Archive for November, 2010

Last November 17, 2010, we met up at Borders Torrance to discuss an issue which plagues writers at least once in their lives: Writer’s Block.

We started our discussion by sharing our personal experiences with writer’s block. We then moved on to discussing the possible causes for writer’s block. I pointed out that while writer’s block is common for all writers, the cause and cure for writer’s block is different for every writer.

Following are some of the more  common causes of writer’s block:

COMMON CAUSES OF WRITER’S BLOCK

  • Writer’s Block happens when you try to do everything at once.
  • Writer’s Block happens when you don’t know enough to begin.
  • Writer’s Block happens when you’ve exhausted all the good or original ideas and feel your creativity flagging.
  • Writer’s Block happens due to physical stress, lack of sleep, depression, and bad health.
  • Writer’s Block happens due to mental blocks: fear of failure, fear of success, overbearing inner critic.
  • Writer’s Block happens due to psychological disturbances ranging from neurosis to something scary

Each cause, naturally, has a different treatment.

I shared with them some treatments for each cause.  Some of the tips were based on my own personal experience. Others were taken from articles or books I’ve read on writer’s block. Most of the tips, however, were taken from Jenna Glatzer’s very helfpul book :  Outwitting Writer’s Block and Other Problems of the Pen.

outwitting writers block November 17, 2010 (6th meetup): Overcoming Writers Block

TREATMENT

A. Writer’s Block happens when you try to do everything at once.

  • Lists are your friend
  • Organize, prioritize

1. Set Weekly Objectives

Examples:

  • Write down titles of books you want to read
  • Read books/ take courses on children’s writing

2.  Break down your writing into smaller pieces

  • Example:  If you have a 500 word deadline, write 250 now, then 250 later.

3.  Pad your deadline

  • Schedule yourself to submit two days earlier

4. Create Self imposed deadlines

5. Work with other writers – Find a deadline buddy

6. Enter quick contests to get yourself writing

Anvil Press 3 Day novel contests

www.anvilpress.com

Nanowrimo

www.nanowrimo.com

24 hour short story contes

www.writer-weekly.com

Toasted Cheese “ 3 cheers and a tiger”  short story contest

www.toasted-cheese.com

7. Decide to meet a deadline by an outside force

8.  Submitting on schedule – Try a commited campaign of submitting brand new material to brand new markets

B. Writer’s Block happens when you don’t know enough to begin.

  • Lack of research can be a hindrance to our creativity. Err on the side of getting more information than less
  • Maybe you want to write, but don’t know where to start, or where to get your ideas.

Getting Ideas

Keep a dream journal

  • The act of purposely remembering your dreams and recording it first thing every morning will open up chasms in your mind–even if you start with “I had an agitating dream”.
  • You can pick up scenes, emotions, descriptions for your writing.

Daydream, Percolate

* Stories are born from daydreams

Maybe you have a vague idea of what your story is about, but you don’t know where your story is supposed to go.

1. Building Your Story’s House

  • Research
  • Read up on your subject—read books in the genre you want to write in
  • Have a conversation/ interview with your character
  • Call a friend and explain your synopsis
  • Talk into a tape recorder, listen to it and try to determine where you slow down, sound unsure of yourself, skip parts of story—these areas need to be developed.

2. Characters Count

  • Create characters who are irresistible to you
  • Otherwise, writing becomes tedious, you try to make them interesting instead of allowing them to be themselves

3. Meeting New Characters

  • Go to crowded places—with a tape recorder, sketchpad, camera or video camera
  • Observe people, pay attention to looks, the way they sound, phraseologies, etc

4. Respect your language

Study rules of language to develop a true ear for language

C. Writer’s Block happens when you have exhausted all the good or original ideas and you feel your creativity flagging.

1. Train Your Brain

You Have Boundless Creativity

  • You have 72,000 thoughts a day, out of those surely 1 or 2 are worthy of writing down
  • Sometimes you just discount ideas as useless, but they might actually work.

Change Your Brain

  • If you want to see the world differently, you can change the way your brain works
  • Change how you see your writing – Retrain your brain to see writing as a reward in itself

Allow Yourself Time to Write

  • You do not have to write, you allow yourself to
  • Allow yourself to stop

See through writer’s eyes.

  • Look at things and see words and metaphors.
  • Example: Woman at a grocery store—warm and inviting as a fresh baked cookie, and just as likely to fall apart.

Make these moments happen

  • Practice consciously evoking your writer’s eyes
  • Keep a small notebook or tape recorder handy
  • Keep your perceptions sharp, force yourself to define things in words

Just do it.

  • Start practicing today.

Using Free Association

  • Subconscious will find its way to your head
  • Write without lifting your pen
  • Don’t correct your work, or reread
  • Can set a timer

All writing counts

  • Any form of writing you do helps you keep that brain limber and helps you make an easier transition into writing mode whenever you want to

Message Boards

  • Outwit your Writer’s block—trick it by actually writing—anything

2. Spice up your writing life.

  • Maybe writing has become more of a chore and less of a pleasurable experience

Change your environment

Claiming Your Writing Space

Build a home office  or consider portioning off a section of the room

Clear the Clutter

If you already have a writing base, maybe all you need is to tidy it. Clear the clutter, organize things.

Get more quotes

Read works that inspire you to write.

3. What to do when you’re halfway through the story but you suddenly hit a dead end?

Quick Fixes when you’re stalled

Take a break

  • If you’re writing a novel, stop. Write a poem instead.

Don’t be yourself

  • Be your character or a different person you admire
  • Method writing

Opposite situations

  • Completely alter your writing environment and writing habits
  • Cd in the background, write in silence
  • Change rooms, change times, writing, rearrange furniture

Add a prop

  • Wear a writing hat

Look right before your eyes

Look at objects around you and ask questions about them. Make stories up about them

Let go when you’ve outgrown your story

There’s not just one way to tell your story

Playing the opposite game: change fundamentals of your story

  • Change sex of main character
  • Change setting
  • Change genre
  • Change POV

If your stuck on a scene, move it.

  • Use contrast to your advantage—terrible fight at a carnival, happy reunion at a hospital
  • Tell your story in emails, phone calls, letters

Raising the Stakes

  • Show the character has a lot to lose then take him to the verge of losing it all
  • Character’s should wind up getting gmore than they intended
  • Moral should evolve naturally from storyline

D. Writer’s Block Happens Due To Physical Stress, Lack Of Sleep, Depression, And Bad Health.

De-stress NOT distress yourself.

Dealing with the Stress of Writer’s Block

  • Breathing properly
  • Herbal – lavender n pressure points
  • I’m good enough, smart enough
  • Exercise
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Meditate
  • Bath
  • Repetitive activities – knitting, crocheting, dishes, etc
  • Using music to relax

Invent your own relaxation techniques

E.Writer’s Block Happens Due To Psychological Disturbances Ranging From Neurosis To Something Scary

  • Writer’s block may be a symptom of a bigger problem
  • Get professional help

Determine Your Motivation for writing

What would you write for the sake of writing, if you knew you weren’t going to get published anyway?

