Dreaming Your Way to Success

Have you heard of lucid dreaming?  This is when a dreamer is fully cognizant of being in a dream state.  Some authors actually work at learning to control this form of dreaming as a means for shaping their projects, regardless of whether they are focused on fiction or non-fiction.

Dreamscaping or dream sculpting (as the process is sometimes called) allows the dreamer to actively contemplate the contents of a dream while asleep—and to question how these subjects may be relevant to their personal or professional living.

Dreamscaping Your Creative Project
Wordsmiths and artists are often encouraged to keep notebooks at hand for recording stray thoughts that can help them maximize future creativity.  This includes placing a pen and paper by your bed for capturing ideas that may materialize during the night. 

Regardless of your type of work, I’m rather certain that you have awakened on more than one morning (or the middle of a night) and thought, “Hmm, that was an interesting dream.  Now what was there about it that I wanted to remember?” 

For those of us relying on random ideas on which to build our shaping of words and images, it can be important to retain unexpected thoughts.  I can report that I have benefitted from vigorously striving to record the contents of potentially significant dreams.  And I’ve suffered the disappointment of having forgotten to have the implements for recording anything before falling back into a deep and dreamless state.  The mornings that have followed have been very frustrating.  Far worse than a simple hangover experienced by authors of yore!

My Methods of Directing the Dreaming Process
A simple Internet search will yield instructional resources for learning to implement Lucid Dreaming.  As I’m not a specialist in this field of study, I’ll merely share how I have approached the topic. 

After reading some background material, and discussing the concept with artists, I decided to delve into the process several years ago.  I began my sojourn in this endeavor by placing a retractable pen and small bound book for journaling on my bedside table.  Do note that having a pen without a lid has proven invaluable to my night-time note writing, since I’m rather clumsy and a bit befuddled when rising from a vivid dream.

Most evenings, I spend a few minutes before going to bed contemplating projects I wish to undertake the following day.  Often, this is while rocking in a chair and petting my cat, which I find soothing on several levels.  I then read a few pages of both meditative and mystery books.  After turning off my reading light, I review my to-do list.  I won’t claim that my contemplation of work goals is directly responsible for yielding inspirational ideas during the night.  However, these practices do serve as an off-switch for my overactive mind. 

As anyone attempting to call me in the a.m. will attest, I am not a morning person.  Some of my best work is born in the silence of nocturnal hours.  So prior to entering my pre-sleep routine, I’m already in a creative thinking mode.  The number of hours I spend in sleep varies, but when most people are rising to their own days of productivity, often I am entering my deepest dreams.  While most may seem unrelated to the work I envision undertaking, they are varied in topic and have a film-like quality. 

Results from My Dreamscaping
Having disciplined myself to interrupt the dreaming process, I can now report overall success in benefiting from dreaming with lucidity.  Records of some of my dreams make it into my journal.  Elements of others capture my attention sufficiently to be recalled for several hours after my waking. 

Perhaps the worst challenge that arises from the overall experience, is being forced to fold new concepts into work I may have considered complete.  Sometimes that means reprinting quite a number of pages of text due to a minor edit in their midst.  However, I’m thrilled to report that expanding a character’s role by having her play a bamboo flute has yielded a lovely audio element to that scene… and an interesting twist to the epilogue for Yen for Murder, Book Four in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series!

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson
author, narrator, consultant, motivational speaker

For further tips on branding, please visit my marketing website
Imaginings Wordpower and Design Consultation.

To learn more about the Natalie Seachrist Mysteries, including the new release, Murders of Conveyance, a few Island recipes and my other projects, please visit my author website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.

ACKNOWLEDGING OUR MENTORS

So lovely to have my editor Viki Gillespie join me at a speaking engagement!

Acknowledging our mentors and consultants is a key authoring strategy

There are so many aspects to the art and science of writing that it is easy to lose focus of mechanical details while completing a project.  Empowering your words fully means having access to technical experts for fiction as well as non-fiction.  Sometimes when we think of the people who’ve advised us about our work—or regarding life in general—it’s difficult to remember them all.  But the demands of book publishing eventually require authors to compose an acknowledgments section. Beyond being a gracious act, it can be a key authoring strategy in gaining the respect  of those who help you, as well as your readership.

