The Power of Writing Partners…Or How I Won #NaNoWriMo After All

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_winner-smallerIn my last post, NaNoWriMo: 4 Reasons You Should Keep Going, Even If You Won’t Win, I talked about how far behind I was in my goal of writing 50k in one month. Although I kept writing, I felt pretty certain that I would not be a NaNoWriMo winner in 2016.

And then, something happened.

My good friend, Jenny Hansen, suggested doing writing sprints together. The NaNoWriMo website provided an easy, effective tool for setting up a group sprint and then adding your word count total at the end of your time. We coordinated our schedules, set up group sprints, and let our fingers fly across our keyboards.

Even though we’re separated by 1500 miles and two time zones, we experienced that connection of both going for the same goal and supporting one another. Just knowing she was on the other end and expected me to get some words down motivated me to, well, get some words down. Her encouragement was awesome, but the accountability probably mattered more.

Because having someone cheering for you isn’t quite like having someone on the same team with you. It’s fabulous to hear, “You can do it!” “I’m pulling for you!” “You’ve got this!” And the support of other writers on Facebook and Twitter and face-to-face absolutely helped me adopt the right attitude.

But the accountability of a writing partner forced me to clear the time, open up my manuscript, and write words and pages and scenes.

I was 20,000 words behind. But Jenny and I both ended up having two 5,000+ word days. And on November 30, we crossed the finish line together. That’s right, I’m a NaNoWriMo winner after all!

I have a mostly completed manuscript, a NaNoWriMo winner T-shirt on its way, and some great takeaways. Including that I want to continue writing with others to increase my accountability and meet my goals.

In fact, the NaNoWriMo site still has its group sprint page available, which I highly recommend. Or you could meet in person with local writers. Or set a clock and tag someone on social media. Whatever works for you.

Congratulations to all the NaNoWriMo winners out there! And an especially big shout-out to Jenny Hansen for breaking the finish line ribbon with me.

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Immersion Master Class…Or What 5 Days at the Top of a Mountain in Colorado Did for My Manuscript

From October 9 through 13, I attended an Immersion Master Class hosted by Margie Lawson. Immersion is an intensive workshop during which you receive general writing coaching and specific help with your manuscript.

So what did I get out of my trip to the Rocky Mountains for this writing workshop? Here are five takeaways:

1. Receiving terrific writing instruction. Writing coach Margie Lawson offers some wonderful craft classes online and through her lecture packets. However, some teaching is specific to Immersion.

Margie Lawson and Me (oh, and Calypso)
Margie Lawson and Me (oh, and Calypso)

This was my second Immersion class, and this round reinforced what I’d learned before and added new craft knowledge. Margie not only explains principles of good prose, but provides examples so you can see how other excellent authors wield these useful tools.

2. Spending time with fabulous writers. Our writing group came from here, there, and yonder. With writers from Colorado, Texas, California, D.C., and Montreal, it was an eclectic group. Yet we bonded like a trial-by-fire sisterhood. Those who’ve attended workshops and conferences know the benefit of hanging out with other writers who share their experiences and wisdom, not to mention their laughter and chocolate.

My Lovely Fellow Immersioners
My Lovely Fellow Immersioners

Oh, and I roomed with the marvelous Jenny Hansen. That was an extra punch of fabulousness.

Jenny Hansen and Me
Jenny Hansen and Me

3. Seeing my progress. The commentary from Margie and fellow Immersioners made it clear I’ve improved my writing skills. Having Immersion experiences one and a half years apart made it easier to see how far I’ve come. It’s a bit like the kid who grows bit-by-bit, but you only recognize just how tall they’ve gotten when you scratch that pencil-mark onto the growth chart and compare it to last year’s mark below.

Sometimes it’s worth stopping and celebrating how much further down the road you are. Especially since it can be easy to get frustrated that you’re not yet writing like your novelist hero or hitting the bestseller lists or even waving your three-book contract around to your family (“See? It’s not just a hobby!”). I had the pleasure of feeling I really have “come a long way, baby!”

4. Learning my weaknesses. Before we get too worked up about my progress, this workshop also highlighted where I still need work. I’ve come a long way, but I haven’t arrived.

An edited ("Margie-ized") page from Immersion
An edited (“Margie-ized”) page from Immersion

Of course, no author arrives entirely, since there’s always something one can improve. But I know where my focus needs to turn, which writing skills require more of my attention and effort. As I edit, I’ll be looking for those problem areas and applying new skills to fixing them. If I struggle with an issue, I also know to request specific feedback from a critique partner (e.g., “Did anything in this chapter sound stilted to you?”).

5. Falling in love (again) with my story. There’s nothing quite like reading a chapter you wrote and getting all tingly-excited about your story. As I worked on scenes in the Immersion class and polished them up, I read passages I loved, reintroduced myself to characters who engage me, and stoked my desire to share this story with a young adult audience. I fell in love…again.

