Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Power of Words

A week ago, my family attended the OneRepublic concert near Buffalo, New York. 
It was phenomenal, and not just because it was the first concert I’d attended since The Wiggles in 2003. All three bands that performed put on a fantastic show, but it was one of the opening bands, The Script, that made the most lasting impression.

During their performance, they sang a new single off their upcoming album, No Sound Without Silence.

The song is Superheroes. If you haven't heard it yet, take a listen. If you've already heard it, listen again...and again...and again. Yes, it's that good.  

As an English teacher, I always discuss with my student the power of words. Their ability to manipulate and injure. Transport and entertain. Inform and reveal. Inspire and heal.

As a writer, every time I sit down at my laptop, I hope my words have the power to move readers.  
The Script's lyrics have that power.  
After the concert, I forwarded the song and lyrics to my friend Ricky in Uganda. 
Ricky responded a few days later with a moving message about the impact the song had had on him and the former child soldiers at his organization Friends of Orphans. Friends of Orphans video

I was so inspired by the email I reach out to The Script via Twitter to share the story. 
Below is my email to the band and the messages from Ricky and several former child soldiers about the impact of the song's lyrics.

Dear Danny, Mark, and Glen,

I had the pleasure of attending your concert at Darien Lake last Saturday and want to share with you the incredible impact your song Superheroes has had on a remote village in Northern Uganda over the last week.

For the past two years, I’ve been working with Anywar “Ricky” Richard, one of the first children abducted into Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and founder of Friends of Orphans, an organization in Uganda dedicated to the recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration of former child soldiers. He and I have been in communication to write his story and offer hope and give a voice to the estimated 40,000 Ugandan children, whose lives and voices were stolen by the LRA. 

When I heard your song Superheroes on Saturday, I knew I had to share it with Ricky. As a writer, I know what an incredible honor it is to have your words reach and inspire people. When I read Ricky’s responses to your song, as well as the responses he sent from some of the former child soldiers rebuilding their lives at Friends of Orphans, I was determined to get them to you, so you would know how your words and music are giving hope and a voice to a group of superheroes in Northern Uganda.

Thank you for your music and the powerful message of hope and joy it provides.

Keely Hutton

Ricky’s first response to Superheroes:

Dear Keely,
Thanks so much for not only sharing the link to the song on YouTube but also sharing the lyrics which is very powerful. I felt so much connected with the song, it means a lot to my life and the little fighters who have seen a lot in their young life and are still going very strong. I felt so much in love with the song. I have printed the lyrics and have put it on our notice board for the children who knows little English to read. I know they will feel the power of the song flowing in them as I did.

The song just inspired me, it made me to write a letter to one of my friends whom we have been in the bush together. The song taught me about the courage of being strong and positive thinking. 
Ricky’s response when I asked if I could share his email with The Script:

Dear Keely,
Wow!!! this is unbelievable, we are very excited to connect with the band group and to know that our responses to the song will be shared with the band members. Our children at Friends of Orphans would love this connection. It brings peace in their hearts to know that some people out there still care and have concern about them and their situations. This gives them more hope and confidence in life and for the future.

While at Friends of Orphans the song has brought joy, excitements and happiness. The guidance counselors is using it to be part of our psychosocial support program. In it the song has strong message of hope and confidences building with a lot of encouragement for the future. It relates very well with the situations these young fighters have been through. Yet they have a life to live. It teaches us that no situation is permanent, you just have to work hard for your future and achieve what you want in life.

The song has the energy to make someone move on with life with great hope and expectations which we need for a better world.

Below are some of the responds from the children 

 Ricky thanks for the heart of humanity. The rewards will be in heaven.
The effort you have put to makes us orphans be seen among others is a blessing. I have just listened to the song about ten times already in a hours time. The song has taught me about hard work and commitments and i promise to do just that. “ I lost all the Hope in this world , I felt the heaven had fallen down that day when the rebel attacked and abducted me on the 10/10/2005, I lost my three brothers who were abducted with me alongside other children.  Friends of Orphans have changed my life for the better and i want to change more life myself.