Your Reasons are the right reasons

  • Be honest with yourself about your motivations for writing
  • You’re allowed to write for whatever reason strikes you

Cognitive Dissonance Causes Writer’s Block

  • When your real goals are in conflict with the goals you set for yourself, this can cause uneasiness in your mind
  • WB might be there to show you what your goals really are

Making Time

  • Prioritize
  • Dishes can wait

Long Term Goals

  • Be specific, realistic

Change is Good

  • Try new things, write new things

Carve out Writing time despite family obligations

  • Train  your family to accept writing time.
  • Teach them to recognize boundaries

The Money Issue

  • You can have a full time job and still be a writer

When tough times fall on you

  • Ask yourself: is this writers block or do you just not have the concentration required to write

Using time for simpler tasks

  • Use writing prompts

You Must Write the Hardest Thing to Write

  • Let yourself write the very thing that is begging to come out
  • “Do not for the vanity of intellectual publication, turn away from what you are—the material within you which makes you individual, therefore indispensable to others.
  • It is the writing we must do that pours out of us effortlessly

F. Writer’s Block Happens Due To Mental Blocks: Fear Of Failure, Fear Of Success, Overbearing Inner Critic.

1. Fear of Failure

Stop Being So Serious

  • Writing is merely an extension of those childhood days—your writing can be as enjoyable, freewheeling as it was then
  • Drink lemonade, eat alphabet soup while writing, listen to muppets theme song, things associated with youth

You Owe It to the world to Outwit your block

  • Remember you’ve made the choice to write because it gives you some kind of pleasure
  • Zero in on that

Secondary Gains from WB

  • When a person gets something beneficial from something negative—secondary gain
  • What is your block trying to tell you?
  • Maybe it’s a form of self preservation—cruel to yourself about your writing talents, then y our block may be a way of saving yourself from criticism

Become your own best cheerleader

Putting Your Writing Into Perspective

  • Writing is just putting words to paper

Negative No More

  • Write down all your negative thoughts about writing
  • Replace them with positive ones

2. Fear of Success

Why Do You Fear Success?

    • Fear of bad reviews
    • Meet a deadline
    • Being better than your spouse
    • Fear of higher expectations—people will expect you to keep producing good work

Perfectionism in Disguise

  • You’ve set yourself up as splendid writer that you can’t live up to your own expectations
  • Procrastination is perfectionism in disguise – Dr. Paul Foxman
  • Take the risk

Writer, Compare not Thyself

  • Get caught up in comparing yourself to famous writers
  • There may be other less talented writers who got published
  • Setting bar high is good, but unrealistically high can paralyze you

By reading good works, you push yourself to excel

  • Bring down your standard of reading material, your writing will follow—if you read nothing but trashy magazines, that’s what you’ll be able to write

3. Inner Critic

Rehabilitate Your Critic

  • Make an agreement with your critic
  • You can’t divorce yourself from bad writing because without it, you’d never have made progress

How to Quiet Your Critic

  • Body in motion stays in motion
  • Commit to your badness
  • Write whatever garbage comes into your mind as you wake up in the morning—don’t stop for coffee or whatever

Speak To Yourself Like a Friend

  • Don’t say anything to yourself that you’d never say to a good friend —Paul Foxman, psychologist, Conquering Panic and Anxiety Disorders

We ended the night by affirming ourselves as writers and sharing our writing goals for the coming year.

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All The Things I’m Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving!

Since we are celebrating Thanksgiving Day,  allow me to list down all the things I’m thankful for, in no particular order:

1. My wonderful group of avid supporters and cheerleaders–also known as Family and Friends.

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2. Good health and a warm home.

3. My writing muses (and sometimes writing enemies, depending on their mood)–Muffin and Millie.

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4. My writing groups and their amazing members:

DSCF1735 1024x768 All The Things Im Thankful ForTorrance Children’s Book Writing Group

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5. My martial arts family and the lessons they teach.

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6. The gift of writing and storytelling.

7.  I am thankful that I live in a country where–with a lot of hard work, and a little bit of luck–dreams do come true.

8. The Irresistable Blog Award which my dear friend Jennie who runs the amazing Garden Full of Lily blog, passed on to me last week.

irresistible blog Award All The Things Im Thankful For

It is always a pleasure to know that one’s work is appreciated. Since I can’t pass it back to Jen, whose blog I read everyday, I shall pass it on to agent Mary Kole, whose blog kidlit.com, is a treasure trove of knowledge for any writer who wishes to know about the craft and business of writing.

I’ve had the pleasure of having Mary Kole as one of my critique group moderators when I joined the Big Sur Writing Workshop this March.  She is as full of knowledge and as fun in person as she is in her blog. Her blog is one of the few blogs I make a point to read everyday. There’s always something new to learn and something old to re-learn.

Lastly, I am thankful for the people who  read and hopefully enjoy this blog, most especially those who take the time to leave comments. I’m always eager to reply because I love hearing from you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you!  I hope you keep on reading and enjoying my little blog.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and may you all find more things to be thankful for!

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Lauren Kate Book Signing

Two Fridays ago (November 12th), I had the pleasure of listening to Lauren Kate, author of the amazing Fallen Series and the equally astonishing YA Novel: The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove. She arrived at Borders Torrance,  ready and eager to talk about the second book in the Fallen series: Torment.

Fallen is about angels, soulmates, reincarnation and love.  Here’s a blurb from Lauren Kate’s own website:

fallen Lauren Kate Book Signing

Some Angels are Destined to Fall

There’s something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori.

Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price’s attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at the Sword & Cross boarding school in sultry Savannah, Georgia. He’s the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are all screw-ups, and security cameras watch every move.

Even though Daniel wants nothing to do with Luce–and goes out of his way to make that very clear–she can’t let it go. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, she has to find out what Daniel is so desperate to keep secret . . . even if it kills her.

Dangerously exciting and darkly romantic, Fallen is a page turning thriller and the ultimate love story.

“Sexy and fascinating and scary…I loved love loved it!” -P.C. Cast, New York Times bestselling author of the House of Night Series

Here’s a summary of Torment taken from that awesome website fantasticfiction.co.uk


torment Lauren Kate Book Signing

Hell on earth.

That’s what it’s like for Luce to be apart from her fallen angel boyfriend, Daniel.

It took them an eternity to find one another, but now he has told her he must go away. Just long enough to hunt down the Outcasts – immortals who want to kill Luce. Daniel hides Luce at Shoreline, a school on the rocky California coast with unusually gifted students: Nephilim, the offspring of fallen angels and humans.

