Thursday, February 10, 2011

One Step at a Time by Debbie Hardy, Guest Blogger

Northern Colorado author Deborah Hardy enjoyed many happy years of marriage with her husband Bryan before he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. During Bryan’s illness, Debbie kept friends and family up-to-date by e-mail, ending each note with a word of hope or encouragement, even in the darkest hours.

Many reported that those words caused them to make positive changes in their lives, repair relationships, accomplish goals, and improve their attitudes. She continues to offer hope and encouragement through speaking and her blogs, Stepping Through Cancer and Stepping Through Life. Debbie's first book, Stepping Through Cancer: A Guide for the Journey, a manual for cancer caregivers, is scheduled for release soon from Higher Life Publishing. It is listed as available for pre-order at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

Today, Debbie talks about the process of researching and writing.

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One Step at a Time by Debbie Hardy, Guest Blogger


Do you know how to eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Sounds trite, but it’s true.

Anything that seems daunting can be cut down into bite-size pieces and dealt with one mouthful at a time. Remember how your high school English teacher told you to write your papers?

• Find a topic
• Research it
• Prepare index cards
• Organize them
• Create an outline
• Write the paper

That’s all there is to it, right? But how many of us actually followed those instructions? Many times I had either too little or too much information on those cards. Some of my friends refused to create an outline, preferring a free-form style of writing that bordered on bunny trails.

FIND A TOPIC

Sometimes this is predetermined, like when you find a contest to enter or an editor producing a compilation. These will have definite guidelines to follow. Unlike high school, if you deviate from guidelines, you won’t end up with just bunny trails or a low grade. You’ll get disqualified or rejected. Most writers have to get used to rejection, but do everything in your power to keep it from happening.

Narrow your topic to something manageable. You can’t write the entire history of the world and expect it to fit into a 400-page book. Not gonna happen! But if you select one time in history, one location on the map, and maybe one person at the time, you’ve got a topic. Same for romance or anything else you write. Zoom in on one thing and make it come alive for your reader.

RESEARCH IT

You may be able to journal thoughts and emotions without research, but just about everything else will need some background work. No matter how educated or experienced you are, you can always learn more. Adding expert quotes, facts, and figures will give credence to your writing. This is true even of fiction. You might create a mythical land where you get to name your cities and streets, but you’ll need a map so you can guide your readers.

PREPARE INDEX CARDS

Keep track of all the information you gather on paper or electronically. Don’t rely on your brain. I heard once that our brains are like computers—lots of available RAM when we’re born. As we grow, learn, and experience life, the memory starts to fill up. By middle age, our brains slow down just like a well-used computer. We have so much memory that it takes longer for our circuits to retrieve information. Unfortunately, we can’t buy a new mental memory card!

ORGANIZE

This helps in every area of life, not just writing. Why waste time looking for something when you can just put your hand on it without thinking? Putting your data into categories will help you literally gather your thoughts. Maybe all you’ll need to do is add a word here and there to string them together, forming paragraphs and chapters.

CREATE AN OUTLINE

If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there? An outline is a roadmap, showing you where you are, where you’ll end up, and how to get there. Believe it or not, this makes writing much easier. If you write fiction, this may be hard to do if you let your characters develop your story. But at least you’ll have an idea how you’d like them to behave. Like a road trip, you might have a map but an intentional detour can be exciting.

WRITE THE PAPER

This is the fun part! Let your fingers go. One workshop leader said to “puke it out.” Too many writers stop to edit Chapter One and never get to Chapter Two. Once you’re done writing, you can go back and edit, but don’t waste time now. Keep your ideas flowing and you’ll finish, which is more than most writers do!

Why do we write? Because we feel we have something to say. And if we tell stories that people want to read, we can become what every writer wants to be: PUBLISHED!

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Debbie, thanks so much for being here today. You're an inspiration, and your caregiver manual will be a welcome resource for a lot of folks.

Please note that Debbie is available for speaking engagements. You may contact her through her blog. Her e-mail address is on her profile if you click the "View My Complete Profile" link.

11 comments:

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Research & outline - so important! And Debbie's book sounds very powerful.

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Debbie.


Debbie - You're so right about the need to break a topic down and take it piece by piece. Thanks for sharing your approach to doing research. I admit; one of my pet peeves is when I read books where it's obvious that the writer hasn't done her or his "homework." Thanks for the reminder of how to do it. I wish you much success.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Excellent checklist of pre-writing steps.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Diane, Margot, and Alex -- thanks for stopping by this morning. Debbie's personal story is very powerful. I admire her wish to put her experience out there to help others.

Melissa Bradley said...

This is a great checklist for those of us who tend to pants things. We forget we need some sort of organization no matter how much we like to just tell the story. Thanks!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Melissa -- I wrote my first mystery without a plan and outline and had to do a lot of repair work before it was publishable. Using a plan with a scene outline for the second book sure helped.

Ann Best said...

As a caregiver, I'm definitely interested in Debbie's book! Thanks, Pat, for hosting her.

Yes, Debbie. This is something I think all of us learn to do but need to be reminded: how to research, outline, and then write; keep it flowing. Sounds so simple. We just need to do it! You did, and it looks like the outcome is excellent! I love the book's cover. The color, title, sub-title are all stunning! Definitely catches the eye!!!
Ann Best, Author

Patricia Stoltey said...

Ann -- That cover art really is stunning.

I hope to help Debbie get the word out about her manual. As a caregiver, you understand how much we don't know when we start taking care of a family member.

Name: Luana Krause said...

Pat, thanks for hosting Debbie.

Debbie: Great tips. Your opening line about the elephant is so true (and funny). That's exactly what I need to do with my writing. I tend to get overwhelmed when I think of the Big Project. I need to remember to take it one bite at a time.

Stepping Thru Life said...

Thank you all for your wonderful comments. I guess my organization has paid off---I completed my book in three months, including research time. The cover art was contracted through my publisher, HigherLife. The design was by Rachel Lopez with r2cdesign. I think she nailed it!

Debbie Hardy

pam2spicy said...

This is the kind of help you don't know you need till you need it. It truly fills a niche. Thanks for your insight and perseverance.
Pam Wolf