How Compassion Can Not Only Make You a Better Person But a Better Writer

HeartsInitially, I struggled with this powerhouse of a word.

I was apt, for example, to bark at a customer service representative or get teed off if someone cut me off in traffic. But age and children can soften one’s heart.

I developed compassion. This has helped me be a better daughter, friend, mother, partner and a writer.

How does compassion affect your writing?

This has been key in my ability to raise my writing to the next level.

In the nonfiction arena, it’s given me a new perspective. Instead of how best do I write this piece, it’s made me ask, “How do I help this client sell an idea? How do I help this company reach their target audience? What is the best way for me to deliver this organization’s message?”

It’s a simple change that’s had a profound impact on how I write.

In fiction, it’s put me in the shoes of publishers and editors. They want to create unique, meaningful and creative products. They want to show the world the diamond in the rough piece. They want to be as successful as I do.

When I first started writing, I had a huge chip on my shoulder. I didn’t think about the person reading my material. I thought only about myself-how do I not fail? How do I not sound like I’m pretending? How do I hide my insecurities? As you can imagine, this made for weak and self-conscious pieces.

I think about how I’d feel if I receive half-hearted, rude or thoughtless service. I feel ripped off. I feel gipped. I feel like I never want to be a customer here again.

I then think about the hotel that left me a complimentary bottle of water or the restaurant that remembered me and my order from last time. All that extra attention made a difference in my experience.

It’s the same thing about writing.

Can you put yourself in your client’s shoes and then use your words from this perspective? Can you understand their own insecurities and fear? Can you use that information to provide the service and product that you would be grateful to receive?

If you think this way while working on your next project, your fear and insecurity will melt away. All that will be left is your desire to do your best to fill your client’s greatest needs.

Updates in the New Year

Hi fellow writers!

So far 2017 started with a lot of hustle and bustle, and recovery from illness, which has left me nil time to write. I still have hope for the new year, however.

The end of 2016 was filled with a lot of exciting things.

One of my stories on Ikea in Hawaii for Hawaii Business magazine, for example, made it to the top 10 stories in 2016! You can read it here.

On a completely separate note, I ended up being in the magazine with a mom friend. It was an exciting day for this non-glamorous mom of two boys.

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My goal is to continue to work on my picture book, but I am also working towards more health and wellness pieces this year.

Hope you had a Happy New Year!

What are your 2017 goals? Have you achieved some already? Share them with me here.

The Next Generation of Environmental Stewards and How Fantasy Can Help Kids with Such Complex Issues and Ideas

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guest post by: C.J. Quinn

Does your child enjoy reading fantasy books? If so, your child may be smarter than you think. Reading the genre of fiction and fantasy has many social and behavioral advantages.

Intelligence quotient (IQ) was once considered the golden standard for measuring how smart a person was. However, in 1995 Daniel Goleman, an internationally known psychologist, proved that we weren’t taking into account emotional intelligence when determining a person’s intellect. According to Goleman, “Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a person’s ability to identify, evaluate, control and express emotions.” Since Goleman’s theory, both IQ and EQ are now combined in order to study the ‘intelligence’ of a person.

A person with a high IQ as well as a high EQ is a person who has good interpersonal skills and possesses compassion and empathy. As a result, this person is able to develop strong relationships, has greater self-awareness, and operates with the faculty of reasoning and understanding.

Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings. Research consistently shows that the more people read, the more it helps people’s understanding of others. The genre of fantasy is an especially effective way to encourage empathy among children. For example, when children read fantasy that provides valuable lessons, such as environmental awareness, they become more empathetic toward important issues. In the case of environmental fantasy, they learn how to be sympathetic about human impact on the natural world that surrounds them.

In recent years, psychologists and childhood development experts have expressed concern with the apparent decline in empathy among children and young adults. One study found that the number of children’s stories parents expose their preschoolers to can predict a preschooler’s ability to understand the emotions of others.

Fortunately, one can start learning empathy by reading fantasy. The genre of fantasy encompasses a world of imagination and make-believe with myth and legend involved. Fantasy appeals to children because it brings them out of the mundane and into a world of magic. Reading fantasy gives children an important tool in dealing with reality by discovering hidden meanings within the story. Fantasy is timeless and has shaped culture for centuries. The security of knowing that the story is fantasy gives the reader a safe place to discover topics that are sometimes difficult to understand or too frightening to confront. A child’s brain may not be developed enough to understand a subject that is beyond their comprehension. Through the experience of reading fantasy the child’s mind has a chance to make sense of their lives by learning through the sympathetic experience.

Many children today spend more time indoors than outdoors. They are becoming deprived of the connection between who they are and the marvel of the natural experience. America is in the midst of one of the most profound and rapid societal shifts in history. Today’s generation is the first to grow up indoors. Their plugged-in lives are often devoid of exploration of the natural world. It is difficult to teach about nature in the classroom when children are detached from it. In the year 2000, two-thirds of the public failed a basic environmental quiz and 88 percent failed a basic energy quiz. By spending very little time outdoors there are costs to our children’s health: attention difficulties, hyperactivity, childhood obesity, and a diminished use of senses.