At Shoreline, Luce learns what the Shadows are, and how she can use them as windows to her previous lives. Yet the more Luce learns, the more she suspects that Daniel hasn’t told her everything. He’s hiding something – something dangerous.
What if Daniel’s version of the past isn’t actually true? What if Luce is really meant to be with someone else?

The second novel in the addictive FALLEN series . . . where love never dies.

Lauren Kate started by reading the first chapter of Torment. She immediately jumped into the    Q & A portion (which she said was her favorite part of any book signing).

At first, the audience members were shy, but with Lauren’s encouragement,  the questions started coming one by one.

Here are videos of Lauren answering the audience members’ many questions:

At what point when you were growing up and reading books did you determine “that’s what I’d really like to do”? Were there certain writers that made you feel that that’s absolutely what you wanted to do?

How many books will there be in the series?

Did you originally conceptualize the story as a four book series?

How long did it take you to write the first book?

Do you outline your book or do you just go straight into writing it?

Which character talks to you more?

Are we ever going to see the model’s face in future book covers?

Has your husband read the books?

What is your message to aspiring writers?

I had the amazing opportunity to ask Lauren Kate  a few questions of my own:

1. What’s the best advice about writing that someone gave you when you were just starting out?

2. What’s the one book you would like to have with you if you were stranded on an island?

3. Do you have any advice for writers who are currently in the process of editing or rewriting their book?

4. Could you tell us a little bit about your journey to the publishing world?

5. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to write a book or is currently writing a book?

She was more than nice enough to agree to an impromptu video interview.

If there I had to describe in one word, the feeling that permeated within me after hearing her words, it would be: Hope.

“Never give up. All it takes is one person to say ‘yes’” – Lauren Kate

Lauren Kate, through her words of wisdom gave me the courage to push on with my manuscript, despite not being able to see the end in sight.

Now, every time I feel the familiar Dementor of my inner critic rising up within me, I crush it with the Patronus of Lauren Kate’s words:  ”Never give up. All it takes is one person to say yes.”

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** My deepest thanks to Lauren Kate for agreeing to the interview, and another equally loud thank you to my friend (and unofficial photographer/videographer) Lena, who helped me take the videos and pictures.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 3

Saturday dawned, and we took a break from Universal and spent our whole day at Disney’s Epcot Center.

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We were there from when the gates opened at 8:30 AM until the gates closed at 10PM.  The whole day passed by in a flurry of walking, taking pictures, eating, taking breaks and more walking.

We got to meet some Disney characters, and took pictures with them. We felt two decades younger!

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The wine and food festival was also going on, so we got to sample some food from other countries.

We had lunch in France, at Les Cheufs de France, where we met Remi from Disney Pixar’s Ratatouille

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There were 11 country showcases and we tried to explore each on, but the day just wasn’t long enough for us to fully enjoy all the showcases.

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Morocco

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IMG 8038 300x224 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 3United Kingdom

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IMG 8093 300x224 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 3Norway

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IMG 8137 300x224 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 3Italy

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After spending the whole day walking and trying out all the rides we could get on, we took an hour break and found ourselves good seats on the grass overlooking the lake. We waited for the fireworks show, which came on at 8:30PM.  It was so worth the wait!

Though our feet ached from walking all day, and though we were leaving Florida the next day,  our hearts were set on having one last look around The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

******

We woke up bright and early on Sunday. We quickly packed our bags, wondering how our luggages expanded all of a sudden. We worried about not having enough space to  fit all the goodies we planned to purchase at the Wizarding World that day–but when there’s a will, there’s away.

After gobbling down breakfast, and making ourselves sandwiches for lunch, we quickly piled into the van and headed straight for Universal Orlando.  We were there as soon as the park opened at 8:30AM.

Because we missed seeing the show at Ollivander’s Wand shop, we decided that was the first thing we should do. It was just 9 in the morning, but a line had already formed for the wand show.  The wait time was an hour, so we entertained ourselves by taking pictures of Hogwarts Castle, and snapping photos of anything we could set our cameras on.

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While the rest of us waited in line, our roller coaster enthusiast friends Bon and Lena decided they wanted to go on the Dragon Challenge again. They caught up with us fifteen  minutes before we entered Ollivander’s and reported that this time they had tried the Chinese Fireball or the red roller coaster.  Our suspicion that we had ridden the park’s scariest ride last Friday (Dragon Challenge: Hungarian Horntail or the blue roller coaster) was confirmed.

The usher finally let a few of us into Ollivander’s. We found our respective corners inside the dark room and waited.  As soon as the doors had closed behind us, the show began.

Ollivander scanned the room. We all held our breath, hoping to be picked. In the end, a lucky guy wearing shorts and slippers got picked.

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Ollivander asked him to approach the counter and the show began.

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There was music,  sound effects and other lighting special effects that made us feel like real magic was happening right then and there. When Ollivander asked Mr. Lucky guy to try the first wand and point it at a corner, a vase exploded–and Mr. Ollivander had to use his own wand to correct it.  When Mr. Lucky guy finally tried a wand that was meant for him,  a ray of light shone on him and there was music in the air.

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After the wand show had ended, an usher wearing the standard  Hogwarts uniform, led us into the next room which happened to be the Owl Post. Some of the audience members excitedly went for the various shelves containing wands to pick out a wand of their own.

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Since we had already explored the Owl Post, and Dervish and Banges during our first trip, we decided to make the most of our time and explore other areas.

We wanted to watch the Spirit rally show so we could see the Beauxbaton girls and the Durmstrang boys perform, but they weren’t slated to perform until 1:30PM.  Leeann, Bon, and I wanted to take more pictures of the Hogwarts castle so we went on a castle tour while Maiko, Lena and Jen fell in line to try the Forbidden Journey ride again.

As soon as we got to the castle entrance, we told the  attendant that we just wanted to go on a castle tour. She  led us to the right side while the rest of the people who had come for the ride where ushered toward the left.

The three of us found ourselves facing a stairway  full of portraits.

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Four of  the portraits were actually carrying on a conversation with each other. These were portraits of the four founders of Hogwarts — Godric Gryffindor, Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff and Salazar Slytherin.  We watched them for awhile, took pictures of the portraits, and then moved on.

We found ourselves in Dumbledore’s office.

IMG 8254 1024x768 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 3Dumbledore’s video image could be seen from the balcony of his office, talking to the audience.

We took tons of pictures, most of which were not very good.  The whole place was darkened to give the effect that Dumbledore was physically there talking to he people who passed by on their way to the Forbidden Journey ride.

The path we were following took us to one of the Hogwarts’ classrooms.

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We stayed for a few minutes to watch Harry, Ron and Hermione talk to the crowd about various dangers in the castle. The whole effect of the darkened room was amazing. It was the like the characters had really come out of the curtain and were physically there.

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We encountered more talking portraits, a newspaper clipping with a moving picture of Harry flying on his broomstick, the Fat Lady, and many other curious props.

