Friday, December 1, 2017

Holidays - A Writer's Interruption?

Thanks to Pixabay.com 
It's that "wonderful time of the year" again. December. Christmas is crowding in and crowding everything else out.

I used to get frustrated with holidays - any of them throughout the year. They are such an interruption to writing and usually come when I'm on a roll.

I'm changing my attitude. Holidays are good. God gave us holidays for a reason. (For you purists, yes, I know God didn't give us Christmas in the same way he gave the Israelites Festivals and holidays. But he gave those holidays and set the example.) Holidays are a time to slow down. Or stop. To think. Remember. Remember what is important. Be thankful. Re-evaluate. Re-focus.

Without holidays time just spins past and we risk not even noticing. (Tweet that!)

So December is a time to analyze what we've done this past year and where we're going in the next one. Are we going to get done the goals we set at the beginning of the year? Or is it another year to be disappointed? Goals unfinished. Writing projects undone.

Some of us have been doing this writing-thing for a while. We've seen many Decembers roll around in our writing lives. It can feel like December after December of unmet goals turn into years gone by and the writing projects we set out to do years ago remain unfinished. (Tweet that!)

When I started out in this gig, my big dream was to write a novel. Guess what is the one thing I have not done? (Well, I've written a few unpublished novels. I've learned a great deal from writing those.) I've written more than 300 published magazine articles and short stories, hundreds more online articles, six nonfiction books, contributed to twenty more books, and have written five feature-length screenplays. But not a publishable novel.

Can  you relate? Does this feel familiar? What's a writer to do?

How to Accomplish Your Goals


Then the next logical question is what do we do about it? As I look ahead to this next thirteen months - December through next year - here are my thoughts about it at this moment:

1. Make a new plan.

I never subscribed to that "write every day" rule. (Tweet that!) I much prefer to have a large chunk of uninterrupted time when I can concentrate on a big project. But I never get there. I've always thought I needed to get everything else done first so I can enjoy my big special project. But I never get everything else done.

Time for a new plan. I'm going to take the advice I've heard often and try to write every day. I know the word count will add up. I know I'll be chipping away at that big goal.

Does this strategy sound like it can work for you?


2. Reevaluate your schedule

What has cluttered up your time? All that "everything" I mentioned in #1 above is just stuff. Yes, it's stuff that needs to be done. Email and platform-building and marketing, oh my. But you know what? It can wait.

I'm putting my writing first this next thirteen months. Not "everything else." (Tweet that!)

3. Start a New Job

Writing is a job. It's our work. Our career. (Even if you have another one with a paycheck.)

So I'm going to claim my most creative time for my writing. And I'm going to guard it.

My most creative time is first thing in the morning. (That is, after I read my Bible for a bit and feed the cat and give her her insulin.) If I start with Facebook, email, or something else it eats up my time. By 10:00 other things come into my world that demand attention. I need to get writing done before then. Ignore all else. Even the phone.

What is your best, most creative time? How can you block off and guard that time for writing?

One day a week I must go out of town. Okay, that's worked into my schedule. I make up for it on Saturdays.

What must-dos are on your schedule? How can you work around that to still get your writing time?

Like a job you show up for or get fired. That's what writing should be. Honestly, I think most writers should be fired. (Tweet that!) They, or we, are not doing our jobs. Do you want to keep your job as a writer? Then get to work. (I'm talking to myself. Mostly.)

4. Make new goals.

Monthly. Weekly. Daily. We know how quickly the end of the year rolls around. Again.

Do you make yearly goals? I do. But obviously these must be broken down to monitor how we're progressing.

My new "write every day" goal does not have a word count attached. I have no idea how many words I'll write each day and that's okay for now. I'm making progress.  (Tweet that!)

Also without a deadline attached is research. I want to do research for some projects I've had in mind for a long time. I've always felt January is a good time to do that but I've yet to get it done.  This January, I'll try again.

What new or renewed writing goals are your going to make?

5. Never give up on your Dream

Don't they say dreams come true in December? Renew your dream. Your Christmas wish.

For me, I'm renewing my dream of writing a novel.

What's your renewed dream?

Thanks to Pixabay.com 
Let's work harder than ever before through the coming months to make our dreams come true. Let's put words away in a manuscript like savings in a bank and watch them build up. (Tweet that!) Remember I'm right there with you, saving toward the same goal. I hope my Christmas gift to me next year will be a finished novel.


6. Be grateful for what has gone before

All that other writing is not wasted at all. It was learning. Even those unpublished novels I've written were learning projects.
  • Articles taught me how to put words on paper and how to communicate thoughts coherently and succinctly.
  • The nonfiction books taught me about publishing and the marketplace and selling books.
  • Contributions to 20 books gave me confidence and standing in the writing and book world.
  • Screenplays taught me story structure and building characters and worlds and, again, writing and communicating coherently as well as telling a story succinctly.
All of this learning has been necessary for me to get to where I know I can write the novel I've always wanted to write. So here I am. (Tweet that!)

It's time.


It has been a long journey - more than 25 years of a writing journey for me. But all of it has brought me here. And now I can't wait for the new year. I'm already writing daily. I've already started my novel. I can't wait to see where this leads in the new year.

But first, I'm grateful for the interruption of holidays.

