brenda Drake, and I'd like to know what you think about my entry before I submit it.

Here are the rules: Post the first 250 words of your finished, or not quite finished, manuscript (any genre) to your blogs. This contest is about voice--whether or not your character's voice matches his or her's age. So if you mention the age or school grade in the first 250 words, please edit it out or block it out for this contest. Don't list the genre or title on your posts. If your 250 words falls in the middle of a sentence, continue to the end of the sentence.

Check out the first 250 words of my novel in progress. Please let me know what you think. Ttake a crack at guessing Elliot's age, too, if you're inclined.

(UPDATED)

In a few short hours, Elliot Lynch would find herself buried under a mound of work. She could hardly wait.

She was home to work for Engagements, her family’s wedding and event planning business. Her sister had run the wedding side of the business for years, and now it was her turn. Their father planned to partially retire, and her sister would step into his role. Elliot was more than willing to let her sister handle the stuffy convention halls. For her, florists, bakeries, and chapels were like a second home, and she welcomed the homecoming.

She loved it on Cape Cod. For the past decade, Elliot had been away more than she was here, and she was ready to change that. The older she got, the more she appreciated the connection to her past.

Weddings were in her blood. Her mother had been an event planner before Elliot was born. Growing up, weekends were often spent in churches and dining halls, week day afternoons at appointments with vendors. It taught her patience from an early age. Her mother expected her to be on her best behavior wherever they went, and Elliot was always eager to please.

Based on that experience, Elliot knew her life would soon be a chaotic mess of brides, caterers, florists, seamstresses, and anyone else who had a part in planning a couple’s nuptials.

Marrying off couples meant her cell phone would be her most meaningful relationship. She accepted the fact and moved on.
Can you guess Elliot's age? Any other thoughts?

As an added bonus, anyone who leaves feedback for me will be entered to win this week's Twelve Days of Writing drawing. (This isn't technically part of the series, but I figure why not.) Be sure to check back Friday at 2 p.m. CDT to see if you are this week's winner. Read about the contest and what prizes you can win here.

catch ideas

Twelve Days of Writing No. 4: Look for story inspiration in your daily life.


You can find a story anywhere. I truly believe that. I look for story arcs in everything I do. Sometimes inspiration can come in the most seemingly mundane, or completely disgusting and nearly life-ruining way. (Read on and you may think I'm overstating this, but I stand by my opinion.)

If you follow me on Twitter, then you know for 10 days this fall my life was dominated by a rodent. After the temperature dropped a mouse moved into my house, and in my fear I got a little irrational. Fortunately, I had the good sense to live-Tweet the whole thing.

Here are  few highlights:
Oct. 26
lmchap: Just saw a mouse in the house. Did what any sensible person would: screamed, grabbed a broom and called my brothers. #aaaahhhhhh

Oct. 30
lmchap: The mouse situation is tearing my household apart. Broomie and I just fought again about who and what is to blame. #IWantMyLifeBackMouse
lmchap: Broomie: "Do you want to know the truth or for me to protect you?" Me: "The Truth." B: "I saw the mouse again." Me: expletive.
lmchap: B: "Your anger is displaced and doesn't help, dude." Me: "Neither does your calm. And don't call me dude." #Mousegate2011
lmchap: Me: "Our home has been violated. RU OK with that?" B: "I don't like it either, but you have to accept it." Me: "Never. I want my life back."
lmchap: As I stood in the kitchen, broom in hand, shouting "Show yourself," I realized broomie was right. I may be overreacting. #mousegate2011
lmchap: Made Broomie escort me through kitchen to basement where kittens took over to lead me to safety. Scared of another run-in. #mousegate2011
lmchap: Briefed the kittens. They're ordered to destroy the unwelcome guest if it makes an appearance downstairs. I deputized Jane. #mousegate2011
Jane: a good mouse-catcher no more.
Oct. 31
lmchap: I'm told a squirrel ate part of my Edward Cullen pumpkin's face. #SadDay #RodentsAreRuiningMyLife
Nov. 2
lmchap:
I screamed when a squirrel ran across the road in front of me. Mouse in the house may have scarred me for life. #mousegate2011

Nov. 3
lmchap:
After a few days the mouse is back. Eff this. I'm bring the kittens upstairs to hung. #mousegate2011
lmchap: Broomie may not be happy about it, but I can't live like this any more. I mean the mouse actually squeaked at me! #mousegate2011
lmchap: So far they've been up here 10 minutes and nothing. I hope it doesn't take much longer. #mousegate2011

How we finally caught mouse.
Nov. 4
lmchap: Mouse isn't confined to floorboards, it seems. Had an unpleasant run-in with him while walking through kitchen this morning. #mousegate2011lmchap: I tried to grab the kittens to attack it, but wasn't fast enough. That little sucker is sneaky. And evil. #mousegate2011
lmchap: I blame cartoons for making mice seem cute and funny. In reality, they're terrors. I hate mouse. #mousegate2011

Nov. 5
lmchap: Mouse in the house has gone on too long. I'm giving this a shot, tonight: http://journal.chrisglass.com/2005/09/how_to_catch_a_.html
lmchap: We got the bastard. I caught it using the homemade trick and released it in a park. #mousegate2011 may be over!
Do you think there might be a storyline somewhere? I sure do. While I do not think Mousegate 2011 could carry a whole plot, I definitely think it's something I can weave into a bigger story as a fun subplot.

I suggest keeping track of quirky moments like this in your life. Log them in your journal, or type up a few notes. Do whatever it takes to commit it to memory.

For Mousegate 2011, I have a document with every Tweet I, or one of my friends, posted about it. I also took notes about details that didn't make it into the Twitterverse. If I ever decide to write about my near scared to death experience, I'll be ready.

Giveaway challenge: Have any of you used a real life event to inspire fiction? How did it work? 


Answer in the comments below to be entered to win this week's Twelve Days of Writing drawing. Be sure to check back Friday at 2 p.m. CDT to see if you are this week's winner. Read about the contest and what prizes you can win here.