The Sorting Hat, which we saw on our first trip to the Forbidden Journey ride, was still there, singing and talking.

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As I was taking a picture of it, my friends Maiko, Lena and Jen who were in line for the ride had caught up with me.  I wanted to take a picture of them, but they were quickly ushered into the very busy ride.  When they had gone on, I returned to the side door where Bon and Leeann were waiting for me.

We followed the people on who had finished the rides down into Filch’s Emporium, where the exit to the castle was.  It was almost 1PM  by the time we all met up. We headed for the back of the Three Broomsticks, found our seats, took out our sandwiches and ate lunch. Of course, we also ordered our last round of Butterbeers.

After lunch, we headed for the corner of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts, where  the Spirit rally show was to happen. We found our seats, and at 1:30PM, a Hogwarts student announced that other schools were visiting and proceeded to present the girls of Beauxbaton and the boys of Durmstrang. Each group had their own presentation.

IMG 2652 1024x768 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 3The girls of Beauxbaton Academy

IMG 3821 1024x682 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 3Durmstrang boys

After their performance, the Hogwarts student invited us to take pictures with the group. We were sorry that we hadn’t taken one with the choir when we watched them last Friday, so this time we jumped at the opportunity.

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Sadly, we had to leave Hogwarts by two-thirty so we’d have enough time to return our rental car and take the shuttle to the airport.  While the others waited for us by Dervish and Banges, Leeann and I made our way to the Dragon Challenge to take more pictures since we weren’t able to the last time we were there.  By the time we got back, half an hour later, everyone was ready to leave.

As we passed the arch that signalled the entrance into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we turned to have one last look at what we were leaving behind. We waved to no one in particular, and made our way out of Universal, Orlando–vowing to return once more.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 2

While some die-hard Potter fans are getting their robes cleaned for tonight’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows premier, I shall have to content myself with reminiscing about the wonderful time I had at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.

Now where did I end my last post?

Ah, yes…Butterbeer!

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Out of all the experiences Harry Potter Land had to offer, Butterbeer was the thing we looked forward to the most.

There was a long line of people waiting to get their fill of Butterbeer from the cart right at the center of Hogsmeade.

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Having done my research ahead of time, I knew that standing in line for hours just to get one mug of Butterbeer wasn’t the only option, so I told them that I knew of an easier, less painful way of getting our fill of Butterbeer.

I lead them all to the Hog’s Head Pub.

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The Hog’s Head Pub is actually physically connected to the Three Broomsticks. Together they make one big restaurant/bar. I pointed them to the bar and told them they could buy Butterbeer there.

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We all decided to get lunch out of the way so we could focus all our energy on enjoying every sip. Bringing our own lunch was the best thing we did, because the sudden lunch hour brought about a river of people. We didn’t have to line up to buy food, and even found the best outdoor seats. Most of all, we got to enjoy our first Butterbeer experience without having to wait in line outside, while the sun baked our heads.

Plus we had a pretty good view of the other Islands of Adventure from where we sat.

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What does Butterbeer taste like? It takes like rootbeer and butterscotch all rolled into one fizzy drink. On top, is a buttery foam that not only sticks to your lips, but lingers long after you’ve swallowed it. There are two options for drinking Butterbeer, as we found out from the barkeep—frosted or regular. The best Butterbeer is the frosted kind so make sure to try it!

IMG 3340 682x1024 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 2Frosted Butterbeer

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After savoring every sip of the drink, we trooped back into the busy streets of Hogsmeade.

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We studied all the shop display windows, wishing they were all real shops we could actually enter and buy from.

IMG 7562 1024x768 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 2Gladrags Dress Shop: Note Hermione’s Ball Gown on the left side

IMG 7561 1024x768 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 2Dogweed and Deathcap – where a screeching Mandrake root could be heard from the display window.

IMG 3345 682x1024 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 2Scrivenshafts – a Quill shop, and a writer’s favorite store

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There were only a few actual shops within Hogsmeade — Honeydukes Sweet shop, which is adjoined to Zonko’s Joke Shop, and Dervish and Banges, which connects to the Owl Post and the Ollivander’s Wand shop. There’s a line to get into every shop, but by far the longest was Ollivander’s, where people get to watch the wand show.

The second longest line was to Dervish and Banges–and this was the line we tackled.

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There was a cart outside Dervish and Banges which sold small souvenir items such as postcards, stamps, journals and wax seal sets.  While the rest of us waited in line, Maiko purchased some postcards from the cart. She was told that she got these postcards stamped with the Official Hogsmeade Owl Post Stamp, so she hurried to the  exit door of Dervish and Banges, where a lady stamped all her postcards.

The problem was that the stamp was really wet and took a long time to dry. The whole time we waited in line, and even after browsing through Dervish and Banges, the stamps were still wet and in danger of smudging.

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Inside the shop, they sold quaffle balls, broomsticks, mugs, robes, ties, shirts and a lot more Harry Potter merchandise.

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We spent some time watching the growling and snapping Monster book:

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Then, worked our way to the adjoining Owl Post where we purchased a whole bunch of souvenirs.

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After taking taking more pictures of the Hogwarts train station and other shops, we headed out of the Wizarding World to explore the other Islands of Adventure.

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We went to Poisedon’s Fury to watch the show.

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Although there were no long lines leading to the entrance, there was long wait to get into the building itself. The heat was intense  and we tried to hide from the noontime sun behind the big pillars. We were relieved to finally get inside the building where the AC was fully blasted.  Of course, we ended up freezing our buns off after an hour of waiting in line to get to the actual show.

When we finally got in, we were met by a tour guide who happened to be part of the show. He  led us from one room to the next as we tried to find a way to escape Poisedon’s arch enemy. It was a bit slow at first, but the final room we went into made up for the long wait time as we watched Poseidon and his arch enemy duel in a battle of fire and water.

After Poseidon’s Fury, we ambled on to Mythos, where we took a break and waited for Sinbad’s Eighth Journey (another show) to start. We entered this small arch.

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We were surprised to find that the arch led to a big ampitheater with wooden benches that can seat maybe a thousand or more people.

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Sinbad’s show was full of lights, explosions, rope swinging and some comedic moments.

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After the show, we trundled on to Seuss Landing.

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While we roller coaster non-fans looked at the various Seuss Landing  shops and took pictures,

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Bon and Lena– roller coaster enthusiasts–headed for the Marvel section of the Islands of Adventure to try out the Hulk ride.

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They came back an hour later, disappointed looks on their faces.

Apparently the Dragon Challenge was a more thrilling ride compared to the Hulk.  Leeann, Maiko and I looked at each other and gaped, remembering the Dragon Challenge ride we had just ridden that morning. Of course, we roller coaster scaredy cats just HAD TO ride the scariest ride in Universal!

We browsed more shops until we got to the entrance of the Islands of Adventure section.

