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From Timid to Confident

For some time now, I’ve wanted to share with you readers just how much of an impact belly dancing has had on my life. As I look back over the more than twenty years of my professional dance career and time spent teaching my students, I can’t help but smile while thinking how changed I am from the timid, insecure person I was in the very beginning. Not just in dance, but in every aspect of my life, and I’d like you to imagine my words as an analogy for most any career.

Those who knew me as a beginning dancer probably wouldn’t say I was timid and insecure from their observations, because I was also enthusiastic and very much taken with the mystique of the dance. I, like most of us, suffered silently. I didn’t know many dance steps or how to transition from one to another. I felt my figure wasn’t ideal. I had no idea how to put a costume together or where to find the resources for costumes.  What about hair and makeup? There were so many things I didn’t know, and I couldn’t help feeling intimidated by all those dancers who were so good at their craft. Does this sound familiar?

Take heart. Perhaps if I tell you what I did, you may have similar results.

First of all, you must learn that it is all right to be timid in the beginning. In fact, that trait is helpful. It makes you try harder, want to learn more. If you live in an area where lessons are taught, take as many lessons as you can. Subscribe to publications, read articles and order catalogs that offer supplies. Attend seminars and conventions that give you the whole picture of what you have learned in the classes, and more.

As in any endeavor, networking helps. When I first started going to seminars, I took the time to write to the teacher or guest of honor, ahead of time, letting her/ him know how excited I was that they were going to be teaching and/or performing. That way, when I got to the seminar, there would be at least one person whom I knew, and it’s so easy these days with e-mail. I was always surprised when they remembered that I had written them, but you see, people love to be appreciated. Many famous dancers, I believe, are friends now, because I took the time to make their acquaintance. And the wonderful thing is that belly dancers are really great people. They are eager to teach you the things they have learned and to share their experiences and ideas. So there is really no reason to feel intimidated. Make friends with other students and with vendors, too. After all, your interests are the same.

The more you learn the more confident you become. The more confident you become, the more relaxed you are and the more you can enjoy this beautiful art form. I’ll always remember taking a seminar with the famous performer and teacher, Bert Balladine when he held his head high and told us that each one of us was a gift of God’s and we needed to dance as though we believed it. In the beginning, you may need to pretend you feel that way, (I certainly did), but as you master each challenge, it becomes easier to feel the beauty of the dance and feel beautiful performing it.

When you feel confident and beautiful in one area of your life, it’s amazing how that bleeds into other aspects of it. Because of my experiences in the world of dance and the wonderful people I have met through the years, I feel I have become more interesting, confident, sharing, and even disciplined than I would have been had I not had the courage to enter in with love, enthusiasm, and a willingness to try. So put on that smile, lift yourself up and start on your journey. You, too, can go from timid to confident.

With that said, see how you can take this “dance lesson” and translate it into advice for writing, or for artwork, or for music or science, or whatever your interests are. And have fun!

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

 

 

 

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How to Ease Your Holiday Anxiety

A while back, I wrote a blog entitled, The Hurrier I Go, the Behinder I Get. Does that sound like you? Especially during this holiday season? There are so many things that must be done in such a short amount of time. Cleaning and decorating alone, can be very time consuming. Writing and sending cards, planning parties, meals, preparing for visitors, gift buying/making, wrapping, sending/giving, the list goes on. And it seems there is always something that will put us behind schedule, an illness or accident, for instance. Unexpected “somethings” abound. Eeeeeeek!

I’m going to play “mommy” for a minute and remind you of something you already know. Obstacles are going to bar your way. It’s how you handle them that helps you keep your sanity. That’s a short sentence, but it’s packed with importance.  And worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles; it takes away today’s peace. Here are a few pointers I’d like to share that just might ease your emotional load.