Ultimately, every word, every scene, every character needs to be something the author really, truly likes — such that she’s bouncing in her boots to share it with readers. And with a few more tweaks to this book, I’ll be raring to go.

While I’m partial to Margie’s excellent writing coaching, I know there are other wonderful workshops available, both in person and online. Writers can look for workshops, retreats, “boot camps,” and intensives that meet their needs. I believe such endeavors are a good investment for a writing career.

ROW80

Speaking of good endeavors, I’m back on track with A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Given my trip to the Colorado and the hard drive crash I experienced on my last night there, I haven’t made as much progress as I’d hoped. Unfortunately, I spent much of last week getting a new hard drive, reloading programs, and working with my tech guy to get back my files. Fortunately, all my data seems to be there. But here’s the scoop for last week:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I met a wonderful writer at Immersion who also likes a bit of snark on the page, and she will be taking a look at one of my shorts to give feedback before I publish. I know this isn’t exactly progress on my part, but I feel good about her being able to help me edit well.

2. Read 12 books. I read The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig and Nothing Sweeter by Laura Drake. Two down, ten to go.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. During the workshop, I made some great changes to my young adult novel and got a much better sense of where my weaknesses still are. I’m ready to tackle the edits head-on this week and look forward to having a pretty, polished manuscript very soon.

So what workshops, retreats, or online courses do you recommend? And how was your week?

Cowbell Chronicle #1: Livin’ the Lone Star Life

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday More Cowbell Sunday! Author Jenny Hansen has a blog called More Cowbell. If you don’t get the reference, it’s based on a Saturday Night Live skit that went viral and spawned the phrase “more cowbell.” (See video here.)

Recently, Jenny hatched a plan to send her own cowbell on a series of adventures, a la Flat Stanley. I was happy to raise my hand for a turn, and Jenny passed the cowbell to me while at DFW Con so it could begin its first adventure.

Here’s how the cowbell spent time in the Lone Star State!

First, Cowbell and I stopped off at the famed Lamb Ranch, where WANA Mama Kristen Lamb served up a heap of Southern hospitality.

Lamb Ranch sign

After a fun-filled conference, though, Cowbell was awfully tired, so he rested for a spell.

Cowbell on Ranch bedThe next day, we were both ready to do some riding on the ranch. So what does one ride on a Texas ranch? Why, an ATV, of course!

Cowbell with Julie on ATVAfter I rested up from the trip, it was time to get back to my regular schedule. In my house, that involves baseball games. Cowbell was ready to cheer my son’s team on!

Cowbell on baseball fenceYep, that’s my son on the pitcher’s mound behind the cowbell. And sure enough, with the charm of the cowbell, my son had several strikeouts.

Cowbell at baseball game

On Saturday, Cowbell begged to go to the annual Art Car Parade in Houston with my other son. But unfortunately, he was just too heavy to be lugged around the parade route by the kids. Since Grandma was the adult taking them, she had her hands full enough already. Here’s some of what Cowbell missed.

T-Rex Art Car

Batmobile Art Car

Cowboy Show Art Car

But we made up for missing the Art Car Parade by taking Cowbell out on Friday night. We got gussied up with a hippie cowgirl look.

Julie & Cowbell

And headed to the Longhorn Steakhouse for a juicy slab of beef.

Cowbell at Longhorn Steakhouse

Then we stopped for a few minutes to listen to the Old Rascals Band in my town of Friendswood, Texas–as part of the summer series of Concerts in the Park.

IMG_20130517_203916_847

There was one final stop for Cowbell a couple of days later. I have an annual tradition with my best friend of taking one day in the year and heading to the beach…while our kids are at school. We’d been looking forward to this day for a long time. And Cowbell got to come!

Cowbell at the beach

We had a fabulous time frolicking in the Galveston sand and Texas Gulf waves.

Julie & Cowbell on beach

Our Lone Star adventures had come to an end. It was time for Cowbell to visit someone else. So I said my goodbyes and sent Cowbell on to Ellen Gregg for its next stop in the Cowbell Chronicles!

We really do need More Cowbell! Thanks, Jenny.

IMG_20130520_101229_824

ROW80 Update

  • Read 8 fiction books. Reached–finished The Silver Lining Playbook by Matthew Quick and Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt this week.
  • Read one craft book: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson. Read one more chapter.
  • Visit and comment on ROW80 blogs as a Round 2 sponsor. Done.
  • Finish writing GOOD & GUILTY, YA mysteryDone.
  • Complete first round of edits of GOOD & GUILTY. I’ve been editing my other two WIPs instead. But it’s editing!
  • Write one short story. Half-written.
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit.
  • Prepare for and attend DFW Conference in May.
  • Prepare for and attend Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson in June. Got the details this past week.