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

3 Magic Questions for Writers that will Strengthen Your Story

Pixabay.com
This past summer I had the opportunity to take an online workshop called "The Master Screenwriter" from Derrick Warfel,  a film producer. In the workshop he shared some wisdom from Paddy Chayefsky, a three-time Academy Award winner for Best Screenplay.

This is about STORIES - so it's not just for screenwriters but also for novelists, short story writers, or whatever story you're writing.

Chayefsky kept three questions taped above his typewriter. Derrick Warfel said it's amazing how many scripts he sees that don't answer these basic questions. (Tweet that!) He said if writers would answer these three questions, they'd be a long ways ahead of most of the other writers out there.(Tweet that!)

If you are participating in National Novel Writing Month, check your story now and see if you're answering these questions.(Tweet that!)

Whatever story you're writing, maybe you need to stop now and consider these questions to make your story stronger. (Tweet that!)

So what are these three magic questions?

Pixabay.com

1. Who is your main character?


Obviously this is not just the character's name, but who they are as a person. Their weaknesses and strengths. Their experiences. Their fears. It might include their job. Or their family. Or their connections.

This is not just make up quirky character traits time. This is making wise choices about who this character needs to be to carry the story. (Tweet that!)

2. What does he/she want? (Very badly!)


In every story, the main character must want something. This drives the story forward. If your character doesn't want something, and want it badly, this is a warning sign. (Tweet that!)

It may mean a lot of things (that I haven't thought of), but one thing I've thought of that it might mean is that you're going to have a passive main character. By "passive character" I mean a weak character, which is uninteresting in a story. Nobody roots for a passive character.

A passive character is one whom things happen to.  But that character doesn't actually do anything. They don't get mad. They don't get up and fight back. They are passive. They just sit there. They are a victim. Everyone feels sorry for a victim, but we don't root for a victim until that person gets up and fights. Beware of passive characters.

For more about passive characters, see my blog post from November 1, 2015: Writing Stories: What Your Story Needs - Part 1

3. What's keeping him/her from getting it?


Finally, whatever your main character wants, there needs to be a barrier to him or her getting it.(Tweet that!) It could be a big evil person or monster. It could be something monstrous in nature, such as big storm or natural disaster.  Or it could be something within themselves which they need to overcome. But there has to be something or someone standing in the way of your main character getting what they want. Otherwise, they'd just go get it and the story would be over (and pretty boring), right?


Pixabay.com
So what about your story-in-progress? Have you answered these three questions? If not, maybe you should stop now and find the answers. I can pretty well guarantee you'll have a stronger story if you do.

Need more help? Try this:

Exercise:

 Think of your favorite novel, story, or movie and answer these three magic questions for that story. Here are some suggestions. How would you answer these questions for:

  • The movie Lethal Weapon
  • The classic story "Cinderella"
  • The movie Finding Nemo
  • The movie Despicable Me
  • Your favorite movie.
  • Your favorite novel. 
  • The story, novel, or screenplay you're writing now.

Here's an example:  

The movie: Die Hard

Who is the main character?
A hard core, street smart New York cop visiting Los Angeles where the other cops don't know him.

What does he/she want?
He wants to reconnect and reconcile with his wife who moved to LA to take a great job.

What's keeping him/her from getting it?
The terrorists who have taken over the skyscraper where his wife's office is holding its Christmas party and have taken everyone, including his wife, hostage.


Now, how would you answer these three questions for your story? (Tweet that!)

Do you find these three "magic" questions helpful to you as a story writer?

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Be Intentional in Your Writing

Someone once told me there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who divide people into two groups and those who don't. Okay, well, if we can have just a little fun with that, based on my observations, I wonder if we can divide writers into two groups:   (Tweet that!)

  • Those who write because they love to write. These are the writers who say they "can't not write."
  • And those who write because they have something they want to say, a message, something they desperately want to get out to the world.


Two Kinds of Writers


Sure, there's definitely some overlap here. Perhaps there is some of both in most of us. But there are definite differences too.

Those who write for the love of writing say they would write even if they never got published, even if nobody else ever read what they write. They write because they love to write. Maybe it's the story creation. Perhaps it's the discipline of thinking out loud, having to capture thoughts in concrete enough terms to put them on paper. I'm not sure what these writers love so much about writing that keeps them addicted. What would you fill in that blank with? The point is, for these writers, if someone could somehow tell them they couldn't write anymore — make it illegal, take away all pens, paper, computers, whatever… — they'd find a way. (Tweet that!) Writing for them is like breathing. They have to. They'd do it anyway… regardless.

Those who write because they have something they desperately want to say might not feel the same way about writing. They write because they see writing as the best possible way to get their message out to the widest possible audience. They are not satisfied with spreading their message one on one, to the circle of people they can influence. They want more. Writing and publishing is their way of seeking that "more," that bigger audience. For these writers, if someone could somehow tell them they couldn't write anymore — if someone made writing illegal — they would find another way to get their message out. They would speak. They would go on TV or radio or the Internet or whatever, but they'd find another way to get their message out… regardless. (Tweet that!)

Do you identify with one of these groups of writers more than the other? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment?

The Writing in Front of Our Faces


Do you ever look at the top sellers or suggestions for books on Amazon or Goodreads? Or what's on the first tables you see when you walk into a bookstore like Barnes & Noble? Whether it's Amazon, Goodreads (which is owned by Amazon), or a brick and mortar bookstore, when I glance at what those companies put before my face, I'm somewhat surprised.