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We  agreed that we wanted to make the most of  the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  We wanted to see Harry Potter Land in lights and have dinner at the Three Bromsticks, so when twilight came, we all trudged back toward the Wizarding World.

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Earlier that day, while having lunch, we saw a family eating this great feast of a meal–so we already had an idea of what we wanted to order. While Maiko, Lena and Jen fell in line to order the food, Bon, Leeann and I gathered the utensils and condiments and found  a table at the still busy restaurant.

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When our food arrived, our stomachs gave an approving growl.

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The food was delicious and more than enough to feed six hungry tourists.  Naturally, we ordered a round of Butterbeer to go with the wonderful salad and the  yummy plate of steamed vegetables, corn, ribs and chicken.

Jen had never experienced brain freeze in her life. We all demonstrated how easy it was to get one by taking a long sip from the mug of frosted butterbeer. She tried in vain,  taking several long sips–but never got a brain freeze. How odd!

It was almost 8 PM by the time we had demolished our dinner. We went outside and took pictures with a vengeance. We snapped several shots of Hogwarts castle lit up at night.

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Hogsmeade looked like a truly magical place at night, with all the shop windows lit up and the street lamps blazing.

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It was like the different shops came to life at night.  The lighted moving displays were more visible in the dark.  We saw Hermione’s dress from Gladrags moving up and down, and the various quills from Scrivenshaft swirling around in their inkpots, and the musical instruments from another shop playing to an invisible conductor.

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Though the shops were supposed to close at eight thirty, we found ourselves still wandering Hogsmeade and taking pictures at nine PM.  People still purchased souvenirs at the Owl Post, and milled about inside Honeydukes, and Zonko’s. The staff of the Wizarding World, not wanting to spoil anybody’s fun, probably stayed their until the last stubborn tourist decided he was tired and went home.

We left the Wizarding World at nine, and after one last look, vowed that we would be back on Sunday to  sip more butterbeer,  buy more souvenirs, watch more shows and take a gazillion more pictures.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 1

For those of you who don’t know, I and five other friends (and fellow Harry Potter fans), visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando for the first time last October.

It was an amazing experience and I’ll try to recall every single detail about it as it might benefit you in some way. Maybe you can get a few tips from our experiences and use it if you’re planning to take a trip there sometime in the future. If you’ve been there before, maybe you can reminisce about the good times you had in Hogwarts. Or if you’re too busy to take a vacation, perhaps you can live vicariously through our experiences—for the moment anyway—as I’m sure, after reading this, you’ll probably want to book the next flight to Florida.

Wanting to make the most of our vacation, we tried to plan every detail we could think of.  (Well—I did most of the planning, and the rest of my friends just kind of got dragged into the flurry of things.)

We took a red eye flight Wednesday, leaving LAX at 10:30 PM. Trying to sleep on the plane was almost next to impossible, as I was too excited about all the things I was going to see in our vacation. I forced myself to rest, anyway, as I knew we had a long day ahead of us.

The plane landed in Orlando at 6 in the morning (which was 3am LA time). Knowing we were taking a red eye flight out and would be sluggish and tired, we decided that we would take Thursday easy so we could fully enjoy our Harry Potter experience the next day.

We took a shuttle from Orlando International Airport to the car rental place. (Apparently, car rental stations in the airport open at 8am). Lena made sure that we got the discounted price we had been promised when we reserved our car rental. We dumped our luggage at the back of the green van we had been rented out, and piled in.

Mist had formed on the all the windows. While Maiko (our designated driver for the trip) tried to figure out the controls of the old school van (it had a cassette player and some trippy knobs and buttons), Lena and I attempted to wipe the windows with small pieces of tissue paper.

Once we had gotten our bearings, we proceeded to our first stop for the day: Breakfast. We headed straight for Bikes, Beans and Bordeaux—a small café for cycling enthusiasts. We had heard good reviews about the place and decided to check it out.

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After eating a hearty breakfast,

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we drove to Universal Studios to purchase tickets for the Blue Man Group Show.  (Tip: tickets are cheaper for students).

Next, we headed for our accommodations. We stayed at Celebrity Resort thanks to Bon’s timeshare. Luckily, nobody was staying in the apartment reserved for us, so we were able to check in earlier than the normal time.

We spent the rest of the day in a flurry of activity—we scoped out the place, unpacked, ate lunch at Perkins, then found a Walmart and did our grocery shopping there. (We all agreed that cooking our own food and making lunch would be cheaper than going out to eat all the time). We rested for a few measly hours then headed for our only major event on Thursday: the Blue Man Group Show.

Since our accommodations were located fifteen minutes away from Universal, we figured we could leave at least forty minutes prior to the show, and we’d still have enough time to find parking, walk to the theater and find our seats.

Of course, we hadn’t factored in the horrible night traffic going in and out of Universal. The show was supposed to start at 8PM.

At 7:55 PM we were next in line to pay the parking fee at the entrance to Universal. Realizing that it would take us an extra thirty minutes just to find a regular parking spot, we splurged and paid an extra  5 dollars for the preferred parking pass—which took us closer to the walkway leading up into Citywalk.

The $20 Preferred parking pass was well spent. We sped up side ramp straight into the third floor, found a parking spot and made a mad (really mad) dash for the theater –which felt like a mile away from the parking garage.

We wove in and out of the massive crowds that had come for Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. We arrived breathless and panicky at theater at exactly 8:05 PM.

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We just had enough time to relieve our bursting bladders and find our seats before the show started.

So much for resting on Thursday, but the Blue Man Group show was well worth all the running. It was interactive, fun and amazing. Just beware the strobe lights toward the end of the show. (It took me about a minute to get over the dancing light images swimming before my eyes.)

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*********

Friday dawned. The day for our Harry Potter trip. We got up bright and early–groggy but excited– cooked breakfast and prepared sandwiches and munchies for lunch.

Having learned from our previous experience, and knowing that we would be dead tired from walking all day, we happily paid the $20 preferred parking fee. By 8:30 AM, we were walking through Citywalk.

Everybody it seemed, was heading for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We knew we had made the right decision to arrive there early. There were already so many people by the time we entered the arch that welcomed us into Hogwarts.

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The first thing we saw was the big red Hogwarts train, puffing out smoke.

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Leeann and I, being photography enthusiasts, wanted to take pictures—but Maiko came upon the brilliant idea to try all the rides first before the crowds starting growing. She eagerly pointed out a  “5 minute” wait time on the board beside the Dragon Challenge entrance.

Excited for our first Harry Potter experience, we peeked in. The usher at the entrance told us that we should leave our bags in the lockers provided just off to the right of the Dragon Challenge Ride, right beside the entrance archway. The first hour for the locker was free, we so took advantage of it.

We walked quickly through the arch that led to the Dragon Challenge ride.

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As we went up the walkway, we saw colorful banners to our side.