First of all, this is a season that reminds us to be peaceful and to love others and enjoy this time. With that in mind, I find it helpful to have holiday music playing while I attempt some of the chores ahead. Making a short list of three or four items and checking them off as I progress, and then making another short list on another piece of paper underneath the first one keeps me from being overwhelmed and checking off items makes me feel like I’m getting somewhere. It helps being determined not to let frustrations enter my mind by making an adventure out of some tasks that would ordinarily be mundane or even aggravating. Treating myself  to a cup of hot chocolate, apple cider or special tea, boosts my spirit and reminds me why I am toiling away, to make this holiday special for someone else, and has the benefit of making the holiday special for me, as well.

If you have family members to whom you can delegate, let them help you. Note: They may not do things exactly as you would, but if they are willing to help, let them do things their way and be grateful for that help. Perfection should NOT be insisted upon. Praise them for their efforts. (I’ve seen arguments develop over this tip.)

If you are still having anxiety, put everything in perspective. In your mind ask these questions. A year from now, will I, or anyone else, remember how stressed out I was during this season? Is that a good thing? In five years, will I, or anyone else remember how stressed out I was during this season? In ten years, will I, or anyone else remember? In thirty years, will I even be here? Will anyone even remember ME? If so, how will they remember me? If you are a young person, you can extend this perspective example.

If all else fails and everything threatens to be too much, simplify. Take a deep breath. Try to relax. Remember the reason for the season, and with love in your heart, have a Merry Christmas and a very happy and prosperous New Year!

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NaNoWrite – Tips to Help You Focus by Deborah J Ledford

Okay, so you’ve made the decision to join thousands of other writers for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2011 project. I thought some tips to help you focus might be helpful.

1) STAY FOCUSED:  Nothing is more frustrating than losing focus and veering from your original story idea. In an effort to eliminate any confusion, write a Logline that merely answers: WHAT IS MY STORY ABOUT? 24-30 words maximum. Think of it as a TV Guide blurb. Print the description out in bold font and keep it close at hand. This description should be fused in your memory so that you may respond to the often dreaded request: “Tell me what your story’s about.” By committing these lines to memory, you fuse their reality and make your works an achievable goal. At the start of each writing day, read the Logline so that you may focus your thoughts on what you originally intended to achieve.

For example, here is the logline for my latest novel SNARE: One rock star sensation. Two men from her past want her dead. Three others will risk everything to keep her safe. Who will be caught in a trap?

This is the logline that kept me focused while writing the first book in my Steven Hawk/Inola Walela series STACCATO: Three world-class pianists. Two possible killers. One dead woman. Who is her murderer? Who will be next?

2) KEEP MOVING:  If you’re stuck on a chapter—move on to the next one. Make notations as to where you are stuck to remind yourself where stumbling blocks raised their wicked head, dismiss them for now and start another chapter. Keep moving!

3) VISUALIZE REAL PEOPLE:  It often helps to visualize performers speaking your lines of dialogue. It will also help you “see” these actors employ mannerisms and quirks which make your characters come to life. www.imdb.com will help you research performers you have in mind. Take a look at their films or TV programs and put them in your scenes.

4) CHARACTER SKETCHES:  Even minor characters should be thought out fully. Create a character breakdown indicating what each character in your piece is about. Quirks, hobbies, downfalls, character flaws, likes/dislikes are all instrumental in creating “real people”.  Create a breakdown of each of your characters. One paragraph is sufficient for minor characters, but major players should be detailed to the extreme. You will find that by writing two pages of text about these people you will know them better and be able to convey their reality to the reader.

5) BRING EACHCHAPTER FULL CIRCLE:  Each chapter should be a short story within itself. Consider if all elements you have included are necessary to advance the plot. Do you really need a flashback within the chapter?  If flashbacks are too long you risk tricking the reader into believing the flashback is playing in real time.  Do you really need to throw in that extra character?  Focus the scene (chapter) where you want to lead the reader.

6) CREATE A HOOK:  One of the most important elements to integrate is a hook at the end of each chapter—no matter the genre. Your main goal is to get the reader to NOT quit reading. If you reveal a cunning chapter end, chances are, they’ll be compelled to turn the page.