Only somewhat surprised because I know those titles represent "the world" and what, apparently, most people want to read. (Though I'm even skeptical about that. Judging by what I see on TV and hear on radio, it could very well be what companies WANT us to think is what most people want.) But most of the time it's not anything close to what I'd like to see, hear, or read.

What does surprise me is the topics and types of material that tops these lists of what is selling. In fiction I see lots of titles and book covers for stories that are "romance," but they are clearly steamy, sexual, who knows what the writer has put on the pages between the covers. I don't want to find out. I don't want to read that stuff. Many of these books are unabashedly called "erotica." I don't want to read this stuff.

If you're thinking these ads are coming up on my feed because that is what I search for, look at, or buy, you're wrong. I've never searched for, clicked on, looked at, or purchased "romance" of any kind or "erotica" ever. Again, I don't want to read that stuff.

Then there are the stories that bash our nation, or one political party, or that portray all law enforcement officers as crooked, dirty, underhanded, and violent.

Are these types of stories the most popular — not only for readers to read but is this what writers are writing? I don't want to read that stuff.  (Tweet that!)


Why Is This Important?


Why do you write? Do you just want to write stories that sell? So you can make money? Do you follow the trends, hoping to get in on the ride to the top? Are you a follower? Just doing what seems to be popular? Are you satisfied with indulging people's worst sides, helping them go deeper into degradation, taking their society with them?

Or do you have something important to say? Something that will lift your reader to a higher place, a better place? Do you have a message that will be good for your readers? Do you have some insight or knowledge or story that will help your little corner of the world, or your society, or your nation, or your world become a better place? (Tweet that!) If so, are you intentional in writing that message or that story?


Be Intentional in Your Writing


However you chose to write, whatever genres you choose to indulge in, I hope you will choose the nobler side.  (Tweet that!) I hope you choose to write what might be less popular in order that you might make the world a better place, not a worse place.

Have a message — a good one. Be a noble writer. Choose the good. This doesn't mean stories have to be fluff and sugar. Be a leader, not a follower.  (Tweet that!) Have a good message. And be intentional about making your message known through your writing.


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Friday, September 1, 2017

Grow as a Writer in One Week During the Coming 168’s “Write of Passage” Contest

You're familiar with NaNoWriMo and its benefits. Writers spend a month writing a 50,000 word project. Have you ever taken the challenge? For me it has been a wonderful exercise that accelerated my learning curve — because of the relatively short deadline. The challenge packs a lot of learning into a short amount of time.

One week 

Well are you ready for another similar challenge? How about writing a short screenplay in a week? (Tweet that!)

Mentored writing exercise

Not up for a one week challenge? Well what if I sweetened the pot by adding a mentor to journey through that week with you? That's right, for the price of entry you'd get a writing mentor who would look at your story and script several times throughout the week. (Tweet that!) You'd get feedback from your mentor, someone with experience. They would make suggestions and give advice. Wouldn't that be worth the price of admission?

But wait. You're thinking you have no interest in screenwriting? Ok. Think of it like this: It's all about the story. You could have a one week, mentored challenge all about story. (Tweet that!)  And if you don't know it already, STORY is KING.

Challenge - a theme and a Bible verse

I'm talking about the 168 Film Project's "Write of Passage."  This is a short screenplay writing contest. You get to write a short screenplay — 12 pages max — in one week.

You can't start early. You can't enter a script you've already written. That's not fair.

You have to write your story on two things the 168 Film Project assigns you: a Theme. And a Bible verse. (Tweet that!)

That's right. You're assigned your writing topic.

Does that sound intimidating?

What if I gave you one of those two pieces of information right now? Would that help take the edge off? Every year the Theme of the 168 Film Project's "Write of Passage" is announced in advance. The Theme for the 2017 "Write of Passage" contest is … <drum roll, please>: "POWER."

So now you have half of the information on which you would base your story. Is your imagination running wild? Got an idea? That's great. But hold on. You still need the other half of the information you'll be basing your story on. That's how they keep you from starting early (which is cheating). You'll be assigned the other piece of information at the start of the timed contest. It will come in the form of an assigned Bible verse.

Once you receive your assigned Bible verse, you'll think about that and the theme "Power" and you'll come up with an idea. Then you'll brainstorm a story idea. You might run your idea past your assigned mentor, called a "Development Executive."

Then you'll start to write.

The Rules.

From the start of the timed contest when you receive your assigned Bible verse, you'll have 168 hours to write your script and turn it in. 168 hours? That's 7 days times 24 hours. 7 x 24 = 168.

One warning: If you like to write stories that would be "R" rated if a movie, due to their graphic nature, this contest might not be for you. This contest is looking for redemptive stories. That doesn't mean you can't write hard stories about tough issues. You can. It just means this contest is not going to like graphic images, gratuitous sex or violence, foul language, especially using the name of the Lord as foul language, that kind of thing. It's a bigger challenge to write an in depth story without that kind of thing anyway, so that's good for us. (Tweet that!)

There are some other Rules. You can read them here: Write of Passage FAQs

It's a challenge. It's not easy. It can even induce fear and trembling in writers. (Tweet that!) But do you think you're alone? Of course not. Other writers experience the same anxiety. Similar panic. The same pressure to come up with a story. The same delete key. Just like the poor writer struggling to come up with a story in this short video:

An entertaining "Write of Passage" promo video!