However, children who read environmental fantasy may have a more intrinsic yearning to go outside. And, once a child has the opportunity to learn about their environment through reading fantasy, the child begins the transformation of becoming a guardian of the environment, rather than simply being a consumer of it. The child now has the empathy to relate to his environment and the desire to go outside and experience nature. When our youth read environmental fantasy it helps them become ambassadors of the earth. The National Environmental Education Foundation Act of 1990 (NEEF) believes “with increased environmental involvement of individuals on a national scale, their actions, taken collectively, will have a tremendous environmental impact and help bring about a cultural shift in attitudes and behaviors.”

The rewards from reading environmental fantasy for our youth spawns a new empathy and understanding for the natural world. This in turn assists in molding them into stewards of the environment in which they inhabit.

cj-quinnC.J. Quinn is the author of Talia and the Capture of Wrath, a middle grade fantasy novel that promotes environmental awareness. After traveling the world, she settled down to start a family, which has proven to be the biggest adventure yet. She currently resides in Seattle with her family.

Talia and the Capture of Wrath is available talia-and-the-capture-of-wrathvia Amazon wherever books are sold. The audio version of Talia and the Capture of Wrath was released November, 2016.

Find C.J. Quinn on FacebookTwitterInstagramPinterestGoodreads, and at www.cjsoulwriter.com.

A Wise Person Said…

Instead of blogging about writing, I’ve just been writing, which is a good thing. But it means this blog has been as inhabited as a desert scene in a Western. Cue in the rolling tumbleweeds. That being said, I wanted to still contribute to it with things that inspire me. Particularly, on the subject of writing. Author Elizabeth Gilbert has been killing it with her Magic Lessons podcast. And I’m so not even trying to compete. But I wanted to throw out this little words of inspiration out there for those of you in the throes of NaNoWriMo. If you are out there, throw me back some love. I need you too!

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Hope on the Writing Journey from Words@Mānoa Creative Writing Conference

There are still magical wonderful things in the world. I’m reminded of this when the Creative Writing Conference at UH Manoa came into town. It is an annual event with writers and artists who speak. The first year it was free! Did I mention that a delicious lunch was also included?

This year, there was a $10 fee which a mom friend who attended said was, “still nominal,” for what you get. I agree.

Although I attended for just one talk (Publishing and the Writing Life by writer Alicia Upano), I gained enough fuel as I seem to always, to keep on writing. This post will include a few gems if you could not attend.

Luck, Suck and Pluck

Upano says there are three roads to publishing, which she took from An Insider’s Guide to Publishing:

  1. Luck – if you happen to be at the right place at the right time.
  2. Suck – can you depend financially on someone to support you while you write?
  3. Pluck – the greatest avenue of success is to work hard, persevere even when your writing sucks, cause it will.

Aim for Rejections

The more you put yourself out there, the more success you will eventually have. Instead of the sting of rejection, this will help you to refocus on getting not avoiding rejection. If you are submitting (regardless of the outcome), you are essentially winning.

Be Accountable

Find in-person writing groups, online critique groups, writing coaches and even email writing pals that can hold you accountable. Upano sends out business like reports of what she hopes to accomplish by a certain period of time. Another writer in the class said she announces her goals to friends and family on Facebook. Find like-minded caring people that can hold you to task.

Time Not Words

Commit to how much time you’re willing to put with arse in chair, not the amount of words. Sometimes you may not write a lot, but it’s the time investment and commitment that’s most important.

Publish in Literary Magazines

Focus on getting your work published in places editors and agents look for new blood. It’s much easier to be the hunted then the hunter.

Start Where You Are

Who are you and what do you care about creating? If you write enough stories, you will see a theme. Know first what your story is.

Put the Work In

You will feel doubt. Your work will suck. You will think of all the time you’ve “wasted” away from your family, friends, and life, and a cloud of fear will develop. You will consider quitting. But don’t. What you are going through is normal. If you want to understand this on a deeper level, watch this:

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

18th Biennial Conference on Literature and Hawaii’s Children

04-green-streepsI’ve been juggling two boys under two and working on an upcoming article for Hawaii Business magazine. Plus, I’m still writing for Psych Central. I won’t lie. It’s a lot. Some days feel near impossible. But there is joy and pleasure in pursuing the written word so I do so happily even if I have to muster stored energy (which may or may not require a cup of Jo).

This weekend I got to do something thrilling. Taking a break from dirty diapers would be a vacation in itself. But I also got to attend the 18th Biennial Conference on Literature and Hawaii’s Children: Imagining Worlds, Fictional and Real at Chaminade University. I only had time for one session and it was a good one.

I attended the Saturday afternoon talk with Kailua raised author Graham Salisbury. If you’re not familiar with the name, he’s the guy behind the book turned movie Under the Blood Red Sun. I found him humble, and inspiring in his down to earth, practical wisdom on writing a book. I hope his savory bites of wisdom will inspire you to keep writing as well.

