Karen Bristow

Adventures in Writing, Eating, Parenting and Living

Don’t mind me; I’m just a writer

3 Notebooks and a PenI like to write my first drafts on real paper, long hand. I seem to think better that way.

And I like to spend my lunch hour over at the cafe across the street from my office, hunched over one of the tables with earphones on, music playing, scribbling madly in a notebook.

Sometimes I laugh.

Once I cried.

Half the time, I’m staring off into space trying to figure out how to put what I’m seeing in my brain into words and onto paper.

So needless to say, I tend get a lot of strange looks from the people passing by my table. (Especially when I laugh. I sound a little bit like an intoxicated donkey.)

One pair of fellow lunchers even stopped next to me and started talking about me.

“What’s she doing?”

“Oh look! She’s writing!”

I wrote that experience down in my notebook, actually, while they were there talking about me. Every conversation or experience is fodder for the imagination! Especially mine.

So if you happen to run across me at lunch and I look or act like I should be escorted to the closest padded room, pay me no mind.

I’m just a writer.

Thank You, Teachers

Thank You, Teachers!

Photo Credit: Stock.Xchng

Last week was “Teacher Appreciation Week” and it got me thinking about that small group of teachers that I can point to and say, “I will never forget you.”

There was Mr. Rattenni, my 8th grade Industrial Arts teacher who made sure that in his class, at least, the bullies would leave me be. (Best nine weeks of my 8th grade year!)

There were two wonderful Math teachers, Mrs. Gould (7th grade) and Mr. Ortiz (11th grade) who took the time to make sure that, even though I sucked at Math, I could still do it and it could be fun. Mr. Ortiz, especially, put up with my random, one-sentence answers on his Trigonometry tests.

Then there were the English teachers:

  • Mr. Ellis (9th grade)
  • Mr. Blue (10th grade)
  • Dr. Lepschy (College Argument & Persuasion and Technical Writing)

These three teachers have a special place in my memory because they did their best to teach me to write well.

Mr. Ellis and Mr. Blue took my budding desire to write and fertilized it, encouraging it to grow until I had enough confidence in myself to keep putting pen to paper, even if I still didn’t have the confidence to ever show it to anyone.

Then I took two classes with Dr. Lepschy.

In those two semesters, he beat the lazy out of my writing and taught me how to actually work to make my writing, whether it was a story, essay or instruction manual, something worth my readers reading.

He pulled no punches in his class. If you weren’t giving it your all, you knew it. I believe one of his comments on an early draft of mine actually was “Your readers’ time is valuable and this is wasting it. They deserve better!”

On the flip side though, when he complimented you, you knew with 100% certainty that you’d earned it. He’s still the mental guide by which I judge my writing. “Would I dare turn this draft in to Dr. Lepschy?” If the answer is a “no” or “I’m not sure” the draft gets rewritten.

I went into those two semesters with Dr. Lepschy with training wheels on my writing bike and came out riding a Vespa at least. I also left those classes with the tools to eventually work my way up to the writing equivalent of a Harley.

While I appreciate all of my teachers, I have to especially thank Mr. Ellis, Mr. Blue and Dr. Lepschy.

I hope that wherever the three of you are teaching now, you’re inspiring a whole new generation of writers!

I know it’s a week late, but did you have any teachers in your school-days that you can point to and say “You inspired me to do –!”? Feel free to leave those memories in the comments!

3 Things the Prom Taught Me About Writing

On the left: me 20 years ago with my prom date, Mike. On the right: Me last weekend with my son.

On the left: me in 1993 with my prom date, Mike. On the right: Me last weekend with my son.

Twenty years ago this month, I attended my first prom. Last weekend, I got to experience a parenting milestone as my eldest son attended his. (I won’t go into how old I now feel…)

I had no idea how to approach it from the “mom” angle and even less of an idea how to help my son prepare for it. Needless to say, we both did what we do best – flew by the seat of our pants.

And while we were neck deep in Prom Prep 2013, I discovered a few tips that I can add to my ever-evolving writing arsenal and share with you.

Lesson One: It’s all in the details

Ordering the tux went (almost) without a hitch, but the corsage was nearly a disaster.

Our original corsage order turned out to be for a shoulder corsage, not the wrist corsage we’d intended to order.

If we’d just taken the time to double-check the description we’d have known that. Thankfully, an eagle-eyed designer at the florist called to confirm that’s what I’d actually wanted.