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I caught a glimpse of the roller coaster we were going to ride.

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Roller Coaster! I hate roller coasters! Aside from being slightly acrophobic, I just don’t like the feeling of doing loopity-loops in the air—safety harness or not.

We passed the flying ford which had crashed into a tree and under a banner welcoming “Triwizard Champions”.

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The tent looked just like it did in the Goblet of Fire movie, and I was momentarily distracted from my rising panic.

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Once we walked into the dark tunnel leading up to the ride however, my anxiety mounted.

I passed the Triwizard cup, and instead of being excited like the other people on the walkway, my heart began to race in fear.

I had half the mind to turn and run and join Jen, (who did a very smart thing by refusing to go on the ride with us as she hates roller coasters as well). But by the time I had decided to turn back, we were already on the platform, being herded by attendants into the line.

I gulped when I saw the ride. It was just a row of seats hanging in the air! My heart was hammering wildly, I felt like I was going to faint. But I had too much pride to faint in front of my friends, so I put on a brave face and sat trembling in the seat.

There was no floor to put our feet on and aside from the usual seat harness they clamped over us, nothing to make us feel secure. It was my worst roller coaster nightmare.

As the ride began to move, I shut my eyes tightly, and gripped the handle of the seat harness. When the ride began to gather speed—I screamed.

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I screamed my head off the whole duration of the ride,  terrified that my feet were at one moment dangling beneath me, and the next moment somewhere above me. I lost all sense of direction, and time.

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Off to my left, I was vaguely aware of Leeann screaming and pausing to catch her breath, only to scream again. To my right—Maiko sat, alternating between laughing and screaming.

Behind me, on the next row of seats, I could hear Bon and Lena laughing at our obvious terror.  They loved rides, as opposed to the three of us who were deathly afraid of roller coasters.

When the ride finally stopped, we stumbled out,  our knees wobbly. Bon and Lena chattered on about the exciting ride while I glared at Maiko.  “What the hell did you get us into?” I told her. “It was a five minute wait time—I got excited,” she replied shakily.

We passed a teenager retching on the walkway after the ride. I felt a tinge of pride that I had survived the ride without throwing up, despite the fact that I had been screaming without pause the whole time.

Here are a few tips you should know about the Dragon Challenge Ride:

1. If you are not a big fan of roller coasters, are acrophobic, are afraid of speed, have a heart ailment or some other potentially life threatening illness, STAY AWAY FROM THE DRAGON CHALLENGE.

2. Before you decide to ride the Dragon Challenge, make the conscious decision NOT TO EAT anything. There is a big possibility that whatever you’ve put in your mouth will come right back out after this experience.

3. There are two roller coasters. You’ll see a red sign that says “Chinese Fireball” and a blue sign that says “Hungarian Horntail.  If you like roller coasters as much as I do (which means you hate them a whole lot), and you’ve been tricked into riding and have no chance of escape—choose the Chinese Fireball. I wasn’t as lucky as, my favorite color being blue—I immediately fell for the Hungarian Horntail.

4. Make sure your shoes are in no danger of flying off. If you happen to be wearing sandals—stuff them inside your shirt or pants. That goes for other items on your person as well– cellphones, wallets, eyeglasses, sunglasses and wigs.

5. SCREAM. As loud as you can. Close your eyes while you’re at it. If you’re anything like me, this is the only way you will survive the ride without having a heart attack.

That being said, I would recommend the ride to everyone.

Or anyone who wants to feel the thrill of a lifetime.  If you want to know what courage means, and if you want to experience what Harry and his friends must have felt in their moments of danger–this is the ride for you.

I assure you that after the blessed relief of finally being on solid ground, a wave of emotions unlike any you’ve ever felt before will wash over you. You will be amazed at your accomplishment, grateful that you’ve survived the terror, and proud that you now have won full bragging rights. You will feel like a Triwizard Champion.

After that ride, we all felt like we could accomplish anything. Still wobbling slightly, we headed for the locker room to get our bags. We checked out the map of the place and decided to finish trying out all the rides. One down, two to go.

After realizing that we should have just left our bags in the locker, we headed back for the locker room and rented out lockers again.

On hindsight, we realized that we probably should have headed straight for the Forbidden Journey Ride at the Hogwarts Castle.  Before we rode the Dragon Challenge, the wait time was 45 minutes.

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In the fifteen minutes it took us to get the bejeezus scared out of us, the wait time for the Forbidden Journey ride had climbed up to 75 minutes.

The air was hot and humid as we waited in line.  We passed the time by taking pictures with the small cameras we had managed to leave in our pockets.

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We went through the open courtyard that led into a greenhouse of sorts– it looked a bit like the Herbology lab with plants and lanterns hanging from the high glass ceilings.

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An hour later, we finally reached the entrance to the inner rooms of Hogwarts:

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Once inside the doors, we snapped hurried pictures of  statues,  tubes filled with different colors representing the house points, the mirror of Erised, and moving portraits among other things. We couldn’t linger too much to take proper pictures as we were rushed down the dark corridors by attendants in Hogwarts uniforms–owing to the long line of people waiting to get in.

About half an hour later, we finally reached the ride’s “boarding station”.  It was looked a bit like Platform 9 3/4, but had floating candles for ceiling lights.

I had to close my eyes at some points because I was getting dizzy from the ride’s spinning and turning motions. But the ride was the best 3D ride I’ve ever been on (also the scariest, as the props and videos looked so real in the dark). Actually, I think it was more of a 4D ride since we could smell the smoke, feel heat from the flames, and water sprinkling over us as we lurched up  and down and sped through the ride.

After we hopped down from the ride onto the moving platform, we were herded down some stairs toward the exit–which happened to be Filch’s Emporium– the biggest store within the lot selling Harry Potter items.

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Once outside, immediately to our left, we saw another line for the final ride we had yet to try: The Flight of the Hippogriff

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Compared to the Dragon Challenge, the Flight of the Hippogriff was chicken feed. This ride is good for kids, seniors –and people like myself who really don’t like roller coasters too much, but would like to experience a little bit of a thrill anyway.

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Having gotten our fill of the rides, we stopped to enjoy a show that was just starting outside of the castle gates.  On a little corner halfway between Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, we joined the people who had gathered to watch the Hogwarts Choir and the singing toads perform.

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After the show, we checked out  Honeydukes and Zonkos. We bought some chocolate frogs, peppermint toads, pumpkin juice and every flavored beans.

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Tired from the excitement of the morning, we decided to find a suitable place to sit down and have lunch. We found the perfect spot behind the Three Broomsticks restaurant.

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For dessert, we bought our first ever mug of Butterbeer and with foamy  mustaches toasted to our health:

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* Stay tuned for the next two parts of our Wizarding World of Harry Potter adventure.