The most important part of writing a book is answering the question why?

For most of us wannabe writers, we’re zoomed in on the what. Salisbury says that the why, (e.g. why are you doing this book/ideas/project?) is the key to not only persevere through reject and blocks, but to create successful work.

Play with possibilities.

Instead of just one action or ending, Salisbury says he writes up plausible situations on three by five index cards.

Keep a notebook and pen by your bed.

When you’re not sure what to do next, ask a question before bed. Salisbury says to leave a notepad and pen on hand. If you wake up with an inspiring thought, keep your eyes closed while writing it down. He believes that once you open them, the idea will be lost.

First drafts suck.

For all those that want to give up after the first draft, you need to hear this. Salisbury says, “First drafts are a struggle cause you’re creating something that doesn’t exist.” After three hours of working on the initial draft, he’s burnt out. After he reads it, some of his thoughts are: “Nobody’s going to want to read this junk. It’s garbage.” Sounds familiar? Yep me too. Thank God it’s normal and not more reason to give up.

Revision is magical.

Salisbury says he enjoys the revision process because “things happen that didn’t exist the first time.” Working to make your first draft into something publishable is where all the magic happens.

Listen to your characters.

How do you know which point of view to use? Salisbury says, “The person you hear the most” is the best person to tell the story.

First pages are everything.

Writers make sure you spend adequate time on that first page. Salisbury says, “By page one, you’ll know if you’re in the hands of a good writer.”

Writer’s block doesn’t exist.

Salisbury doesn’t believe in writer’s block. When he feels stuck he does two things: 1) He writes anyway even if it’s drivel. 2) He’ll read other people’s work and mark passages that work well. That will get him from stuck to inspired.

Lastly, he shares this: “If you just want to write a book-that’s just words on paper. Passion is needed to make you put your feet on the floor in the morning.”

When Your Writing Sucks

pencilI used to struggle with what came out of me onto a fresh page. It was never as beautiful or brilliant as it was in my mind. In my mind, I was an eccentric, quirky, and stunning writer. One the world had yet to seen. In reality, my words were mediocre at best. It kind of depressed me. Thus, began the slog of my writing career.

Every time I wrote, I suffered a little on the inside. Why was I doing it? Why was I torturing myself when my writing sucked? I would never be an award winning writer. I would never write perfect prose like the kind in Karen Walker’s The Age of Miracles or a classic like A Wrinkle in Time. When friends read my work they thought, “I could do that,” not “I wish I could do that.” I was kidding myself. Frankly, I was a little embarrassed.

But it’s been almost a decade since I started writing professionally and it’s been three decades since I vowed to one day be a writer. And I suddenly got it.

All the work that I’ve put in. All the bad writing that I wrote and continue to write. It MEANS something! It is getting me somewhere. The work is the gold at the end of the rainbow.

Eventually you will get there too. But all the sweat you’re putting in is important. It’s necessary even. Every single writer started where you are. Even Mo Willems and Dan Santat must have written something unsuccessful at one time.

I sometimes need to be reminded of it too. Just because your working isn’t published or publishable right now, that doesn’t mean it won’t be. Your time will come. If you put in the time now.

It’s just like raising kids. Your kids won’t applaud you, give you an award or promote you for a job well done. But it MEANS something! At times, it is everything! It may be one of the most important things you do for them, for yourself, for the whole world.

Your writing is your babies. You need to invest the time and energy and the pain of producing shitty work to get to where you want to go. And when you get there, you will know. You will understand why you had to go through hundreds of crappy drafts, and rejected manuscripts. You will get it. And you will appreciate that crazy journey all the more.

Chronicles of a Wannabe Children’s Book Author

file000739253401This is a post I don’t usually write. Usually, I’m a how-to nonfiction writer hoping to inspire you. But when it comes to fiction, I’m struggling.

Recently, I attended SCBWI Hawaii chapter’s 2016 conference with 2015 Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat and literary agent Suzie Townsend. It was as encouraging as it was discouraging. It made me want to write as much as it made me want to quit.

One of the other writers put it simply. With nonfiction there’s facts to lean on. When you’re grasping around in your imagination, there’s no bars, no walls. You’re free and freedom can be a nightmare when you have a type A personality.

“The hardest part of finding your voice is trusting your own instincts.” – Dan Santat

I believe everything hard is there to teach you something.

Growth doesn’t come from blissful days.

It just so happens that writing fiction is my next challenge. But the same old discomfort comes up. The fear. The resistance. The desire to do anything, but sit down and write. I used to feel like that about nonfiction. Nonfiction used to make my skin crawl. Because I thought it revealed my worth. It made me vulnerable. But it’s a sliver of who I am versus my fiction and essay writing. But I’m going to put it all out there because anything that stretches me further into my true self is worth the torture.

Here’s hoping today becomes the day I rolled up my sleeves and got serious.