7) AVOID EXTRANEOUS TAGS:  If it’s evident who is speaking, cut the HE/SHE SAID tag at end of your sentences. Chances are the reader is going to skip this qualifier anyway.  If you stay true to what your character is saying, their dialogue (in many cases) will reveal their identity. Instead, throw in a bit of action—what he/she is doing or reacting to in order to keep the scene active.

8 ) KEEP A DAILY RECORD OF WHAT YOU HAVE WORKED ON:  Use a Daily Planner to notate word count you have composed at the end of your day’s writing. This is also great to notate details pertinent to your work. Keep this “journal” for your professional output only. Be sure to do a word count when you finish writing and notate this on your planner—think of it as your cookie at the end of the day.

9) TELL PEOPLE YOU’RE “WORKING”, NOT “WRITING”:  Laypeople don’t understand writers or what we actually do. They do however understand “work” and can process this delineation much better. If a family member or friend calls and asks what you’re doing, merely state: “I’m working.” That usually does the trick.

Congratulations on making the commitment to complete an entire manuscript this month.

Deborah J Ledford’s latest suspense thriller novel SNARE, The Hillerman Sky Award Finalist, is book two of her Deputy Hawk/Inola Walela thriller series. STACCATO, book one of the serial, is also available. Both novels are published by Second Wind Publishing.

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A Word… or Two

I use Microsoft Office Word 2007 to craft my novels in. It’s user friendly and it has features over the older versions that I just love such as smart spell check.

A fellow author asked me a couple of questions about why Word takes curvy quotation marks and apostrophe’s and makes them straight. I had no idea why it did that but a quick find and replace fixed all of those buggers. Then, we wanted to know why it happened in the first place and how to stop it.

So, here are some helpful tips:

http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/msoffice/?cat=3

The annoyances

Behavior How to turn it off
#1: Word creates a hyperlink when you type a Web page address. Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and select the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Under Replace As You Type, deselect the Internet And Network Paths With Hyperlinks check box and click OK.
#2: Word changes capitalization of text as you type it. A host of settings can trigger this behavior. Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and select the AutoCorrect tab. Here, you can deselect whichever check boxes govern the unwanted actions: 

  • Correct Two Initial Capitals
  • Capitalize First Letter Of Sentences
  • Capitalize First Letter Of Table Cells
  • Capitalize Names Of Days
  • Correct Accidental Use Of Caps Lock Key
#3: Word inserts symbols unexpectedly, such as trademark or copyright characters or even inserts an entire passage of text. Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and select the AutoCorrect tab. This time, find the Replace Text As You Type check box. Either deselect it to suppress all replacements or select and delete individual items in the list below it.It might make sense to keep the feature enabled and selectively remove items, since the list includes scores of common misspellings that are actually nice to have corrected for you.
#4: Word superscripts your ordinal numbers, such as 1st and 2nd. Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and click the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Deselect the Ordinals (1st) With Superscript check box and click OK.
#5: Word converts fractions into formatted versions. Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and click the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Deselect the Fractions (1/2) With Fraction Character option.
#6: Word turns straight apostrophes and quote marks into curly characters. Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and click the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Deselect the Straight Quotes With Smart Quotes check box and click OK.
#7: When you try to select a few characters within a word, the highlight jumps to select the entire word. Go to Tools | Options and click the Edit tab. In the right column under Editing Options, deselect the When Selecting, Automatically Select Entire Word check box and click OK.
#8: When you type three or more hyphens and press Enter, Word inserts a border line. Go to Tools | AutoFormat and select the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Deselect the Border Lines check box and click OK.A similar option exists for inserting a table, but it’s generally not going to sneak up on you: When the Tables check box is selected, typing a series of hyphens and plus marks before pressing Enter will insert a table (with the hyphens representing cells). You can turn off that option if you think you might stumble into an unwanted table insertion.
#9: Word automatically adds numbers or bullets at the beginning of lines as you type them. There are two flavors of this potential annoyance. First, if you start to type something Word thinks is a bulleted list (using asterisks, say) or type 1, a period, and some text, it may convert what you type to bulleted or numbered list format when you press Enter.To prevent this, go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and select the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Then, deselect the Automatic Bulleted List and/or Automatic Numbered list check boxes and click OK.A related aspect of this behavior is that once you’re entering automatic list items, pressing Enter will perpetuate it — Word will keep inserting bullets or numbers on each new line. To free yourself from this formatting frenzy, just press Enter a second time, and Word will knock it off.
#10: When you type hyphens, Word inserts an em dash or an en dash. If you type a word, two hyphens, and another word (no spaces), Word will convert the hyphens to an em dash. If you type a space before and after the hyphens, it will convert them to an en dash.To disable this feature, Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and select the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Deselect the Hyphens (–) With Dash (-) check box and click OK.