13 Do’s and Don’ts for Writers’ Conferences

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, when I throw out a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life.

I recently attended my third DFW Writer’s Conference. If you ever get a chance to go, I recommend it. Great information, great people. I’ve reflected on my many wonderful (and a few otherwise) experiences and want to offer some do’s and don’ts for writers’ conferences.

To conference planners

Do offer a variety of writing craft, traditional publishing, and indie publishing classes. Conferences attract writers all along the writing journey. Some are multi-published authors, others are working through their first manuscript, and everything in between. Offer a wide array of craft and business information to address the diversity of attendees.

Do host panels. Some favorites at my three DFW Cons have been the panels of experts on everything from social media to publishing options to forensics. The much-touted Gong Show is a regular feature: A panel of agents critiques anonymous first pages and/or query letters, and their feedback is invaluable in helping writers recognize a good story or pitch. Panels can provide wisdom from several sources, and how often can you get that many experts in a room to answer writers’ questions?

Kristen Lamb (one of my favorite panel experts) & Me
Kristen Lamb (one of my favorite panel people) & Me

Don’t ignore the self-pubbers. At my first conference only three years ago, agents were saying that self-publishing your own books was a kiss of death. My, how things have changed! Still, however, conferences can focus so heavily on the traditional route to publication that self-pubbers don’t feel welcome. The writer community should be about producing good books, and there is more than one way to skin that cat.

Do give conference goers a map and clear signs. I get lost easily. I am not alone.

Don’t invite pompous authors to give speeches about how much money they make. Look, author: Unless you’re willing to throw out currency during your presentation, this subject is best discussed with your agent, publisher, accountant, and loved ones. Maybe your mama is proud of your ridiculously large book advances, but conference attendees want to hear about your writing, not your bank account.

Do provide good snacks and beverages. Having a morning or afternoon pick-me-up can help attention levels. Starches and sugars should be balanced with fresh fruit. I was a bit disappointed that DFWCon did not provide free soda this year, but caffeine is my own addiction and the conference shouldn’t be expected to enable me. Water, coffee, and orange juice were fine.

To conference attendees

Do start conversations with other writers. Many writers are introverts and would rather have a root canal than introduce themselves to a stranger. But your fellow conference goers are not really strangers…because they get you. They too are excited about fictional worlds and make-believe characters and pretty words and plot twists and cover art and so forth. You’ll meet wonderful people by simply asking someone nearby, “What do you write?” Moreover, I’ve learned as much from talking to other writers as I have in classes.

Don’t monopolize class time with a specific question that only applies to you. Here’s the scenario: During Q&A, someone describes their particular plot or writing journey and asks for individualized advice. Now if your situation is a sampling of a larger issue that affects writers, fine. But if you’re looking for one-on-one coaching, wait until class has ended and approach the presenter. Most presenters are willing to spend a few minutes with you.

Do practice your pitch. Even if you’re not formally pitching to an agent or editor, you should be able to state your hook in a sentence or two or three. You may get asked by a fellow writer or agent what you’re working on, and being able to succinctly relate your story is good practice for querying or the book blurb.

Don’t fart loudly during a conference class. Actually, I felt sympathy for the person in one of my classes who did that. Maybe it was the Tex-Mex food we’d had for lunch.

Do bring a camera, even if it’s on your cell phone. You won’t want to miss shots like this.

Jess Witkins & Jenny Hansen in "Handerpants"
Jess Witkins & Jenny Hansen in “Handerpants”

Don’t sweat meeting book agents or famous authors. I’ve found them to be very approachable. As long as you’re authentic and courteous, you’re fine. No stalking, of course. (For heaven’s sake, please don’t follow them into the bathroom!) But agents and authors come to conferences to share information and hang out with writers. You’re a writer, so hang out.

Do print business cards. You can get them cheap at VistaPrint. No, you probably won’t go through all 250 cards that came with your order, but I’ve traded business cards with other authors and it’s helpful to refer to them later. Two things I include on my business card–recommended by agents when I researched–are a face photo, so that people can match your name with your face, and book titles/summaries, in case you want potential agents or readers to be hooked by what you write.

My Business Card
Front & Back of My Business Card

That’s it! As for how DFWCon went for me, I learned quite a bit, have three agents I need to query, and enjoyed meeting up with friends for the weekend whom I chat with online throughout the year.

ROW80 Update

Reading

Writing/Editing

  • Finish writing GOOD & GUILTY, YA mystery. 
  • Complete first round of edits of GOOD & GUILTY. Based on advice from a DFWCon class, I’m letting G&G sit for a bit. Instead, I edited 7 scenes from my middle-grade novel, THE YEAR OF FIRSTS.
  • Write one short story.
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit.

