Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My Online Critique Group

It's been a year since I started my online critique group. Three authors and I have been getting together once a week to help each other improve our work. I have learned so much from these talented women. And it's all been online, which means we don't have to drive miles and miles to go to our critique group.

Janice Sperry, Renae Mackley, and me.
Melissa Cunningham is also in our group, but I still haven't met her in person.
We've kept our routine pretty simple, which has worked well for us. We meet most weeks on a weekday afternoon while our kids are still in school (except my youngest who watches a movie.)

How we operate:
  1. We submit our manuscripts by Friday night of the week before (though sometimes one of us has a crazy week and gets it in by Saturday night. Occasionally, one of us skips a submission week also.)
  2. Each of us can submit up to 10 pages (double spaced, 12 point font.)
  3. Before we meet, we each go through everyone's manuscript in Word, using the software to make comments and edits. (We turn on track changes, so the author can tell what edits we make.)
  4. When we meet, we take turns talking about each manuscript.
  5. After we meet, we e-mail each other the marked-up manuscripts. This makes it super easy to revise.
  6. Oh yes, and we try to be nice, but not too nice. (Sometimes it can get a little discouraging when the group wants you to make big changes . . . until you make the changes and you realize how right they were.)
How we talk online:
We have never used Skype for our meetings because it won't allow us to have a word document open while we see each other on the screen. At first, we used Oovoo, but it kept crashing on us. Last month, we started using Google Hangouts, and it has worked really well. The picture isn't as clear as it is on some other platforms, but it doesn't crash on us. For now, we're sticking with Google Hangouts.

I've probably left something out. Feel free to comment below with questions and suggestions.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How to Be More Confident

This year, I set a goal to be more confident, so I thought I'd pause for a moment and reflect on what I've learned from watching TED talks, reading books, and studying articles about confidence.

Confidence is a Skill
Confidence isn’t an in-born trait. It’s a skill you can develop with practice. Just like learning to ride a bicycle, you can learn to be more confident.

Positive Thinking
One of the best ways to gain confidence is to watch how you speak to yourself. Try to delete negative thoughts and turn up the volume on positive ones.

Try New Things
Doing things that scare you will help you to be more confident. Any time you learn something new, you become more courageous.

Get Outside Yourself
Giving compliments, hanging out with positive people, serving others, and saying “Thank you” all help you to be more confident.

Confident Body Language
Studies show that when you look confident, you feel more confident. Keep your back straight and your eyes on the other person. Don’t hunch, fold your arms, or rest your head on your hands. Instead, take up all the space you want. Do the Wonder Woman stance--hands on hips, feet shoulder-width apart.

Take Care of Yourself
It's also proven that people who exercise, dress their best, and practice good hygeine are generally more confident than those who don't.

I'm much more confident in some areas than I am in others. Social confidence is sometimes my biggest challenge, so the tip to get outside myself is probably the most important one for me. When I focus on helping other people, I forget my inadequacies.

What helps you to feel more confident?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Taking a Wrong Turn, or Maybe Not

My kids went on a long bike and hike trek this weekend. Their object was to visit four different temples along the way. In the morning, they walked 12 miles and visited two temples. In the afternoon, they were supposed to bike 18 miles between two more temples.

My husband and I went along to support the kids on the afternoon bike trek by providing rides, water, and snacks.  We chose a park about half-way along the bike trail. Then we waited and waited and waited. It was a beautiful area, and I had fun walking along the trail (pictured above.)

Finally, a couple of the bikers arrived at our pit stop. One of the kids was surprised that a larger group of bikers, including our two boys, hadn't passed yet. We decided they must have taken a wrong turn. We waited another hour or so before they showed up. That's when we learned that they had taken not one but several wrong turns. And, unbelievably, it wasn't all my sons' faults. (One of them is pretty famous for going off the trail.)

Anyway, thanks to leaders getting them back on track, most of them managed to complete the 18 mile trek, which ended up being much more than 18 miles. I'm so proud of them for keeping at it.

The story made for a great analogy, and we ended up talking about other wrong turns we might make in life. The boys agreed that it's smart to turn around as fast as you can once you realize you've made a bad decision and get back on the path to your goal.

Afterward, though, I started thinking about all the times I thought I had gone off on the wrong path, and I decided maybe it's not always obvious when you're on the wrong path. For example, back in graduate school, when I applied for the creative writing program and got rejected, I wished I had never gotten myself on the path to creative writing. I thought I had taken a wrong turn, but I was so far into the program that it was too late to turn back. I reapplied, got accepted, and wrote my first novel as my thesis. Now, after publishing three other novels, I'm so glad I persisted with my "wrong turn." (Cue Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" here.)

A wrong turn can sometimes give you added wisdom and compassion. Or, in my case, it can provide material for an angst-filled chapter in a book. (The more I write, the more I realize that no experience is wasted.) Other times, a right turn for me may be a wrong turn for someone else. Life can get complicated that way.

Another issue I have is that when my path becomes difficult, I start to assume that I've taken a wrong turn. This, though, is something that happens no matter what path you take. There are uphill stretches and downhill stretches. Right now, I'm on an uphill stretch in life. I keep having to remind myself of my ultimate goals. Sometimes it helps to take the long view--all the way to the end of the path--instead of just to the to the big hill in front of me. Big hills have a way of providing the most beautiful vistas.

How about you? Have you ever taken a wrong turn that turned out to be a right turn?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Summer Summary

At the beginning of summer, I made a blog schedule, listing all the blog posts I planned to write because I would have so much time to write this summer. Boy, was I optimistic! Our summer was crazy busy on so many levels, and I found myself barely keeping up with everything. I had a bunch of kid projects--one son needed braces, another needed to learn to drive, two started at new colleges, etc. But there were a lot of fun things too. So instead of a blog post, I'm going to share some of my favorite pictures from the best parts of the summer. Here they are:

My husband and me above Alta Ski Resort.

I came here with my youngest son for my birthday activity. I love how the trees arch over the pathway.

We hiked up to Stewart Falls on a hot day and enjoyed feeling the cool mist from the falls.

I love these Black-Eyed Susans I spotted a few days ago.

My mother-in-law took us to Yellowstone National Park. It was so beautiful. The kids' favorite activity was wading in the river. We found out later that a wolf was wading less than a mile downstream from us. (We got to see the wolf too.)

We adopted a new dog because, hey, I wasn't busy enough.We named her Cinnamon. We love her. She is so feisty, though,
 I sometimes think her name should be Tabasco. Next stop: Obedience school.

As you can tell, we did a lot of hiking this summer.
Here I am in a canyon near our house. I love the clear water in the background.

My husband takes this big huge backpack on all our hikes.I tease him that he's overprepared. My youngest, overhearing me,
has started overfilling his own backpack, saying he's "over-repaired too."