Writing Lesson One

In writing, make sure to always check your work. Missing even the smallest detail can lead to unintended (and potentially painful) consequences.

Your readers (or clients or editors) are placing their trust in you and if you fudge on the details or get lazy, you break that trust. If your readers lose trust in you, you lose your readers.

So take a moment to double-check that fact, or check your setting notes, or whatever applies to the writing you’re working on. Your readers are counting on you.

Lesson Two: Things can (and will) change at the last minute

Since my son waited until three weeks before prom to ask his date if she’d go with him, we went into the tux accessory selection colorblind. We decided to try a neutral-ish color of Navy, but three days before pickup, he told me that his date found the perfect dress — in red. (And it was the perfect dress; she looked stunning.)

We crossed our fingers and called the tux place. Can we change the colors on such short notice? Thankfully, for a modest fee, yes. (And well worth the result – he looked stunning too, if I may say so.)

Writing Lesson Two

You’re going get last minute changes either from your client, editor, or even your muse and you have two choices in how to deal with it:

  1. Whine and waste time fighting about it.
  2. Be professional and take it in stride.

I’m not saying be a doormat when you get an unexpected or last minute change. But take the time to examine it.

  • Is it legitimate?
  • Will it add something to the piece you’re working on?
  • Will it detract or make the piece worse?

Bring up legitimate concerns with your editor or client but otherwise, go with it! This last minute change may cost you something in sleep, missed meals, or a couple of Pepcids, but the results could very well be something beyond what you hoped for.

Lesson Three: Even flying blind, things work out beautifully

My son and his date color-coordinated their attire via verbal description only. Since she found her dress only a few days before prom, we didn’t know whether “Red” meant more toward the yellow or blue side of red. And asking my son if he knew if her dress had “Yellow or Blue undertones” was met with a blank stare and the sound of crickets chirping.

It turns out that they did a great job communicating, because her dress and his accessories matched perfectly.

Writing Lesson Three

You’ve gotten yourself saddled with a writing project that has little to no direction or requirements, or your novel has meandered off like a kitten chasing a butterfly. You’re now in what you consider “desperate times!”

But, you’ve heard the saying “desperation is the mother of invention,” right?

So close your eyes, jump off the ledge of faith, and dive in anyway. This could be your best work yet!

On the Prom Front, everything did work out in the end. While I counted the grey hairs I’ve gotten in the 20 years since my own prom (and writing so I wouldn’t cry), my son was having the time of his life.

What parenting situations in your own life have taught you about your business (whether it be writing, finance, technology, etc.) And do you have any tips on stopping the spread of grey hair?

Photo Credit: Gloria Masse and Jon Bristow

Writing and More Writing

3 Notebooks and a Pen

My first drafts are done old school – Pen and paper!
Photo Credit: Karen Bristow

You can’t tell from the dust and cobwebs around here, but I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately. It’s been spread out across different sites, styles and media, but it’s out there.

For example –

I write blog posts, how-to guides and website content for a web design and hosting company.

My sister and I are now collaborating on a novel (we’re in the planning stage at this moment) and I’m also halfway through the first draft of a children’s novel.

I recently launched a fitness blog.

And I’ve been acting as website and social media manager for a local high school band fund-raising site.

It’s been a bit of a struggle, learning how to juggle all of that writing, but I’ve discovered something pretty dang important. I finally know what I want to be when I grow up: a writer.

So I’ve been embracing the struggle and writing as much as I can, as often as I can. I’m learning what works (and doesn’t work) for me as far as writing routines, posting schedules, deadlines, etc.

For instance, I’ve found that the instruction/how-to guides I write for ComputerGeeks2Go get published every other week because they take me a few days to:

  • research
  • collect screen shots
  • write down and run through the “steps” (sometimes more than once)
  • write and revise until the article is clear and readable

My work for Leon2London, while time-intensive at times, is done more on the fly, and by it’s nature, usually has a same-day (sometimes, same-hour) turnaround time.

Now I’m adding my fitness blog and novels to the writing mix and I want to blow the cobwebs off this baby too. The more I write, the better (and faster) I get and the closer I get to my goal of doing this full time!

So, if you’ve been looking for me, I’m out there. And I’ll be here more too, sharing my successes, failures and strangeness of brain.

See you around!