In my own experience, I have learned that it is not good to wait until the end to begin documenting everyone who has contributed to your final product.  The simplest solution to this aspect of the editorial process is to keep notes on the people and organizations that are of assistance to us as a project develops As I have moved from Prospect for Murder to Murder on Mokulua Drive, and from Murders of Conveyance to Yen For Murder, I have copied the Notes and Acknowledgment portion from one manuscript into the next.  After removing references that are not pertinent to the current work, I continue to make quick notes as I progress through each book.  By the end of a project, I may not have beautifully composed text, but I have complete references that will allow me to polish the section. 

The easiest citations to track are for people connected to a library, institution, or government agency.  Of course, such organizations often have considerable turnover in staff.  That means you’ll need to verify whether a person remains in the job you’ve cited. Strategically inserting a phrase like “at the time” allows you to recognize a person’s help, even if you cannot verify their position as you go to press. 

During a professional writer’s research, some individuals will provide meaningful counsel for several years.  In my case, this category of advisers includes both generalists and specialists. Having described my protagonist Natalie Seachrist as the widow of a naval officer, I’m fortunate to have a husband who is a retired Lieutenant Commander.  When unexpected questions about ships and naval protocols have arisen, he’s been able to answer them quickly at unusual times.

There are also people whose contributions move beyond their specific area of expertise. For example, Kevin C. Horstman, PhD (specializing in geological sciences and digital image enhancement) has shared concise knowledge of the realm of geology.  In addition, he’s provided understanding of geographical features and general scientific terminology.  This invaluable input strengthens my ability to write descriptively, and has inspired writing of passages I had not foreseen.

Through appendices and footnotes, an author can reference the contributions of such technical, scientific, or artistic professionals in non-fiction pieces.  Unfortunately, this is not appropriate to most works of fiction.  However, fictional wordsmithing can utilize prefatory remarks, or dedication of a book or other major work to recognize such people.  For even if you do not realize it, a reader’s expectations usually includes a desire to gain insight into how you have researched and shaped the work you are presenting to them. This is particularly true in the case of a series in which you will hope to gain a following from one book to the next.

Audio books require additional levels of attention to enhance the sensory experience of listeners.  As I prepared to produce the audio recording of Prospect For Murder, I remained alert to aspects of production that could fulfill a listener’s expectations. A major consideration was providing precise chapter breaks, so that listeners know where they are within an audio book.  It was also important to provide a distinct voice for each character.  As someone trained in the theatre arts, I know it is easy for a solo performer to become confused in presentation of multiple characters. 

Fortunately, I work with Jim Waters of Waterworks Recording. His experience in audio production positioned him to serve effectively as my director, as well as my recording producer and engineer.  One of the best formatting tips he shared with me for preparing recording scripts was ensuring each page concluded with the end of a paragraph and/or an individual character’s voice.  In addition I utilized various formatting to indicate how each passage was to be read.

As this first book in the Natalie Seachrist series reached its release date at the end of July 2016, I prepared Internet announcements through Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com, plus a new author website, Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com and a Facebook page designed as a simple billboard for announcements.  For these and other purposes, I’ve needed a professional photograph to accompany cover art and promotional text.  This task seemed straight forward.  However, on the day of the shoot, the weather was muggy, the activity took place in a space using evaporative cooling rather than air conditioning, and I was definitely having a bad hair day.

Perhaps I should have paid a cancellation fee and rescheduled the event.  But with deadlines looming, I proceeded.  At the end of the shoot I learned that the digital photographic firm could make image enhancements…at $35 for each element they adjusted.  By the time I would have had them amend several parts of the picture I’d selected, I could have spent as much as for the shoot itself.  Fortunately, a friend’s daughter, Lindsey Burlingame, offers graphic art fixes at a reasonable hourly rate.  While this valuable service does not fall within a normal range of publishing credit, in the future she may become one of my advance readers, and I’ll be able to acknowledge her professional services in my notes section.