** Special thanks to Leeann,  Jen, Bon, Maiko and Lena for sharing the pictures they took. I used some of them here.

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Harry Potter Week

Since the first part of the final movie in the Harry Potter series will be showing in theatres this Friday, November 19th, I’ve decided to ratchet up the excitement by declaring this week Harry Potter Week (Like fans aren’t a bundle of excited nerves already).

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Remember those pictures and stories (from our trip to  the Wizarding World of Harry Potter last October) which I promised to share? Well, that’s all going to come this week.

While I sort through the thousands of pictures I and my friends took, I’ll leave you with several trailers of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to further whet your appetite.

Trailer 1

Trailer 2

Trailer 3

Drooling yet? ( I know I am!)

Here are some scene clips from the movie:

“Cafe Attack”

“Identical”

“Deathly Hallows”

“Kill Potter”

And finally, some behind the scenes featurettes:

“On the Run”

“Forest Run’

“The Story”

“Epic Finale”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows promises to be the most epic of the Harry Potter movie franchise. The story is action packed and every cast member, hoping to savor their last moments playing the roles they’ve grown to love, have given their all to ensure that the last two movies are more than spectacular.

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I  like going to book signings—not just of people I know, but of people who interest me in some way. Yesterday, I dragged my friend Lena to a go to a book signing for one of those people who fascinate me—Portia De Rossi.

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Best known for her portrayal of lawyer Nelle Porter on the hit show Ally McBeal,

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Portia nowadays is happily known as the wife of comedienne and talk show host Ellen Degeneres.

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Since my friend Lena got off work earlier, I coerced her into buying me a copy of the book and standing in line while I rushed to drive the four miles from work to Westwood Borders, where the book signing was going to happen. I thought I’d be there in ten minutes, but I had forgotten to factor in LA traffic.

I arrived thirty minutes later, and was actually grateful I had gotten there when I did. A car was just leaving a sweet parking spot right in front of the store while I was wondering where the parking lot was. I immediately pulled into it, and after a whole two minutes of trying to parallel park, I finally got my car decently straight.

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Lena was already sitting in a line that wove in and out of bookshelves throughout the second floor of the bookstore. I paid her for the book and after chatting awhile, we found ourselves engrossed in our own books. While she read a book I would never understand (a book on computer programming), I read the first few pages of Portia De Rossi’s memoir: Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain.

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I found myself instantly immersed in her words. I wanted to finish reading the book right there and then. The first few pages immediately gave me the sense that her memoir was going to be one of those raw and powerfully honest books which would leave a lasting impression about the particular issues it brings up.

In her memoir, Portia De Rossi talks about the inner turmoils that have plagued her since she started working as a model at age twelve. She talks about her battle with Anorexia, and the loneliness and fear of a life lived in the closet.

Here’s a description of the book, taken from Simon & Schuster’s website:

“I didn’t decide to become anorexic. It snuck up on me disguised as a healthy diet, a professional attitude. Being as thin as possible was a way to make the job of being an actress easier . . .”

Portia de Rossi weighed only 82 pounds when she collapsed on the set of the Hollywood film in which she was playing her first leading role. This should have been the culmination of all her years of hard work—first as a child model in Australia, then as a cast member of one of the hottest shows on American television. On the outside she was thin and blond, glamorous and successful. On the inside, she was literally dying.

In this searing, unflinchingly honest book, Portia de Rossi captures the complex emotional truth of what it is like when food, weight, and body image take priority over every other human impulse or action. She recounts the elaborate rituals around eating that came to dominate hours of every day, from keeping her daily calorie intake below 300 to eating precisely measured amounts of food out of specific bowls and only with certain utensils. When this wasn’t enough, she resorted to purging and compulsive physical exercise, driving her body and spirit to the breaking point.

Even as she rose to fame as a cast member of the hit television shows Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, Portia alternately starved herself and binged, all the while terrified that the truth of her sexuality would be exposed in the tabloids. She reveals the heartache and fear that accompany a life lived in the closet, a sense of isolation that was only magnified by her unrelenting desire to be ever thinner. With the storytelling skills of a great novelist and the eye for detail of a poet, Portia makes transparent as never before the behaviors and emotions of someone living with an eating disorder.

From her lowest point, Portia began the painful climb back to a life of health and honesty, falling in love with and eventually marrying Ellen DeGeneres, and emerging as an outspoken and articulate advocate for gay rights and women’s health issues.

In this remarkable and beautifully written work, Portia shines a bright light on a dark subject. A crucial book for all those who might sometimes feel at war with themselves or their bodies, Unbearable Lightness is a story that inspires hope and nourishes the spirit.

And here’s a great review of the book on autostraddle.com

I usually go gaga over meeting favorite authors, but after reading about ten pages of Portia’s book, I was even more excited to meet her.

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In writing, I find inspiration anywhere I can get it. I find it in the mundane events I witness everyday, stories I read about in the news, and in the people I meet.

You might be asking: what inspiration can I get from a memoir about Anorexia and coming out when I write middle grade fantasy?

Every story—whether it’s fiction or autobiographical in nature—is at its heart, a story about the human condition. Whether it’s a fantasy novel or a memoir— a story should always ring true in terms of human emotions and experiences. Portia’s battle with her self-image is essentially the same Twilight’s Bella’s battle with her own sense of self.

At the height of her Anorexia, Portia constantly compared herself to other models, and drove to be just as thin or even thinner than they were. Stick-thin models were her standard of beauty, just as Bella’s standard of beauty was her beau Edward. Every time Bella would see her reflection, she’d immediately go into an interior monologue about how ugly she is in comparison to beautiful Edward.

Real people are the inspiration for any fictional character. Whether they’re  aliens or vampires, werewolves or elves, characters should always show a bit of humanity within them—in their thoughts or feelings—because how else would we humans be able to relate to them, if not through the mirror of own experiences?

There is a wealth of knowledge to be gained by reading about people’s life experiences. The challenges they’ve faced, the heartbreaks they’ve endured, their joys and accomplishments—all these things can be great inspiration for emotions our own fictional characters can go through.


Despite the seemingly endless line of people to meet and greet, Portia never stopped smiling.  She greeted everyone with a genuine smile and eagerly spoke with us, as if conversing with long lost friends.

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It is a natural human reaction to be more interested in hearing about someone we personally know, than someone we’ve only just heard of– so I relish meeting well-known people like Portia De Rossi. I enjoy hearing about their experiences from their own mouths, or reading about these experiences with their own words ringing in my head.

Reading the memoirs or works of people I’ve met somehow makes the story more real for me. Meeting the character of the story in person helps me see the story in my head in 3D.

I was ecstatic that I got to shake her hand and exchange a few words with her.  She seems like such a great friend to have.

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More than that, it is always a great honor to meet people like Portia. She has not only survived a serious eating disorder, but is using her own celebrity status to bring into light serious issues which people don’t normally like to discuss like anorexia, and same-sex relationships.