Additional Goals

  • Prepare for and attend DFW Conference in May.
  • Prepare for and attend Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson in June. Details are coming soon.

What are your do’s and don’ts for conferences? And how was your week?

Stuffed Bears, Gongs, and Handerpants…Must Be a Writers’ Conference

Today I am in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the DFW Writers’ Conference. For today’s Scarlet Thread Sunday, I am stringing my thread through the labyrinth of a conference center as I learn writing craft, publishing, and how crazy my writer friends are when you let a bunch of us occupy the same city.

Here’s just a peek at my weekend so far.

Stuffed Bears. I went with several WANA friends (connected through Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone social media web) to dinner at a genuine Texas barbecue joint. Angelo’s in Fort Worth had delicious BBQ, animal heads all over the wall, and three stuffed bears inside. We stuffed our stomachs first, then took some pics.

Kristen Lamb & Me
Kristen Lamb & Me..in our super-cool Flash & Wonder Woman tees
Ingrid Schaffenburg, Donna Newton & Me
Cowboy-boot-clad writers Ingrid Schaffenburg, Donna Newton & Me
Jess Witkins and Julie Glover with a stuffed bear
With Jess Witkins..and a Bear

Gongs. Gongs are a big part of the DFW Writers’ Conference tradition. On Sunday, they will host their regular Gong Show, which features a panel of agents who listen to query letters and bang a miniature gong when they lose interest. When three gongs sound, the letter reader stops, and the agents explain what made them stop. It’s very useful information to all conference attendees, and the letters are anonymous so no submitting writer feels on-the-spot.

But there’s also the large gong that sounds at the pitch sessions. DFW Con registration includes an appointment to speak with an agent about your finished manuscript. I was first in line–literally, with the earliest appointment available on the first day of the conference. I chatted with the delightful agent for the allotted ten minutes, and then someone banged the gong and conversation time was over. If it’s been successful, you leave the room with a request for pages…and the gong still ringing in your ears. (Yes, my meeting was successful.)

HanderpantsHanderpants. Jenny Hansen, of More Cowbell blog fame, recently posted about a product called “Handerpants.” These are fingerless gloves made from whitey-tighty material. I remembered reading the post and thinking, Who in the world would buy those? Well, now I know.

Because Gloria Richard went online shopping, and the result below speaks for itself.

Handerpants over battery candle
“Glowing Handerpants”–our new table centerpiece

Writers’ Conference. In between the shenanigans, I’ve been soaking up knowledge and wisdom from authors at various stages of the journey. I hope to post in the future about what information I gained from this conference. But suffice it to say that I am an advocate of workshops and conferences. You can gain both practical tips for your writing and inspiration to keep going.

Speaking of inspiration, here’s how last week went with my goals.

ROW80 Update

Reading

Writing/Editing

  • Finish writing GOOD & GUILTY, YA mystery. 
  • Complete first round of edits of GOOD & GUILTY. Paused to get ready for conference.
  • Write one short story.
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit. No further progress this week.

Additional Goals

  • Exercise twice a week. Twice! Walking.
  • Prepare for and attend DFW Conference in May. I’m here! Count this done.
  • Prepare for and attend Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson in June.

What interesting memories do you have from writers’ conferences? Do you have a favorite conference? And how did your week go?

My WANA Island

It’s Deep-Fried Friday, and boy do I have a sizzling something for you today! Yesterday on her blog, author Jenny Hansen announced a party! But before I give you the deets about that lovely event, let’s take a look at the lonely road of writing.

When I wrote my first novel, I was like the main character in the movie of Cast Away. Remember that flick with Tom Hanks and his volleyball friend “Wilson”? Check out a quick clip from the movie:

That’s how many of us live on writer’s island. We have an imaginary friend or two we chat with, we diligently work at our craft, and we celebrate alone when we achieve something. Sure, it’s great that we made fire wrote a book, but the endeavor involved just one person and no one was there to make or enjoy the fire with us. Even introverts, like me, can get lonely and feel a little lost.

Now let’s head to another island…

I grew up watching Gilligan’s Island…I mean, a LOT of Gilligan’s Island. To the point where you I can see the first scene and say things like, “This is the one where they put on a play, but Mary Ann gets hit in the head with a coconut and thinks she’s Ginger, so then Ginger has to be Mary Ann, and then . . .” I can also sing ALL of the lyrics to the theme song. Despite the years of mockery this show has endured, it has, well, endured.

Because Gilligan’s Island might actually be one of the best ways to be on a deserted island–with others. Sure, these people didn’t know they could become friends, but throw them on a tropical island with a broken boat, one radio, and a whole lot of palm trees, and pretty soon they’re doing okay. They want to be rescued, but as long as Ginger’s sequin dress lasts, they could stay a little longer.

Imagine Hanks with that fire. Wouldn’t that have been more fun with Gilligan and the gang? They could have danced a conga line around that bonfire!