Bonus fixes

Word may cause your users some additional grief in various other ways besides automatic behaviors. It goes a little something like this:

User: My document if full of weird code stuff and my pictures are gone.
Culprit: Field code display has been toggled on.
Solution: Suggest that the user press Alt+F9 to restore the display of field code results.

User: I’m seeing gray brackets around a bunch of my text.
Culprit: Bookmark display has been enabled.
Solution: Go to Tools | Options and select the View tab. Then, under the Show options, deselect the Bookmarks check box and click OK.

User: I’m typing and everything in front of the cursor is disappearing.
Culprit: The evil Overtype mode has been activated.
Solution: Go to Tools | Options and select the Edit tab. Then, under Editing Options, deselect the Overtype Mode check box and click OK. (It might be quicker to double-click OVR on the status bar, if you can point the user to it.)

User: Everything’s gone, all my toolbars and menus and everything — there’s nothing here but text.
Culprit: The user has landed in Full Screen view.
Solution: Direct the user’s attention to the Close Full Screen View button at the bottom of the window (depending on the version) or tell them to press Alt+V to display the View menu. They can then select Full Screen to turn off that view mode and return to familiar territory.


Accessing the options in Word 2007

All the settings we’ve discussed here are accessible via the Office button in Word 2007:

  • To get to the AutoCorrect dialog box, click the Office button, select Word Options at the bottom of the menu, and choose Proofing from the pane on the left. In the pane on the right, click the AutoCorrect Options button, and Word will display the AutoCorrect dialog box containing the AutoCorrect and AutoFormat As You Type tabs.
  • To get to editing options, click the Office button, select Word Options at the bottom of the menu, and choose Advanced from the pane on the left. Word will display Editing Options at the top of the pane on the right. In that section, you’ll find the When Selecting, Automatically Select Entire Word check box and the Use Overtype Mode option. If you scroll down to the Show Document Content section, you’ll find the Show Bookmarks check box.
  • The successor to Full Screen view in Word 2007 is Full Screen Reading view. Users shouldn’t get stuck there, but if they do, the Close button in the upper-right corner of the window will take them back to Print Layout view.

~ Claire Collins

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Did You Catch NaNo Fever Yet?

Okay, kids, it’s November, which means, on top of making ourselves crazy with holiday plans and trying to remember what to give thanks for, it’s time for NaNoWriMo once again. For those who are deeply enmeshed in the writing community, there is no explanation necessary. We all know what NaNoWriMo – affectionately shortened to NaNo by the diehards – means: One month of self-induced lunacy whereby we cough up 50,000 words of a novel in a 30-day time period. No pressure!

As frightening as it might seem, at first, NaNo is actually a very good exercise for everyone who ever considered putting pen to paper. Or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be. First, it gets the writer into the mindset of writing something every day – and shouldn’t we be doing that anyway? It also teaches the writer about setting goals by committing to a certain number of words or pages a day, and discipline, by actually sitting down to accomplish those goals. But perhaps the most important thing, in my mind, that it accomplishes is that it gets the writer to write. You can talk about writing all you want, but unless you actually sit down and start the process of committing words to paper, you are not a writer. You are only a writer when you actually write.

So if you decide to take the plunge this year and join NaNo, here are some of my tips for you:

1. Don’t over-think the process or you will never get past the Chapter One heading. Don’t worry so much about paragraph spacing, punctuation, grammar, etc. That is what editing/revising is for. This is only a first draft.