 Dear Ricky,
I have read, l have listened, nice song, very touching, in fact emotional .............. not sure if l cried a little, just reading it.
The song reminds me about Marks Ben Diner he once said Music may achieve the highest level of all mission, it may be a bond between nations, races and states who are strangers to one another in many ways, it may unite what is disunited and bring peace to what is hostile
A blessed evening

Hi dear

I have read through the lyrics of the song. It has a strong message in it which I don't want to comment on. But thank you for being a superhero.

Caro Akello

Dear Ricky,
The song has given me different lance to see the hidden truth, it is one of the most powerful song have ever heard in my life. It is so connects the past and the future.

Hi Ricky
I passion the song as a positive, motivating yet very beautiful song. It encourages hard work. It encourages problem solving other than blaming or hatred whatever the situation. This is my kind of music  that  that i must listen to while reflecting. A very peaceful song.  (I score it 5/5).

Dear Rickie,

Thanks for this real inspirational band song. It's not any far from the zeal you have put over the years. "When you've fighting for it all your life

You've been working every day and night

That’s a how a superhero learns to fly

Every day, every hour

Turn the pain into power" And indeed that's how the Superhero learn to fly. You have already flown, and you are one of the super hero! 
I love this line more " All his life he's been told; He’ll be nothing when he’s old; All the kicks and all the blows; He won't ever let it show"  " When the moment is just right; You see fire in their eyes"
You better get this song and have it play again and again for us at school, especially during our youth to youth engagements, during our music gales and during our youth to community engagements. You have proved many wrong; that your time had not yet come, and now you are at your peak, yet the sky is the limit!
Ochen Julius Peter

The song is absolutely beautiful in it there is joy and happiness; it touched my soul in a unique way. It is the treasure i have been looking for. It brings joy to my heart to listen to the song.
I haven't had an easy life till i came to Friends of Orphans. The song has turn the pains have been through into power of happiness. The pain is no more; it is history, means nothing to me anymore as am no longer looking back. Am enjoying the new home have discovered at Friends of Orphans.
In this song it has the energy we need to move on in life.
Aboda Peter.

Hi all,
The song totally got me very confused. I was lost, and didn’t know what to do or to say. It is as if it is a song about me. The song gives you the value to know who you are, what you want in life and what is best for you.
Otema Martine

Immediately after I posted my tweet, many of The Script's fans offered to help spread the message. They retweeted, created the Twitter hashtag #SuperheroesofUganda, posted links to the email, created beautiful images with the band's pictures and former child soldiers' words, and wrote blog posts about the situation with powerful words of their own. 

Their messages and generosity moved me beyond words several times this week. The Script's words are helping in the healing process at Friends of Orphans by inspiring the former child soldiers to be strong and have hope. Their fans' words are helping by letting these brave #SuperheroesofUganda know they are not alone or forgotten. 

Powerful, indeed.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wait Time

At a recent writing workshop I attended, an agent on the panel described the pace of the publishing world as glacial. Those of you awaiting responses on queries, contests, and submissions can verify that the agent was not exaggerating. Publishing is a slow process. But if you want to be successful within that world, you must be prepared to wait…a lot. And let’s face it, we live in a ‘fastfood’ society; waiting is not our strong suit.
When you're in the waiting zone, it can feel as though your forward momentum has slowed to a snail’s pace.
Being stuck in the limbo of the unknown is unsettling. But here’s the thing, there’s nothing you can do to speed up the process; however there are some things you can do to make the wait more enjoyable…or at least more bearable. All you need to do is take a "queue" from Disney's Imagineers. 
If you've ever stood in line for one of the popular attractions at Walt Disney World, you know the wait times can be daunting. 
But you also know Imagineers put a great deal of effort into making those waits as painless as possible. So what does waiting in line to ride an exciting attraction or meet your favorite character have to do with waiting to hear back from an agent or editor? 
It's all about keeping you moving, distracted, and entertained.  
The first tool Imagineers use to battle the dreaded wait time is movement. Regardless of the length of the line, they keep their guests moving. It may be weaving back and forth through the queue or moving from one room to another, but they keep you moving forward during your wait.  
In writing, you must do the same. Don't stop and wait. Revisit an old project or start a new one, but keep writing. 