When I started writing, I was on Cast Away Island. Then I found friends online–mainly through the We Are Not Alone (WANA) world. Kristen Lamb, Social Media Jedi and fearless leader of WANA, has helped to link hundreds of writers to each other and to readers. After reading her book and taking her class and following her advice, I have met–online and in person–some of the most supportive writers I could imagine. They are much more fun than Wilson.

Just like on Gilligan’s Island, WANA Island has writers with a wealth of knowledge like the Professor; some with fabulous resources like Thurston Howell III; some with constant encouragement and kindness like Mary Ann; and some who’ll share beauty tips book-writing tips with you like Ginger. In fact, this crew is better than Gilligan’s Island because I’m pretty sure if we were all stranded, my WANA friends would have a tiki bar up in no time serving up whatever you would like. The raft would be already made and sitting off in a corner ready for us to embark as soon as we were done having our fun.

Welcome to WANA Island!

I cannot stress how much I have learned and been encouraged by my relationships with the WANA (and ROW80) folks. If you want to bring in the New Year right, come join us for a TGI2013 Twitter party today from 5:00-9:00 CST at the #MyWANA hashtag!

Check out Jenny’s post with the details at her blog, More Cowbell.

Learn more about WANA at Kristen’s website from her post, Join the Love Revolution.

And see the current course line-up for WANA International.

Meanwhile, if you’re a WANA, let me know in the comments what this group has meant to you. And if you’re not, ask me anything about WANA, and I’ll try to answer as best I can.

And be sure to pop in tonight at the #MyWANA hashtag for our TGI2013 Twitter party!

Armadillos, Cow Tipping, and Silly Camp Songs

It’s an Amaze-ing Words Wednesday special! I had an interesting comments conversation with Jenny Hansen of the More Cowbell blog on Natalie Hartford’s Life Out Loud blog. Following my comment about the blog post itself…

Jenny Hansen says:

Julie, if they let ME teach Sunday School (and they do), I assure you they will always let you sit in the front row at church.

And do you really see Lone Star beer cans in your roadside armadillos??! That means the road killer would have to stop the car and put said can in the paws of the road killee. Am I the only one who finds that bizarre?

Yep, we had a menagerie of maniacal laughter over here – naked armadillos and Bengal Tigers!

  • Julie Glover says:
    LOL. You know my comment was in good fun, Jenny! :)

    I have seen pics of the armadillo & Lone Star can. It’s a college student prank apparently to find a dead armadillo on the drive home and pay your respects to his drunken demise.

    • Well, we tipped cows at Mizzou, so I guess I can’t make fun of the armadillo stagers. :-)
    • Julie Glover says:
      Do you know the “peel the banana” song that has a cow-tipping verse?
    • No!!! Links? Video? Lyrics…give me something here, girlfriend! Enquiring minds MUST know. :-)
    • Julie Glover says:
      Sending you a link on Twitter. And just for you, Jenny, I’m considering an instructional vlog post to teach this very important musical number. Would you shake your cowbell for me if I did it?
    • OF COURSE I would!!!
  • I am so moving to Texas someday! LOL!!!
    Another victim of
    Crossing the Highway while Intoxicated

    Although I would heartily welcome visitors to my wonderful Lone Star State, I didn’t want you to have to wait to find out what you need to know about armadillos, cow-tipping, and silly worded songs I learned at camp.

    Yes, church camp.

    As you know, I think one of the funnest things we can do with words is use them for humor. Word plays, curious idioms, and funny lyrics pique my interest. Some of you may remember songs with silly words like Little Bunny Foo-Foo or Baby Bumblebee. I don’t recall these from camp, but we did sing the Green Grass Grows All Around and the following diddy I haven’t heard anyone else sing:

    Ung-awa, ung-awa, ung-awa
    Ung-awa, ung-awa, ung-awa
    Ung-awa-wa

    Now we’re from Nairobi
    Our team is the best
    We play the Watoosies
    They’re seven feet tall

    Like cannibals, they’ll eat us
    But they’ll never beat us
    ‘Cause we’re from Nairobi
    And we’re on the ball

    Singin’ ung-awa, ung-awa, ung-awa
    Ung-awa, ung-awa, ung-awa
    Ung-awa-wa

    In fact, when I have sung it as an example, I get strange looks. Doesn’t anyone else know this song? It’s a funny rhyme: eat us/beat us. And who doesn’t like a song with the word “cannibal” in it?

    But that isn’t what I promised here. I promised a silly-worded song with a cow-tipping verse. So without further ado (get out your cowbells, Jenny et al.), here is The Banana Song:

    Do you enjoy silly songs? What are some of your favorite camp lyrics? Please share!

Why the Blank Do We Cuss?

When I started doing Amaze-ing Words Wednesday posts, I knew that I eventually wanted to cover the topic of cussing. Why do we cuss?