But if you'll give it a try, you'll grow as a writer. That's pretty much guaranteed.

What you'll need:

You may need to learn a little about screenplay format. And you'd need to grab a free screenwriting program. If you already have Scrivener, that will do the job. Scroll down on this page to find a selection of Screenwriting Software you can get and use for free: Write of Passage FAQs

You'll need a basic understanding of screenplay format. Need an example to follow? Read previous "Write of Passage" scripts here, and pay attention to the formatting: Write of Passage Top Scripts

Your screenwriting software will put things where they're supposed to be, you just need to know what goes where and how to tell your program to put it there.

The Perks. 

You mean there are perks besides the practice in creating a story? And the feedback and critiquing and suggestions and mentoring by an experienced Development Executive (DE)?

Well there's a cash prize. And your script may get produced. You writing would get exposure. You'd get some experience. You'd get some focused practice in. You'd get feedback from your mentor, that is your DE. Plus, you'll get all that in one week and then you can get on with your life and your other writing projects. (Tweet that!)

Cheap.

For all this focused, personal mentoring, the price of admission is pretty inexpensive when you think about it. The sooner you sign up, the lower the price. Sign up here: Write of Passage Contest Entry. Enter now for the best price.

When? 

The writing week for 2017 is October 9 - 16, 2017. That's a Monday to a Monday. 168 hours. One week. It's coming soon. You'd better sign up now!


Again, even if your interest is not in writing screenplays, this is a great opportunity to grow in your ability to develop your stories into stories that will capture the hearts of your audience, whether that is for readers of novels, stories in your nonfiction writing, your story-telling in your speaking engagements, or other opportunities. And if you are interested in screenwriting, this is an excellent opportunity to get your feet wet, get started, or advance in that desire. (Tweet that!)

Learn more about the 168 Film Project's "Write of Passage" contest here. I hope to see you competing this year.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Three New Free Sites You Can Use to Create Marketing Materials (PLUS Update on My Film)

I discovered some new sites which
helped me make this movie poster. They
might help you market your book
or other project.
I want to write a follow up article about what's happening with my short documentary, "The Door," but I know some of you are looking for ideas and helps for your own writing, so I'm also excited to share some new-to-me free web sites I discovered while making my movie poster (seen on the right). I used five different sites, all free, to accomplish these techniques. Two sites you probably already use, but three are new to me. With some imagination I'm sure you can use theses sites, techniques, and ideas to come up with great posters or images to market your books, e-books, your own short films, or whatever you're creating.

First, the update on my documentary film "The Door"


In my May post I wrote about my adventures and lessons learned while filming my short documentary, "The Door." Towards the end of the article I wrote this:
As I write this, the Camera/Editor, Mike, and I spent the past two days editing the film. I couldn't be more pleased. I can't tell you a lot more about it until it competes in the 168 Film Festival in August, but I'm thinking I'll write the August post about what happens between now and then. 

Since then a lot has happened! The film will premier at the 168 Film Festival at the Regal Cinemas Premiere House at LA Live in Los Angeles on August 26 - 17, 2017.

My film is scheduled to screen Saturday afternoon. You can see it on the 168 Film Festival Screening Schedule in Block 5.

I'm very pleased our 168 film, The Door, has now been nominated for two awards! Wow!

  • Best Documentary
  • Evangelista Award 

The Evangelista Award "honors the writer for creating the tool that best facilitates the telling of the Gospel of Jesus and the Method of Salvation. Directness, Simplicity and a minimum of distraction are core values. Evangelista has raised the bar for Gospel Films. All films except Write of Passage Spotlight are eligible."

Of course if you're in the area (or not!) and want to come the film festival you may. See 168 Film Festival ticket information here.

If you haven't seen it yet, you can watch the movie trailer for my film here: The Door Movie Trailer.

You can also catch a few seconds of my film in the 168 Film Festival Clip Reel 2017 here. We're at 1:03 - 1:06 seconds in.

I'm so pleased to also have had a part in developing the screenplay for another film in the festival. You may know that for many years I've been a "Development Executive" for the 168 Film Project's "Write of Passage" short film writing contest in October. Last year one of the writers I mentored, with the help of my Assistant Development Executive Sherry M. Cook, was Laura Woodworth. She wrote the script "In Tune" and this year she produced it for the 168 Film Festival! You can see "In Tune" on the schedule in Bock 7 Sunday afternoon. "In Tune" has also been nominated for five, count 'em, FIVE awards! I can't wait to see the film at the festival! Learn more about "In Tune" here.

Three Free Sites You Can Use to Create Marketing Materials


So are you wondering where I got my movie poster? I made it. It took some doing. And some learning. I'm thinking what I learned you might be able to use to create posters, postcards, images for Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, business cards, Facebook and Twitter headers, banners… or whatever else your imagination can come up with to market your own stuff — books, e-books, whatever you're doing. So here's the free sites I used to create my poster. (Tweet that!)

I took me several steps to get there. And each step took a different site. A few of these you've probably heard of or use yourself, but I'm pretty sure some will be new.

I have to confess that I did not keep notes (wish I had) and I was bouncing around so many sites trying to fix problems that were cropping up that now I can't remember everything I did. But I will do my best to reconstruct what I did here.