In summation, there are varied means by which you can thank and give credit to those who help you present your thoughts to the public!

Wishing you the best in your endeavors in the art of communication, 
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson
author, narrator, consultant, motivational speaker

For further tips on branding, please visit my marketing website
Imaginings Wordpower and Design Consultation.

To learn more about the Natalie Seachrist Mysteries, including the new release, Murders of Conveyance, a few Island recipes and my other projects, please visit my author website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.

Interview and Oral History Projects, 3

Conducting Interviews

Few people willingly give up control of their personhood to allow a stranger to delve into their inner thoughts.  But those private thoughts are what an effective writer must access to produce a true facsimile of each interview they conduct.  For as a professional or even an amateur writer, your goal is to meet your listeners or readers expectations that they are sharing your sensory experience while gleaning the particulars of why the highlighted individual is worthy of their attention. 

There are four statements I can make about my perspective on the interviewing process:

~  The interviewer has one chance to make a good first impression
~  The interviewer may not get another opportunity to interview their subject
~  Despite a subject’s agenda, an interview should encompass a non-fiction record of fact
~  Regardless of the premise for an interview, the subject may become reluctant to speak about topics previously authorized for discussion

The Importance of Preparing for Interviews
In several blogs, I’ve stressed the importance of preparation to conduct both general and oral history interviews.  In contrast, there are some writers who feel that research and other preparation is unnecessary, or even unwarranted.  I strongly disagree.  I believe research is vital to empowering your words in the interview process.  It will also help with establishing your credibility as a wordsmith who has mastered the art and science of writing.  In short, it’s one of the best ways of demonstrating your skill at the art of communication and making your subject trust you.

Contrary to the theory that “winging it” in an interview demonstrates you are a “common man,” and therefore likely to establish a connection with your interviewee, I’ve observed the results of people who conduct interviews without appropriate research.  For when an interviewer demonstrates little knowledge of their subject, their interviewee may judge them inconsequential.  If that is the case, responses to the interviewer’s questions may be superficial.  In fact, the subject  may be thinking, “If you don’t care enough to do your homework, why should I care about your project?  So I’ll just keep the kernels of my truth to myself until the right interviewer comes along.”

Summarizing Your Research
By the time you’re ready to conduct a cogent interview, you should have completed a great deal of fact checking in several areas of your subject’s life, including:

~  The historical era of their life and the category of work they’ve performed
~  Their biography and career…as reported by them, and as available in public sources
~  Materials they’ve published, and speeches and interviews they’ve given previously
~  Comments their colleagues and other contemporaries have expressed about them

 Shaping Your Questions
The bulk of your questions will be determined by the purpose of your project. In some cases you’ll need to conduct interviews with multiple persons.  By asking parallel questions of each, you can compare and contrast their views of the primary subject, as well as one another.

Regardless of whether there’s any obvious controversy you must address, beginning your interview with general questions about the unfolding of the subject’s life, can assist in putting them at ease…if their mental processes are fully functioning and there are no hidden elements in their early life.

By delivering the early portion of your questions chronologically, your interviewee can mentally relive moments with which they should be comfortable. Additionally, taking them through the recognizable patterns of the decades of their life may trigger remembrance of small details.  This will not only enhance the interview itself, but also add color to your subsequent reporting of the event. This can, of course, lead to some sidetracking, but you should be able to steer the conversation back to the key points you need to cover.

Prior to, or during the interview, you may uncover facts about your subject’s life and work that are at odds with information the person has released in the past In this case, you’ll have to decide whether to directly question these inconsistencies. Of course, you’ll want to keep in mind that true or false, the opinions of others may have colored the public record.  Also, the perspectives of most people change with time and life experience.  And, whether we like to admit it or not, everyone has gaps in their memory, without necessarily being conscious of it.

Approaching the Interview
It’s nearly show time.  That’s right.  I said show time.  While serious scholars and journalists may dislike hearing me say it, an interview is usually a semi-public performance.  Unlike a play, the dialogue is not set in stone; unlike an evening at an improv theatre, it’s not without direction and form—for that’s your job.  But like a play on Broadway, it will be frozen in time, even if you conduct subsequent interviews.