English is hardly the only language with its collection of the colorful and profane. In fact, linguists and researchers have noted that every language and dialect ever studied has included words that are not to be spoken in polite company. There appears to be some natural human drive toward foul language.

Indeed, children pick up swear words and usage easily, and all adult speakers know how to use these words properly in multiple contexts. Some use them, some refrain. But we all know how to use cuss words. In fact, it can be a shock to a family when a dementia or brain-damaged patient reveals their implicit knowledge of cursing. Suddenly, Grandma is shouting, “Holy *&@#!” when she would have washed your mouth out with soap for such utterances before the dementia set in. Whether we use them or not, though, our brains are programmed to understand and formulate cuss words as needed and/or desired.

Psychologists note that cussing can relieve stress–such as when you stub your toe or a nearby driver cuts you off in traffic. Mark Twain said, “Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.”

Cussing around friends can also demonstrate a level of comfort and unity: You feel relaxed enough in that environment to let loose and let ‘er rip. There is the added benefit that cursing appears to be more memorable in contexts where other words are more common, so that insulting someone with a cuss word is likely to leave a more lasting mark than calling them, say, “a jerk.”

Now some of you have the mouths of sailors, and some of you can hardly vocalize the word “crap” without feeling guilty. Plenty of people fall somewhere in between. We can prime ourselves to use profanity as part of our regular speech, to use it more sparingly, or to eschew cuss words altogether. I think you can discover where you fall in the continuum with this quick test: Mentally fill in the blanks below.

1. Son of a _________.

2. What the _____ were you thinking?

Was your answer for #1 “gun,” “bitch,” or something even more colorful?

Did you complete #2 as “heck,” “hell,” or something else entirely?

Plenty of well-respected English authors cursed. Shakespeare used “zounds,” a highly offensive term for “God’s wounds” 23 times in his works. And if an original classic doesn’t cuss, you can always turn to BBC Radio 3, which produced a 2011 version of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte with brand-new swearing “to help capture the shock that was associated with the original book when it was published.”

In my lifetime, social acceptance of curse words has increased exponentially. In fact, the Family Research Channel has tracked a rise in profanity during prime-time shows: “Using absolute totals, across all networks use of profanity on prime-time broadcast entertainment programming increased 69.3% from 2005 to 2010.” Sure, a lot of this gets bleeped, but you don’t have to be a master lip-reader to know what they’re saying and hear it in your head.

Is it good or bad or neutral that we have cussing? That we are cussing more?

pic from dalailina.com

I personally try to avoid cussing. That’s part of my own faith and moral stance. Moreover, if you almost never cuss, when once in a blue moon you do, it makes a far bigger splash. (I’m talking cannonball, people.) I was also raised to believe that you could be more creative with speech and come up with your own words and phrases for frustrating moments or situations. Admittedly, my current oft-uttered phrase “Good gravy” isn’t exactly inspiring, but no one blushes either, and I don’t worry about my kids repeating it at school.

Jenny Hansen had an interesting post on 10 Creative Ways to Express Your “Inner F-Bomb” with some more imaginative ways to say what you want to say without saying it. But I admit, it isn’t always easy to push-off the potty mouth and keep it clean. In fact, Christian comedian Brad Stine talks about how maybe Christians should have their own curse words:

Since I try to keep my blog PG-ish, I chose not to name each and every crass or cuss word in the English language or trace their etymology. There are plenty of online resources that do that. Besides, you’ve known them all since you were a kid–whether they were uttered constantly in your family or you discovered them scrawled on a bathroom stall.

But I do think cussing is an interesting language phenomenon. What I want to know is: Do you cuss? Why or why not? Why do you think are some words considered foul and others not? How do you feel about others using profanity or books that contain profanity?

Sources: NY Times: Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore; Parents Television Council: Habitat for Profanity; TwainQuotes.com; Socyberty: Evolution of Profanity–How Swear Words Came to Be; h2g2: The Origins and Common Usage of British Swear-words (fascinating article about etymology of British cuss words); The Guardian: Wuthering Heights to Turn the Airwaves Blue; Why We Curse: A Neuro-Psycho-Social Theory of Speech by Timothy Jay

Panties? Skivvies? Bloomers? Words for Underwear

Good gravy, I’ve gotten swept up into National Undies Week, as declared by Natalie Hartford and Jenny Hansen. However, since this is Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, let’s look at the words we use for underwear and where we got them.

Bikinis. Bikini is a toponym (word coined for geography). In 1946, Jacques Heim designed “the world’s smallest swimsuit” and called it the Atom. Frenchman Louis Réard designed a two-piece swimsuit which scandalously exposed the navel and claimed that it split the Atom–thus calling it the “bikini” since Americans were conducting atomic tests at the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific. Underwear in the same shape are also called bikinis.