CREATING THE MOVIE POSTER


First, I needed to create an actual movie poster. (Tweet that!) I know we've all seen a million of them. I was thinking of all that information on them that tells who stars in it, who directed it, who produced it, etc. Actually, I was thinking of all the formatting that would go into that and it just seemed daunting. I didn't have the time for it. But didn't I remember seeing some free movie poster templates somewhere?

I was sure I'd seen one on Canva.com. But when I went to look I couldn't find it.

So I went searching for a free movie poster template. Some of the sites I searched out required a payment to remove watermarks or to get a higher resolution poster so it wouldn't be blurry, which was disappointing to discover after I created one poster.

Then I found a site called Poster My Wall.

If you go there, look at at the white poster with the woman's face. It says Recina Phalange (the woman actor's name, I assume?) at the top and the title of the movie below her chin is "Headline." That's the poster template I used for mine at the top of this page.

Obviously I switched out the photo with a slide my editor captured for me from our film. We chose a scene that captured an emotional image at a crucial point in our film and saved a frame for the poster. You could use your book cover or an image (if the rights allow) for your poster.

After I switched the image on my movie poster using the editing tools on Poster My Wall, I edited the text to insert the information for my own film, deleting what didn't apply, copying and pasting to duplicate where I needed more.

I had a little trouble editing it to look the way I wanted. I ended up taking the project to Canva.com (which you probably already use) to do some more editing. I couldn't get the production team information on top of the photo (onto the pavement under the actor's feet) so I had to figure out something different. I ended up removing the image and replacing it with a plain background. I first put a white background behind the text, which didn't work because the text was in white so it disappeared. I then tried a black background and the text popped.

I then saved that image as a jpeg and took it over to PicMonkey.com (which you probably also already use) where I cropped the rest of the picture out so I had just the image of the text on black at the bottom of the poster.

I had wanted that info at the end of my movie trailer like the "real" movie trailers, but I didn't know how to make it happen. Now that I had it as an image, I could go over to YouTube.com, make a new copy of my trailer, and add that slide at the end. Bonus!

Again, I had a little trouble making everything happen that I wanted so I ended up doing more editing with Canva.com. There I was able to get the picture as I wanted it, the movie crew info at the bottom, and the "168 Film Project" text at the top. Turns out it was very handy later to have the poster on Canva.com. I keep going back there for more editing.

ADDING LAURELS TO THE MOVIE POSTER


So that's how I created my movie poster. But then something interesting happened. The 168 Film Festival announced the list of award nominations and my film was nominated for two awards! Before I knew it, I saw other films' posters popping up on Facebook with that little thingy we've all seen (I didn't even know what to call it!) with the leaves and the award nominations or winner inside. I learned those are laurel leaves and so these are called "laurels."

I asked the 168 Film Festival where to get them and they made them available on FilmFreeway.com. But… but but but … Next dilemma: How do I get them from there onto my movie poster? Or web site? Or wherever I want them?!

Yes, download them, save them. But… but but but … they were black laurel leaves and text on a white background. I already knew black text wasn't going to show up on my dark poster. So where do you get the ones with white laurel leaves and text?

And furthermore, when I did try to add my new laurels to my poster, it made a big white square covering too much of my poster and being too loud or bold. How do people put JUST the image on top of another one without blocking out a whole square? (Tweet that!)

I've always noticed the Lord gives me the hints I'm going to need when I don't even know I need them. (Tweet that!) In the email from Mark at the 168 Film Festival letting me know where the laurels were available, he "just happened" to mention that I could "invert" the colors if I needed to on a "transparent background." Had he not said that, I wouldn't have even known what terms to google.

INVERT COLORS


So I knew I wanted to "invert" the colors. (Tweet that!) That's what it would be called to change the white background to black and the black text and leaves to white. (If you already know this stuff, please don't laugh.) So I googled for how to do that. I found ways to do it using MS Paint, which I knew was on my computer but that looked complicated. As usual, I was in a hurry and didn't have a lot of time for this!

Then I found the site Pine Tools and its "Invert Colors Online" function. It was so easy to figure out: click "Choose file." I chose the file of the laurel I had saved to my computer. Click "Invert!" Done. Save the new white text and laurels on black background to my computer.

I went back to my movie poster on Canva.com where I wanted to add the laurels. But I discovered a problem. The laurels now had solid black background, which meant they blacked out whatever was behind them. The transparent background was gone. Now what?

Back to google.

TRANSPARENT BACKGROUNDS


I tried a couple different sites before I found Lunapic and its "transparent background" at the bottom of the Edit menu.

Again, it was very easy to use and did a great job. Click "Choose file." Choose the white on black images of the laurels I'd saved to my computer. It asked me to click on the color I wanted to become transparent. I clicked on the black background. (Tweet that!) The background became gray and white checkerboard. Done. Save the new black on transparent laurels to my computer.

By the way: I was careful how I named each image when I saved them. "Nom Best Doc on trans bkgrnd" for example, so I could be sure of which saved image I wanted at each step. Plus each version of each laurel would be together and easy to find.

I took my new white text and laurels on transparent background images back to my movie poster on Canva.com and put them on top of my poster. Fantastic! The inverted color to white and the transparent background worked perfectly! HowEVer I had a very hard time getting the three of them the same size, lined up right, centered, etc. What to do now?