Another tool Imagineers use to help guests forget about waiting is distraction. They place visual, auditory, and tactile distractions all along the queue. 
After you send out your query, manuscript, or submission, distract yourself with a non-writing related hobby. Pick a task you enjoy and can lose yourself in. Something you can channel all that nervous energy into. Most importantly, choose an activity that gives you a sense of accomplishment and rock it out.

The third tool Imagineers use to keep guests sane and happy while waiting in line is entertainment. There are "pre-show" videos to watch, facts about the attraction to read, interactive video games to play, and play areas for the young and young at heart. 
Entertainment is a great way to pass time while waiting. Read a novel you've put off while writing or a book on the list of an agent or editor you've queried. Watch a movie you've been dying to see or catch up on that series everyone's been raving about. Play a video game. Go to a concert. Take a trip or visit local areas of interest. Chat with other people in the "publishing queue." They feel your pain. Compare wait time notes and keep each other company.
Or like me, get a puppy. A puppy will keep you moving, distracted, entertained, and slightly sleep deprived. 

But above all enjoy yourself. 
You can't make time go by any faster when you're waiting, but you can do things to become less conscious of that time. Your answers will eventually come. In the meantime, have some fun!

And regardless of how you choose to pass your wait time, stay positive and remember these two quotes...

You're not alone in your waiting. There are many of us waiting in the queue with you. So hang in there, and I hope you get good news soon! 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Revise vs. Edit

I recently completed an extensive revision of my manuscript FINDING OBENO, and like Punxsutawney Phil being yanked from his faux tree stump in the early morning hours, when I finally emerged from my revision cave, I was a bit skittish of natural light.
However, unlike the detested bearer of bad news and extended winters, I did not have the press awaiting my appearance, so I have no triumphant photos of my feat. But trust me, I looked pretty much like this.
While I was busy in my revision cave, my Writer’s Dojo blog was left to languish, but now I’m back and ready to tackle a new post on the very topic that had me occupied these last three months: REVISIONS.

Revising is a huge part of writing. And whether you are revising at the request of an agent or editor or revising based on your own intuition, it should be the part of the writing process that takes the most time. When I think of the writing process, I picture those inspirational photos of icebergs representing the depths of imagination. Writing my first draft is just the tip of the iceberg.
Where writers sometimes sabotage themselves is by confusing editing with revising. 

The official definition of EDIT is to prepare (written material) for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it. I consider editing as polishing up words, making sure all grammar, spelling, and punctuation are correct and tinkering with lines and swapping out the occasional word for a more interesting synonym.

Revising, on the other hand, deals with the structure of your story. The official definition of REVISION is a change or a set of changes that corrects or improves something: a new version of something.
But let’s break the word down to its essential meaning.

The prefix RE means “again” or “again and again” to indicate repetition.

The root VISION means the faculty or state of being able to see, if used as a noun, or (and I love this) if vision is being used as a rare verb it means imagine.
So at its essence, REVISION means to see and imagine again and again…and again

With that in mind, let’s equate your manuscript to your house. It’s an easy analogy because as writers we spend a great deal of time living in our stories. If your manuscript is your house, when you edit it, you are cleaning it up; dusting, vacuuming, scrubbing, mopping, and polishing your words until they sparkle.
Revising is not editing. It’s not cleaning up your story and words. It goes much deeper and takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears, pulling of hair, and often gnashing of teeth.
With that in mind, let’s return to our house analogy. If editing is cleaning your house, revising is renovating, remodeling, rearranging, and redesigning it. These tasks take time. Don’t rush through them. Revising is looking at the structure and elements of your “house” and doing the heavy lifting needed to make your house a home, where people will want to visit and live.
Revising may entail taking out walls (just make sure they’re not load-bearing) or adding walls and support to the existing structure to strengthen the foundation. 
It may necessitate removing beloved pieces of furniture that no longer fit or match the theme design and introducing new furnishings to create a welcoming flow to your house.