Bloomers. Elizabeth Miller was a women’s suffragist who became “thoroughly disgusted with the long skirt…” and in 1851 invented loose trousers to be worn by women. Her design was promoted and popularized in The Lily, the first newspaper for women which was edited by Amelia Bloomer. Eventually, Ms. Bloomer’s name became associated with the design itself.

Boxers. Thank the pugilists for this one. Everlast’s founder, Jacob Golomb, created a lightweight version of fighting shorts in 1925, which were loose around the legs and had an elastic waist instead of a leather belt. As underwear, boxers didn’t take off until World War II (1941-45 in the U.S.).

Briefs. In 1934 Arthur Kneibler of the Wisconsin hosiery company Coopers, Inc. received a postcard from a friend who had visited the French Riviera, noted a bikini-style bathing suit, and asked if it could be converted into underwear. Kneibler went to work and introduced snug, legless undies with an overlapping Y-front fly, which were called “Jockey shorts” (see jockstrap below). These were obviously shorter–or briefer–then the underwear that had existed before. The first reference to “jockey briefs” appears in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1966. Briefs, or jockeys, are also called Y-fronts.

Drawers. This term has been around since the 16th century and derives from the verb “draw” in the sense of “pull.” It referred to clothing that you pulled up, such as stockings, underpants, and pants.

Jockstrap. It couldn’t have felt too pleasant to ride a bicycle on cobblestone streets in the 1800s. Thus, the “jockstrap” was invented in 1874 to provide support for cyclists or “bicycle jockeys.”

Knickers. Knickers is a shortening of the word “knickerbockers”–a term invented for the Dutch trousers illustrated in A History of New York (1809) by Washington Irving. Irving wrote the book under the pseudonym Dietrich Knickerbocker. Eventually, the term was shortened and used to describe women’s underwear–which in the 19th century did resemble the knee-length Dutch pants.

Long Johns. We’re not sure where this term came from. However, the use of the term “long johns” became popular during World War II with thermal underwear being issued to United States Army GIs. The most popular explanation for the inclusion of “john” is that a boxer, John L. Sullivan, frequently wore long johns to fight.

Panties. Panties are the shortened version of pants or pantalettes. (Pants is short for pantaloons, based on a 1580s Italian comedy in which Pantaloun was a character who wore tight trousers). The word “panties” was first used in 1908.

Skivvies. I defer entirely to the Word Detective on this one: “Little is known but much has been conjectured. We do know that ‘skivvy’ in this sense was originally a nautical term, and ‘skivvy’ was apparently at one time also used as an exclamation of excitement or surprise among sailors. … Probably the only plausible theory yet proposed about ‘skivvy” ties it to the Japanese word ‘sukebei,’ … supposedly frequently used as a greeting (the equivalent of ‘Lonely, sailor?’) by Japanese and Korean prostitutes to English-speaking sailors after World War II. … But this is all conjecture, and no real evidence (e.g., published accounts of sailors explaining ‘skivvy’ in terms of prostitutes) has yet surfaced.” I think I’ll just avoid that term altogether now.

Thongs. When I was growing up, a thong was a flip-flop. Really. Just ask your mom. However, fashion designer Rudi Gernreich is credited with inventing the modern thong in 1974. It first began showing up on beaches in Brazil (leave it to those Carnival people) and became popular in other places in the 1990s. The word “thong” originally meant a cord or strip of leather–such as was used in flip-flop sandals and the backside of these undies. Going back further, “thong” derives from the root “twengh” which means “to press in on, to restrain.” Sounds about right to me.

One last word on undies: Have you ever wondered why we call them a “pair” of undies? That’s because underwear were originally two separate pants pulled onto each leg and then tied together at the waist. I for one am glad that design has changed.

So what other words for underwear do you know or use? Any others you want me to research?

Sources: MacMillion Dictionary; Cambridge Dictionaries Online; Merriam-Webster; Winning the Vote; National Park Service; A Brief History of Underwear; The History of Thongs; Pants People-Nuts about Underwear; Mental Floss; Jockey; Arnold Zwicky’s Blog; World Wide Words; Wise Geek; Word Detective

What I Learned in DFW and #ROW80

NYT Bestseller James Rollins & Me

If you did not attend the DFW Writers’ Conference, you may be tired of hearing those of us who did talking about how AWESOME it was. Rather than go on and on about how everything is bigger and better in Texas, even writers’ conferences 😉 , how about some general take-aways?