Then I had an idea…

PICMONKEY COLLAGE


I went to Picmonkey.com and used their "Collage" feature. I used the three images lined up like ducks in a row and inserted each of my three white laurels with transparent backgrounds. (Tweet that!)

Oops. Problem. The laurels had a lot of space around them, especially at the top so I needed to crop each one first. I was careful to crop them to exactly the same size (in pixels). Then re-saved them.

When I put the cropped version into Picmonkey's collage, they were perfectly sized and lined up. Then I saved THAT image and took it back to Canva.

(It seems now that somehow I had to make sure the background stayed transparent, but I can't remember now. If you can't figure that out, you can always take it back to Lunapic and redo the collage with a transparent background.)

CANVA


When I put my Picmonkey collage with my three white on transparent laurels on top of my poster, I was able to line it up and position it to look great. Then saved it to my computer.


"The Door" movie poster before the
laurels were added.
Whew. Yes, all this was a lot of back and forth and experimenting to figure out what worked, but I'm so pleased with my movie poster.

I can imagine ways to use these techniques to market my books. For example, when I revised one of my e-books that had become outdated, I wanted to put a "Newly Revised" image on the cover but I didn't know how. Now we can create it, invert colors if needed, make a transparent background, or keep a colored background if we need it to show up on our cover.
"The Door" movie poster after the
laurels were added.

And why not make a movie poster-style poster for your book? It could be fun! I hope you enjoy these three new free sites — Poster My Wall, Pine Tools, and Lunapic — you can use along with Canva.com and Picmonkey.com to create great marketing materials for your books, e-books, films, blogs, Facebook ads, and more.


In September I plan to post about the coming 168 Film Project's Write of Passage writing contest. If you're interested, sign up now for the best price.

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Dusting Off Those Shelved Writing Projects

Pixabay.com
Last month we talked about finishing projects we had started or have half finished but never completed. I hope you were able to work on or complete some of those projects. As usual, I didn’t get as much done as I had wished, but finishing projects is still on my agenda.

Also last month in the June article, I promised this:
“If it’s a story of your heart that you love and want to finish, but it really needs a lot of work, leave it in the closet. We’ll talk about that project next month.”
So here we are in July, the middle month of summer. Do you have writing time?

Take Out that Story You Love, Dust It Off, and Finish Writing It!


Do you have a project of your heart that’s been put on the shelf? Do you remember why you shelved it? (Tweet that!) There can be a lot of reasons. Let’s talk about why writing projects get shelved. Then let’s consider taking them down, dusting them off, and finishing the stories of our hearts that we love (no matter what others say!).

It could be you didn’t have time.

Maybe distractions — whether from life or other writing projects — drew you away until dust collected on the project and, eventually, it got put on the shelf just for a little while, just until you got your desk cleared. And, um, that was years ago and your desk never cleared.

Possibly it was simply “life” that got in the way. The business of taking care of family and jobs and responsibilities… Am I ringing any bells here?

Or, maybe it’s on the shelf for another reason. Maybe you got discouraged with the project. That happened to me.

The Story of My Shelved Writing Project


Once upon a time I had a story I really loved. It was a supernatural thriller. I worked on it. I plotted it out. I developed the characters. I really loved that story.

And then the long days came when I wrote out that story as a novel. I worked hard, starting early in the morning and working late into the night. I wrote the entire novel. And I loved it.

I dreamed of sequels. I didn’t have all the plots worked out for the next two books, but I had characters who could fill them and a basic idea.

Then things started to happen. Three things, to be exact.

1. I talked with an agent who loved the idea of my story. He was a well-known agent who had “discovered” another author, one who had been rejected by everyone else. This agent helped him and that rejected writer not only found a publisher but became a best-seller, sold millions of books, and became very famous. This was the agent who was interested in my story! He asked me to send him my book proposal and sample chapters. I couldn’t wait to send it and I did.

2. Meanwhile, a friend and critiquer asked if she could read my story. I let her, eager to hear what she thought of it. When she started sending critiques, it became clear she didn’t like my main character. The farther into the story she got, the less she liked that character. This was not good.

I remember she did not like my character because this character was not great with all the new electronics coming out in the late nineties. If she can’t keep up with the times, the critiquer said, she’s not smart.

Well… But… Wait… The character’s inability to access a password-protected web site is critical to the story.

I think the intervening years have proved that not all people can keep up with today’s electronics, don’t you? Even smart people.

Her critiques became harsh and I was devastated. Eventually I quit reading her critiques. Partly because of her words, partly because  I so strongly disagreed with them. But it was just one person’s opinion, right?

3. Then I received an invitation to join a small group of writers who would meet with a professional editor and former publisher for several days. Part of the program was that we would all critique each other’s first pages. That meant each of us would receive critiques from the professional plus the other six or so writers. We would go over our critiques in class. I accepted that invitation.

I prepared by sending my pages and reading the others’ pages, gave them my best critiques, and looked forward to hearing what they had to say about mine.

The time came for the clinic. I was the last of the writers to be critiqued. I had given the others as much encouragement as I could along with feedback I felt would help them. I had contributed to the conversation. When it came my turn, I was so nervous!

But then the unexpected: Total silence.

No one said anything. What did that mean?

Finally the professional said he didn’t think the reaction of my main character to the supernatural event that occurred was realistic. Well, um, it was supernatural. That itself might not be very realistic, don’t you think? I still think my scientific-minded character would be freaked out by this personal, supernatural event.