Location of the Interview
It’s been my experience that interviewees often set and control the location of the interviews they grant.  This may not be the case for broadcast media and bloggers with sets in which the subject is expected to appear, but you are probably not working in these situations. Admittedly, it’s best to conduct an interview at a site to which you’re both agreeable, but sometimes you must accept interviewing your subject in their office, home or other location of their choice.  Nevertheless, there are things you can do to balance the situation so that you’re able to subtly declare your professional standing, while still putting the person at ease. 

There are many authoring strategies that can help to distinguish your work as an interviewer.  Establishing a good rapport can be the key to making the interviewee trust you with the information they’re imparting.  To do this, you might bring something with you to enhance the experience.  This could be an edible item, or, if you know they are fond of a particular author, you might obtain a copy of that writer’s work to share with your subject.  Please note that I’m not suggesting you spend a significant sum of money to buy your subject’s cooperation.  But small acts of kindness can help warm the atmosphere, demonstrate the thoroughness of your preparation, and make the entire experience positively memorable for both of you.

Interviewer Anxieties
Anxiety will undoubtedly arise, regardless of your preparation.  Despite previous contact you may have had with a subject, being in their presence (even by video conferencing or telephone) changes the balance of your relationship. There is another factor that may detract from your rapport with your interviewee:  If there’s an aspect of their lives that makes them suspect in the eyes of the public, they may be hesitant about granting you an interview.  They may be apprehensive about information you may have uncovered already…or what they might reveal in conversation with you. 

The Atmosphere of the Interview
Even when you have secured the location for holding the event, you cannot be certain of being able to completely control the environment.

~  Despite previous agreement, additional people may be present during the event
~  As recording devices can fail, carry a back-up unit, cordage and microphones with you
~  Regardless of their response, your subject may be distracted by ringing telephones and other interruptions

As you set up your equipment, be aware that recognition of the permanency of the record of their interview may be upsetting to your subject. Even if you have provided them with a copy of your primary questions, they may dislike seeing the list set out before them.  They may also have negative feelings about seeing any reference notes you’ve brought. But since such materials should be in easily read styles and sizes of fonts, you’ll be able to quickly reference pertinent facts, while maintaining eye contact and keeping the dialogue between you as natural as possible. 

The Ebb and Flow of Your Interview
Establishing and maintaining a smooth flow of conversation is a primary goal in the interviewing process.  Regardless of whether your personal views are in accord with those of your interviewee, it’s important to approach what they have to say with a calm, if not fully open mind.  This does not mean that you have to forfeit your role as the honest broker of truth.  However, you can adjust your personal style of behavior and other elements to maximize a positive atmosphere. After all, as in any natural conversation, your subject will periodically lead the discussion. That’s fine as long as they do not deviate greatly from the purpose of your dialogue, or delve into personal details of your life.

Be Prepared for Shifts During Your Interview
After opening pleasantries, you can help direct the flow of the interview by verifying the amount of time you’ll have with your subject.  This establishes a guideline for both parties and should make your periodic redirection of topic easier to explain.

Although you’re guiding the overall direction of the conversation, information will arise that may surprise you, or at least call for cursory examination. This may occur because the man or woman to whom you are speaking may have talking points of their own that they wish addressed.  If that’s so, let them express their concerns, and then try to deftly redirect them to the specific information you need in order to complete your project.

The Editorial Process
Sometimes an author feels stressed about the relationship between the creative process and editing.  As you review an interview, you will not only want to envision how you will shape an accurate account of the event that reflects truly inspired writing as well.  One thing that can help you achieve this dual pronged goal is to remember that the way in which you report your findings may be wholly different than the substance and sequence of the questions you posed. 

For example, if you’re part of an oral history project, there may be a specific format for you to follow.  This generates a record that harmonizes with the results of other interviewers within the larger body of work.  Typically you’ll prepare a transcript of the actual dialogue between you and the subject—often with punctuation or other markings to indicate accents, pauses, stresses, and other notable features of your conversation.  You may also write an introductory passage explaining your methods of preparation and your evaluation of the results you’ve achieved.