  • As long as you aren’t stalking or incredibly annoying, you can strike up conversations with agents because they are real people, at a conference to meet writers, and like talking about what they do (see Top 10 Things to Do at a Writers’ Conference). At the 2011 conference, I spoke to one agent — the one I had a pitch appointment with. This time, I walked away with six different agent names to send my work to after personal contact at the pitch session and agent/writer reception. So chat it up! What have you got to lose?
  • When you attend a conference, you are paying for it. Don’t feel obligated to attend a workshop you don’t need or to stay in one that wasn’t at all what you expected. I attended a class that was titled one thing and ended up being something else. (That was not common, by the way.) Ten minutes in, I gathered my stuff and left the room as quietly as possible. The teacher has no idea why someone leaves early — a pitch? a phone call from home? sickness? I wasn’t dissing her; the class simply wasn’t a topic I needed after all. I walked into a class next door and was SOOOO glad I did.
  • You can learn as much from chatting with other writers as you can get from the conference classes. I gleaned so much knowledge from conversations with Jenny Hansen, Donna Newton, Kristen Lamb, Tiffany A. White, Nigel Blackwell, David N. Walker, Jess Witkins, Kait Nolan, Jillian Dodd, Piper Bayard, and others that my brain was tingling with electricity by Saturday night. Asking others about their writing process, publishing plans, and life in general enlightened me in ways that made my trip to Big D well-worth all those hours and money.
  • No matter who you are, you can always learn more. It was marvelous to step into a workshop and see several published authors in the class as well. Taking notes. Learning more. Improving their craft.

What workshops did I attend? In case you’re interested, here’s a quick rundown: How to Pitch to an Agent (Rosemary Clement-Moore); The Changing Face of Publishing (an expert panel); Writing Love Scenes (Roni Loren – incredible); Anatomy of a Book Launch (Laurie McLean-agent, Kristen Lamb, Kait Nolan); Fast Draft (Candace Havens); Inside Publishing (Jill Marsal-agent); Revision Hell (Candace Havens); Writing Emotion (Lori Wilde); Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction (Laurie McLean-agent).

Bayard/Lamb 2012: Foxie with (literal) Moxie

Links to some FABULOUS posts about the conference from fellow speakers/attendees:

Social Media Jedi Kristen Lamb encourages writers to push themselves in The Comfort Zone is for Pets, Not Professionals.

Romance author Roni Loren summarizes what agents like and don’t like in queries and first pages with What Will Make an Agent Gong Your Pages.

Writer (and my awesome conference roommate!) Jess Witkins discusses lessons learned in Celebrating My Writing Slump.

Jenny Hansen reports progress on her conference goals and teases us about Fast Draft (thanks, Candace Havens) with Bestselling Authors, DFWcon, and the Flu…Oh My!

Donna Newton makes me kick myself in How to Hook an Agent…The ‘SOO’ Publishing Way. How has this Brit managed to shoot so much stuff when I (a born-and-bred Texan) have yet to meet my goal of firing a real gun?!!

Jess Witkins, Me & Donna Newton

I also posted on Friday about What’s Next? The Hybrid Author, which was partially culled from my conference experience.

(I guarantee I forgot someone else’s wonderful post; I may update this later.)

One last pic: Me & Tiffany White

Enough already. Here are my ROW80 goals and progress report!

  • Log 5,000 words per week on young adult novel, SHARING HUNTER. This should result in a completed first draft. DONE.
  • If first draft is finished, edit once through SHARING HUNTER. I started revising, using the notes from my class with editor Tiffany Lawson Inman and tips from Candace Havens’s Revision Hell workshop.
  • Work on pitch and synopsis for DFW Writers’ Conference (taking place May 19-20). Did it! Pitched. Need to send my queries.
  • If I get all of that done, edit through THE YEAR OF FIRSTS, my middle grade novel which is in second draft form and has been gathering dust for a few months. Waiting on 3 tasks above.
  • Read one writing craft book. My choice this round is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Took a break from this goal until after the DFW Writers’ Conference.
  • Read through March/April issue of The Writer’s Digest. I can’t find the March/April issue, so I started working through the issue that just arrived in the mail.
  • Take course from Tiffany Inman Lawson on 77 Secrets to Writing YA Fiction that Sells from the Margie Lawson Writers Academy. Slowly catching up!
  • Read 10 books keeping to my At-Least-3 Reading Challenge for 2012. On track. I have read six books so far: The Killer Inside Me; Getting Rid of Bradley; Graceling; The Man Who Was Thursday; The Heart-Shaped Box; One of Our Thursdays is Missing. Reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
  • Post ROW80 updates on Sundays. Keeping up.
  • Exercise three times a week — length of time to be determined. Skipped Zumba. May I count the four hours of helping with our church youth’s group car wash on Saturday? I know I burned some calories there.

So how’s your ROW80 week? Be sure to cheer on fellow writers HERE.

And if you are interested in attending the DFW Writers’ Conference in 2013, they are offering a super early-bird registration price of $225 (early-bird is $295) until June 1. The conference will be held May 4-5, 2013 at the Hurst Conference Center. I will be there!