And that scene sets the stage for the whole book. Without that scene and that reaction, the story doesn’t work. It can’t.

I thought we weren’t supposed to argue but were to just listen to the critiques, so I stayed quiet and tried to take this critique to heart. Besides, I was too nervous to think and didn’t have a clue what to say. I was shocked by his words.

Did I not write the scene well? (To this day I think I did.) Did they not understand what I was trying to accomplish? (I thought it was clear.)

Then the other writers in the room chimed in, agreeing with the professional, basically saying, Yeah...what he said.


Oh, and about that agent? Never heard from him again. I followed up several times but got no reply. (I found out a few years later he did that to everyone, not just me. Even his clients. He just dropped out of agenting, I guess.)

These three whammies came close together, hitting me like staccato beats. Discouragement set in. (Tweet that!)

I put my project in a box and literally put it on a shelf in my closet. It’s still there to this day. More than eighteen years later.

Do you have a story like this of your own? Did discouragement get to you? Do you have a writing project you love that was put on a shelf and is gathering dust? (Tweet that!)

I told you my story to encourage you. It's not just you. (Tweet that!) These things happen. So what do we do now?

The Bright Side


Well here’s a few more things about that project.

  • I still love the story. It has never left me. I think of it often. I can’t get it out of my head. I know I must write this story. It’s just a matter of when. (Tweet that!)
  • In the past eighteen plus years I’ve learned a lot about writing and stories and more. I’m a better writer now, so I can do a better job with it now.  (Tweet that!)
  • I’ve started screenwriting, too, which has taught me a lot about story structure. I build better stories now. And, when I look at that story I structured it well, even before I knew much about story structure. That amazes me. 
  • I know more about characters now. For example, even though I couldn’t articulate it at the time back in that group, I now know the main character has to react like that because she needs a character arc. I can’t start her off at the end of her journey, the end of her character arc. Now I understand that’s what that professional and those classmates wanted. They wanted her to already know what they know, to believe what they believe. That's because they don't know the story! I do. I couldn’t answer their protests back then, about why is this scientist at odds with Christianity? It doesn’t have to be that way, they said. Now I know the answer is because that’s her character arc. To start her out as they wanted gives her nowhere to grow! It destroys her character arc and so it destroys the story. I wrote about this in my blog post back on December 1, 2015: Writing Stories: What Your Story Needs - Part 2
  • I’ve developed more skills. Since I have now studied writing feature films and writing for TV, I can now write this story not only as a novel but as a movie (with series potential) or a TV, cable, or web series.
  • I’ve recently re-read that opening chapter and you know what? It’s not only not bad, I still think it’s quite good. Maybe not perfect, but even after it has rested this long and my writing has grown for this long I believe it doesn't stink. Re-reading it gave me encouragement and confidence. It’s a good story. I know it, regardless of what others think. 
  • It’s a new time. Things are different now in America and in the world. I truly think this story was ahead of it’s time. I thought it was relevant back then. But oh boy it is even more relevant now. (Tweet that!)

It's Time to Tell Your Story 


Maybe it’s time to take your story down off the shelf, dust it off, and finish it. (Tweet that!)

If you’re still in love with your story, I encourage you to do it. Trust yourself. Trust your writing. Trust the story you’ve been given. Don’t listen to everyone else. This is YOUR story. Trust your instincts.  (Tweet that!)

That’s what I’m going to do.

That’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

It's Time to Finish the Writing Project(s) You Started

Thanks Pixabay.com
Just so you know, this post is not so much for you but for me. I'm betting, however, it will have meaning for you as well. It's June and we're approaching the middle of the year, so to meet some goals by the end of the year we need to be getting things done. My question for you this month is, what writing project(s) have you started that you haven't finished? (Tweet that!)

I'm betting a bunch of writing projects just flashed through your mind, perhaps followed quickly by a flash of guilt. (Tweet that!) Writers have stacks of stuff piled in the "writer's closet" that we never seem to go through because, well, we're too busy writing. I'm talking about the closet of unfinished projects, not a literal physical closet in our house, although those are probably just as cluttered and in needed of a thorough cleaning out which we also never get to because we're too busy writing.

So let's try to sift through our writer's closet today and see what's there and which projects we might be able to finish. (Tweet that!) Hopefully there's an item or two we can finish well or finish quickly.

Now, mind you, I'm not talking about the failed projects that don't deserve more of our time. Not the novels or articles or short stories or NaNoWriMo works we started, or even wrote to completion, that have no potential. These are practice works. They have value because they taught us and trained us and helped us along our writing journey. But they are not worth investing more time and effort in. If you have one or more of those, or even if you're not sure about a project, leave it in the closet.

(If it's a story of your heart that you love and want to finish, but it really needs a lot of work, leave it in the closet. We'll talk about that project next month.)

If you don't have time this month, if you're already booked full, look at your calendar and decide which month isn't booked yet. Make that the month you're going to target as your time to finish this project.

For me, the project I keep saying I'm going to finish and then "life" happens and I don't get to it is my series of twelve e-books for writers. Originally I was going to release one a month and have them all done in a year. That was a couple years ago. I've completed and released four:


As currently planned, I have eight in the series  left. I threatened some time ago, on this blog I believe, to finish them. I don't know what happened then but I remember getting some work done on one and then… Whatever. They still are not finished.