If you’re working on assignment for a media outlet, you might have the opportunity to write a personable article containing both dialogue and narrative prose. In this case, you may be allowed to offer your candid view of the person you’ve studied.  Be aware, if you’re working as a freelance researcher and writer, you may need to prepare multiple versions of your report in order to secure one or more appropriate outlets for its broadcast or publication.  I should note that there are situations when an interview will be available to only a select audience, or may be held in private for release at a future time.

As you finalize your work on an interview, you’ll want to remember that in this day of permanency in data recording and retrieval, the words you shape after the interview will live as long as the event itself.

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson
author, narrator, consultant, motivational speaker

Here are my offerings on interviews and oral histories.
Overview of Interview and Oral History Projects, June 2015
Researching for Interviews, July 2015
Conducting Interviews, May 2016
After the Interview, August 2017

To learn more about the Conversations with Auntie Carol, a few Island recipes, the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian Mysteries and other projects, please visit my author’s website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my marketing website, Imaginings Wordpower and Design Consultation.

Sidestepping Writer’s Block

he following is a commandment I often recommended for serious writersThou shalt set and maintain a schedule for daily composition—or other work related to the art and science of wordsmithing

Unfortunately, regardless of whether you’re an amateur or professional, any author can face Writer’s Block.   The term often conjures the image of a twentieth century writer of the great novel—rumpled, frazzled, and hazy from exhaustion abetted by alcohol or other drugs.  Seldom do we picture an elegantly clad person poised before a blank computer screen in a well-appointed office.

Surprisingly, today’s writer is more often focused on commercial or academic composition than fiction Stymied by the inability to produce the required verbiage, the valiant wordsmith in this scenario may continue to drill down in a repeating exercise of seeming activity…with the hope that it will produce a new dynamism.  But an episode of slugging away at wordsmithing without inspiration often yields the same result:  N o t h i n g  o f  V a l u e.

Is there an easy solution to the dilemma of low motivation and poor productivity Sometimes the answer is no.  At least for the time being, leaving the project alone may be the best answer.  But what options are available as an alternative to abdicating your role as a writer and hitting your head with the hammer of guilt? 

In the Southwestern desert, simply drinking water can restore one’s ability to concentrate, if not one’s creativity.  Another option is exercise .  Going for a run or walking in a garden will remove you from an atmosphere of defeat and inhaling fresh air re-oxygenates your bloodstream and enhances your brain function Recent biochemical research has shown the benefit of eating brain-stimulating foods.  But if preparing a meal of nut-encrusted fish with broccoli and tomatoes is not doable, you could consider taking a power nap, perhaps serenaded by Mozart or Vivaldi.

Beyond tangible physical benefits, these strategies provide Attention Distraction.  Wait a moment, you say?  Attention distraction is usually associated with magicians misdirecting audiences…or mystery writers dropping false leads into their text to confuse readers about the true direction of their plotline.

Regarding the quandary of writer’s block, consider that scientists exploring attentional focus and problem solving have discovered that too much mental focus can reduce one’s creativity, as well as the ability to solve problems.  Therefore any strategy that redirects your energies is indeed useful for refreshing your body and your mind.

For me, the key to increasing my productivity is my frame of mind.  For even if I’m poised to bring form to a fully visualized project, extraneous noise like ringing phones, talk or even music can stall my work.  Sadly, I’ve found that food and water, or a change of scenery with heart stimulating activity, can only help to a limited degree.  

Attentional distraction via the dovetailing of the creative and editorial processes I mentioned in my first blog is my best method for sidestepping writer’s block.  If all else fails, cleaning house or playing a few games of solitaire allows me to return to productive writing for hours!  All of the techniques I’ve mentioned in this blog helped me through the myriad phases of writing, working with my publisher, and promoting Prospect For Murder, the first book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series.

Remember, the Universe will provide the answer…when you’re ready to receive it!