Think feng shui. Create harmonious surroundings that enhance the balance of your structure. You want your story to have a natural, organic flow. 
So chuck out or rearrange elements and pieces that disturb the flow of your story.

In my manuscript, the hope of the story, which is essential to the core of FINDING OBENO, was lost in chapter after chapter of darkness. I needed to bring more light into my “house” and ended up adding eleven new “windows” of hope in the manuscript to guide my readers through the dark chapters. 
When deciding how to renovate a manuscript, first make a plan to follow. I prefer creating a poster size chapter breakdown with colorful post-it notes, which I can manipulate until the design meets my needs.
The chapter breakdown becomes my revision blueprint. While revising existing chapters and writing new ones, I refer to the blueprint frequently, so I don’t veer off course and accidentally place a toilet in the closet instead of the bathroom.

After months of working on all the re- verbs: revising, renovating, remodeling, rearranging, and redesigning, I then begin to edit. It would be a waste of my time, as well as my critique partners’ time, to edit before revising, as many of the words I'd be polishing may end up cut, moved, or altered during the revision phase.

In 2011, I attended a writing workshop led by Editor Stephen Roxburgh. While discussing editing and revising, Stephen told us something I’ve never forgotten. “You can’t polish a turnip.” 
Make sure when you spend time scrubbing your words, they are in a story that can be polished. Revise first. Then polish away.

Regardless of what type of “house” you are building, before you focus on editing, take the time to REVISE. Look past all of your beloved words to the structure of your story. See your story and imagine it again, and again…and again. And when it’s structurally sound and organized so your plot flows through the space, decorate it with beautiful words and make them shine.

I promise, if you give your revisions the time and attention they deserve, when you emerge from your revision cave, you, too, may look like Gollum, but you will be clutching a manuscript both you and your readers will view as precious.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Top 10 Twitter Behaviors Writers Should Avoid

Avoid the Ugly Side of Twitter

In preparation for an upcoming panel discussion on the pros and cons of social media for writers, I compiled a list of the top ten behaviors all writers should avoid on Twitter.




Twitter, like all social media, takes time away from your writing. 
Use Twitter to build your writer's platform as a tool to supplement your writing, not as a substitute for it.

2. TMI
Don't overshare. Everyone can see your tweets, including agents and editors. Be yourself, but make sure what you share is appropriate and reflects on you in a positive light.
3. Twitter is not a therapist couch
Social media is not the place for writers to share their doubts, demons, fears or anger about their writing and the writing/submission process.
Agents and editors are looking for writers, who are confident in their work and professional in their behavior.

 4. Play it close to the vest
Don't tweet about requests, R & Rs, or offers until you've signed a contract.
Don't tweet about rejections or not getting selected for contests.
 5. Do your homework
Take the time to read agency websites, agent/editor blogs, and contest sites BEFORE you tweet questions.
Agents, editors, and contest organizers get understandably annoyed when you tweet them questions when the answers are readily available on-line.
 6. No pitching outside of contests
Do not pitch your manuscript directly to an agent or editor on Twitter.
 7. No nudging
Twitter is not the place to nudge agents or editors on a query or submission. If you are absolutely determined to nudge an agent or editor, use email. But patience is a virtue. Embrace it.
 8. Don't be a Debbie Downer
 No one wants to read constant complaints and “Woe, is me” tweets.
 9. Keep it positive
Don't criticize agents, editors, or other writers on Twitter.
 10. Ultimately, it all comes down to the writing!
 Twitter pitch contests, networking, and a high follower count may get you and your manuscript a look, but they won’t get you an agent or editor.
Good writing trumps all!