(This is a hard one for me because I tend to over-think everything, but I’ve learned that if you curb that impulse to be absolutely perfect the first time out of the gate, the words will come and you can polish them later.)

2. Don’t listen to the little voice inside that says, “I could’ve done page so-and-so better…I’ll just go back and fix it.” No. Don”t go back, always go forward. Again, this is what editing/revising is for. If you’re afraid that you might forget what it is you want to change, keep a notebook beside you and make a note to change such-and-such on page-whatever. Then keep going forward.

(I am immersed in a constant battle with my internal editor. I love it when I win – but the editor gets its revenge in the rewrites.)

3. Don’t forget to post your daily totals on the NaNo site. When you see that number in black and white, it will give you a sense of accomplishment and encourage you to go on.

(I forgot to do this, so when I finally remembered to do it yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised that I had already topped the 10,000 word mark. Not that I expect to write that many words every three days – I was just on a roll.)

4. Don’t worry about trends and whether or not your story will fit in with what is being published today. Just write the story that’s inside you, clawing its way out. Leave the marketing worries to the time when the story has been polished and is ready to be sent out. And if you try to follow the trends and write something that is already popular (vampires, anyone?) but don’t have a passion for what you are writing about, not only will it show in the writing, the story will most likely fizzle out long before you reach The End.

(I’ve fallen victim to this before, not during NaNo, but just in the course of my writing, and then I lamented the fact that I could have spent the time writing something I was really passionate about, rather than what I thought publishers wanted.)

5. Add buddies. Believe me, having someone there to encourage you in your writing is a priceless commodity.

6. Have fun. Yes, writing is a job, it’s work, and can be very exhausting, but it has to be fun. If you don’t have fun writing, it will show. You should take pleasure in the whole process of creating characters and throwing them into challenging situations. If you start to dread the idea of sitting down to write, then you should probably re-think your reason for wanting to do it. If it’s for the fame and glory, then it’s the wrong reason. Many of us will never reach the same heights as Stephenie Meyer, Nora Roberts or John Irving, but we write for the sheer pleasure of writing. This doesn’t mean that we don’t want anyone to read what we write, we just write for ourselves first. Or at least I do.

7. Write the stories you like to read. Believe me, you will be reading your own story so much over the course of conception to publication that, if you don’t like to read the type of story you’re writing, you will hate the story long before it comes out. If it comes out. I have chucked out story ideas on many occasions, at varying stages of progression, because I just didn’t like the idea anymore and couldn’t bring myself to work on it any longer.

8. Most important: Just write. Now is not the time to talk about your dreams of being a writer. Now is the time to live the dream. Start the process, continue the process, finish the process. Only when you reach The End will you know for certain if you are a true author – or if it was better just to dream about it. If you reach the end and can’t stop thinking about what you just wrote and want to dive back into it,, you are a writer. If you reach the end and find yourself thinking about the next book you want to write, you are a writer. If you have more than one idea kicking around inside your head fighting to be the next to come out – I feel for you! – you are a writer. But if you come to the end and dread the idea of having to go back and revise what you just wrote, maybe this isn’t your calling.

(For me, I couldn’t imagine not writing. I have been doing it since I could hold a pencil and nothing has stopped me from pursuing my dream. Not falling on hard times, a stint in a shelter, being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis or raising a child with bipolar disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome. Writing is my therapy, my blessing, my saving grace. It has gotten me through all of the trying times and sustained me through the lean times. I don’t write because I dream of being the next Stephenie Meyer. I write because I couldn’t imagine a life without it. Kind of like breathing.)

Well, I hope you enjoyed my tips today. If you have any of your own, feel free to add them in the comments. I’m curious to read about your writing process. If you want to learn more about NaNo, check out the link below:

http://www.nanowrimo.org/

You can find me here, under the screen name peefie23:

http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/86996

Feel free to post your own screen names and indicate if you want us to buddy you. I welcome all who are willing to add me as a buddy.

Good luck with all of your writing – and reading! – ventures. ~ Margay

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