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors, 
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson
author, narrator, consultant, motivational speaker

Tips to enhancing your writing may be found in:
Empowering Your Words, February 2015
Creating Fictional Characters, March 2015
Sidestepping Writer’s Block, April 2015
Communicating with Every Sense, May 2015
Energizing Narrative Passages, September 2015
The Author Recycles, July 2017
Balancing Text & Space, February 2017
Book Series Adventures, April 2018
Drawing on Sense Memories, July 2018

For further tips on branding, please visit my marketing website
Imaginings Wordpower and Design Consultation.

To learn more about the Natalie Seachrist Mysteries, including the new release, Murders of Conveyance, a few Island recipes and my other projects, please visit my author website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.

 

Empowering Your Words

The peaks of your power

Effective Sequencing can Empower Your Words

For decades, I’ve shaped effective written materials for clients and myself.  At the end of assignments, clients often ask if there’s a definitive method for generating quality writing.  Unfortunately, while aspects of the pieces I write can serve as virtual templates, I have to report there’s no magic potion for guaranteeing effectual wordsmithing.  For anyone.  Amateur or pro, the key to quality writing is blending creativity with exhaustive editing.

Feeling nervous to launch your writing project?  Ask yourself one simple question:  Am I so focused on the final product that I’m inhibiting my ability to write?  Your honest answer might be a reluctant yes.  If so, merely facing a pen or keyboard can be traumatic.  In response, consider performing a visualization exercise.  Without committing yourself to serious meditative practices, you should be able to picture your target audience reacting positively to a large screen presentation of your message.  Armed with this optimistic image, you should feel better prepared to set your verbal vehicle on the path to success.

How will you reach your goal?  Regardless of the type of text you are composing, I’ve found that outlining is an invaluable tool.  I believe there are three essential steps to shaping a focused outline:

~  Write a mission statement summarizing your project’s purpose
 ~  List key points in a progressive sequence that validates your summary
~  Craft a closing statement summarizing how you’ve met the goals of your mission

You now have a recipe for determining the content and sequencing of the elements of your composition.  The exact position of the various components will vary, depending on the product you’re fabricating.  The key points on your list may yield paragraphs in an essay, article or speech.  They may also become individual pages in a website.  If you are seeking financial backing for a new business, they could become categories within your business plan.  And fiction?  Well, your list may be the plotline that yields the chapters of a prize winning novel.

Despite my assertion that such organization will aid every writing endeavor, do not suppose that good writers never experience confusion, indecision, or misdirection.  The writing process is a dovetailing of creative and technical activity.  As you plunge into the construction process of your project, you will need to alternate between capturing the essence of what you want to say and coldly editing what you have written.  The beauty of this double pronged approach is that you can let your thoughts flow freely, knowing that the structure of your work will evolve as you edit your way toward a harmonious conclusion. I certainly found this approach to wordsmithing invaluable in writing the first Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mysteries, Prospect For Murder.

This approach facilitates your remaining productive, even when experiencing writer’s block.  For if you feel your creativity as a writer has stagnated, you can turn to another aspect of the project.  Is there supporting material that requires your attention?  Perhaps you need to shape a bibliography or glossary, or a preface, afterword or acknowledgement section If you’re responsible for printing, broadcasting, or uploading the final product, you may also need to work on color, form, texture, and artwork to present your thoughts with dynamism to your readers or viewers.  And, of course, there’s always your personal bio or corporate mission statement to revisit…

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson
author, narrator, consultant, motivational speaker

Tips to enhancing your writing may be found in:
Empowering Your Words, February 2015
Creating Fictional Characters, March 2015
Sidestepping Writer’s Block, April 2015
Communicating with Every Sense, May 2015
Energizing Narrative Passages, September 2015
The Author Recycles, July 2017
Balancing Text & Space, February 2017
Book Series Adventures, April 2018
Drawing on Sense Memories, July 2018

For further tips on branding, please visit my marketing website
Imaginings Wordpower and Design Consultation.

To learn more about the Natalie Seachrist Mysteries, including the new release, Murders of Conveyance, a few Island recipes and my other projects, please visit my author website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.