So I've been planning for some time to finish them (or at least some of them) this month. June 2017. Yet here it is the 5th of the month and I'm just now writing the post that should have been posted the first of the month. What can I say. I'm a little behind.

(I'll blame it on my short film that kept lingering on as I tried to finish it. It's done and was turned in on June 1 by the deadline on June 2. I still have work to do to turn in the final documents, etc., by June 9. See last month's post for more info on that. I plan to write more about my short film documentary in the upcoming August 2017 post.)

So what is your project you'd like to finish? Need some help deciding? Let's talk about it. (Tweet that!)

What to Finish


Now that you've thought of all those projects you could finish, how do we pick one to work on? First, don't think of it as picking one, just picking the one to finish first. You'll get to the others too.

Consider:

Closest to done

Which of your projects is the closest to being done? If you work on this project, it will be the quickest one to finish. It will give you a sense of accomplishment. It will give you a something to sell or share. It will be one project checked off the list.

On my list of e-books, some of them I already have the manuscript written. They just need formatted and uploaded to Amazon's Kindle. One is formatted and partially uploaded, if I remember right. Others I have not written yet. I have the outline and have taught the material as a workshop, but I need to write it out to make it an e-book. It would take me very little time to finish the one that is formatted and partially uploaded. Duh. I need to start there.

Smallest/ Shortest / Easiest

Perhaps you have a project that would take little work to complete. Maybe it's not the most important to you. That's why you haven't finished it — everything else is more important. But if you finish this one, again you'd have an e-book to sell or an article to submit. What would it take to finish it and check it off the list?

Again, my almost-finished e-book I mentioned above fits here. It needs the least amount of work to finish. I sometimes get caught up in feeling I need to finish the biggest and best. Keep it simple.

Will produce greatest income

Do you have a partially completed project that, when finished, you can sell as an e-book or a printed book (Tweet that!), an article you might sell to a magazine or a short story to a compilation book that pays well? Maybe this is the project for you to pick and complete.

Hopefully a new e-book in my line for writers will spark new interest in all of them, increasing my income.

Will produce greatest joy

Which of your many unfinished projects is close to being done and would give you great joy to complete? Maybe it's a project just for you — you never intended to sell it or share it — and everything else in your world has kept you from it. Schedule time and put it on your calendar to finish it. Maybe you will sell or share it. That's good too. Do it.

Yeah, sharing what I've learned in e-books brings me joy!

How to Finish


Maybe you haven't finished this project for a reason. You've set it aside because there's something there preventing you from finishing it. Perfect! This is the month to tackle that challenge. Stop letting it stop you! Consider:

Roadblocks

You might be procrastinating because of a roadblock that you don't know how to overcome. Well this month it's time to dismantle that roadblock. I've found that often roadblocks grow bigger with time, or at least they appear to. The truth is, when I start to tackle them they shrink to something that's far easier to step over than I ever imagined. So what do you need to make this roadblock disappear?

Ask someone. Find an expert in the field and see if they will help or mentor you, or at least point you in the right direction.

Ask a friend for help. Sometimes people are more willing to help us than we realize. The truth is, most often the people we know really want to see us succeed. Ask. They might help.

Hire some help or trade skills.

Perhaps more research will help?

Stumbling blocks

Or maybe it's not a roadblock but just a stumbling block: something that seems difficult or time consuming. Or something you just hate to do. Maybe one of the ideas above will help. Or can you possibly make a list of nearby friends who can help you, ask them to come, throw them a party, and let them help you?

Or maybe you just need time. Can these friends temporarily take some responsibilities for you to give you intensive, uninterrupted work time to finish? Ask.

Something needed

Perhaps you simply need something to finish it. What do you need? Where can you get it? Editing? A book cover? I recently reminded a friend of Fiverr.com and she found the editing she needed at a great price on that site. I had the e-book covers for my twelve e-books designed there and I think they're pretty awesome. (Now, if I'd just finish formatting some, and writing others, and getting them out there!)

Whatever you need, write it down. Write it in big bright letters on your big white board. Then go after it. Find it. Tackle it. Then finish your project and move on! (Tweet that!)

Finally


This Bible verse speaks to me. I've typed it up, printed it out, and pinned it to the bulletin board in my office:
Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it…     1 Corinthians 8:11 NIV

Which writing project(s) have you started but never finished that's speaking to you saying, "It's time to finish what you've started"? (Tweet that!)

What are you working on to finish?

What did you finish?

Let us know in the comments section below. Include a link to your finished product if you want so we can check it out.

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If your unfinished project is making a Kindle e-book but a roadblock or stumbling block for you is that you don't know how, you can find help in the series I wrote on that topic. These posts walk you through the process:

  1. How to Make Your Manuscript a Kindle E-Book on Amazon (for Free) - Part 1: Formatting Your Kindle Document
  2. How to Make Your Manuscript Into a Kindle E-Book on Amazon (for Free) - Part 2 - Front Matter, Back Matter, and Images
  3. How to Make Your Manuscript Into a Kindle E-Book on Amazon - Part 3 - Get Your E-Book Covers Here! (Not All Free)
  4. How to Make Your Manuscript Into a Kindle E-Book on Amazon (for Free) - Part 4 – Uploading Your Ebook