Portia De Rossi has put a face to the grave problem of eating disorders, and the tragedy of not being true to oneself. Her memoir is must read, if we wish to see for ourselves, how these two issues affect the lives of real people.

IMG 8685 modified 850x1024 Portia De Rossi’s Book Signing: Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain

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Last Saturday, November 6, 2010, after an hour of drills,

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Master Erwin had us newbies partner up with our more experienced classmates and do some actual sparring.

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Here’s a video of me getting my butt kicked by Earl,  a Brown Belt:

Me (in the red-striped pants) getting schooled by Earl (black pants)

After thirty minutes of this exhausting (and straining) sparring session, Master Erwin had us line up to get our new belts and certificates.

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So now, I can say that I am officially a Yellow Belt. Or is it a Yellow Belt-er?

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With Master Erwin, highest ranking Filipino Martial Artist in the West Coast

Anyway, the point is I am now a belt grade higher. This means that I have (hopefully) learned enough to call myself a martial artist. Though I still have to learn how to tie my belt properly:

learning to put my belt 1024x768 Saturday Sparring and Awarding of Belts and CertificatesMaster Erwin teaching me how to put my belt on properly

class picture 1 modified 1024x650 Saturday Sparring and Awarding of Belts and CertificatesClass Picture

What does this have to do with writing? A lot—for me, at least.

In the novel that I’m writing, my main characters undergo some martial arts training  as a preparation for the dangerous journey ahead of them. They learn not only to defend themselves, but to develop a sharp mind and a disciplined way of life.

When I wrote my first draft of the chapter where they learn martial arts, I hadn’t yet enrolled in my current martial arts program. I wrote that first draft with an awareness of martial arts principles garnered from watching various martial arts movies and reading a few books. Naturally, my first draft of their training and fight scenes felt flat.

Because of my experience in learning martial arts, I now have the ability to create believable fight scenes. I’m also able to use my own experiences to flesh out my characters.

Now that I have my yellow belt, I can finally relate to what my characters must have felt when they finished their own training. I can use this new experience to express my characters’ thoughts and emotions in a more realistic manner.

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On October 23, 2010, members Torrance Children’s Book Writing Group, along with some members of SCBWI-LA joined me at the LA Public Library (Harbor Gateway Branch) for a workshop.

After welcoming everyone, I started the workshop by doing a little survey.  I asked the participants questions like “How many of you have desks overflowing with papers, books and half eaten snacks?” and “How many of you use only Microsoft Word?”

These questions actually point out two concepts that commonly plague writers: Technology and Organizing. I listed down a few symptoms writers might show, if they had problems with organizing or problems with using technology.

I explained that we could solve both problems by addressing only one concept: Technology.

Freelance editor Emma Dryden had spoken about how technological trends affect the publishing landscape in the recent SCBWI Working Writers’ Retreat. A great example would be Patrick Carman’s book series: Skeleton Creek, where he used both book and video to tell the story.

The publishing landscape has changed dramatically. Agents and editors get hundreds of submissions per day. Understandably, they have to find ways to get through the ocean of manuscripts. Literary Agent Noah Lukeman in his book The First Five Pages, says “Presentation is looked at before all else in a manuscript, that can signal unprofessionalism to agent or editor.”

Gone are the days when writers can submit a handwritten or typewritten manuscript. We are now in the era of computers and laser printers, so agents and editors expect us to “get with the times”. We as writers need to make ourselves more connected with the digital world and more acquainted with the use of technology.

Technology is meant to make things easier for us, as such it is a natural organizational tool.  One way of using technology to organize our writing lives, is by using it in various steps of our writing process.

After this introduction, I immediately dove into the meat of the workshop by discussing various SOFTWARE writers can use to organize their ideas before writing.

I. BEFORE WRITING

Brainstorming

The first thing we should do, before we even sit down to plot our next bestseller is to brainstorm. Since we already have a story idea, when we brainstorm, we try to come up with our story elements such as character, plot and setting.  These elements are bound to change as we write, but that’s alright. The main purpose of brainstorming is just so we can have a jumping off point for our story and so we can have a pool of ideas to pick from.

One of the best ways to brainstorm is to use a Mindmap.

mindmap 2 300x233 October 23, 2010 (5th meetup): Using Technology To Organize Your Writing Process: Software You Can Use Before, During And After Writing Your Bestseller

But sometimes even mind maps can get out of hand.

brainstorm2 October 23, 2010 (5th meetup): Using Technology To Organize Your Writing Process: Software You Can Use Before, During And After Writing Your Bestseller

This is where the use of computer programs come in handy. Imagine if your mind map were digital. You can put all sorts of information in there: website links, pictures, articles, sounds, music and other digital data. This is exactly what the first software I discussed does:

PERSONAL BRAIN

personalbrain October 23, 2010 (5th meetup): Using Technology To Organize Your Writing Process: Software You Can Use Before, During And After Writing Your Bestseller

The Personal Brain Software is a very intuitive mind mapping utility. The primary unit of organization in the application is called a Brain.

Each Brain is composed of thoughts–essentially, idea components, tasks, or goals–which can be created with a double-click and associated with one another freely.

Thoughts connect to one another not merely in a parent-child hierarchy, but can cross-connect to other thoughts.

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( I showed the participants a short video demonstrating how they can use the Personal Brain for their writing projects. )

The software can be downloaded here.

Plotting

After brainstorming, the next step is plotting. With the Personal Brain mindmap, you have all your ideas and related research at the tips of your fingers. Now that you have an idea of where you want your story to go, the next step (since we are trying to get organized) is to plot your story.

ANTHEMION WRITERS’ CAFE

writerscafelong October 23, 2010 (5th meetup): Using Technology To Organize Your Writing Process: Software You Can Use Before, During And After Writing Your Bestseller

The Anthemion Writers’ Café is a toolkit for writers that runs on Windows, Linux and Mac. It’s built with wxWidgets, a project started by Anthemion’s Technical Director, Julian Smart, and designed and actively used by Anthemion’s Creative Director, Harriet Smart, author of five novels published by Headline.

Writer’s Cafe is intended as a fiction-writing tool, but you can also use it for other types of writing.

The names for functions used throughout the program refers to storytelling: storylines, screenplay formatting, character development, and there’s even a “name generator” for characters. But Writer’s Cafe is also useful for project-based writing such as  longer journal articles, book chapters or books, and also shorter documents like grants, forms, or reports.

Writerscafe October 23, 2010 (5th meetup): Using Technology To Organize Your Writing Process: Software You Can Use Before, During And After Writing Your Bestseller

The Writer’s Café has all sorts of helpful functions:

  1. SCRAPBOOK – helps you organize and store your research. You can save texts and pictures for easy access while you’re writing.
  2. PINBOARD – provides a space for quick notes not necessarily related to writing. You could also pin pictures in there.
  3. DICTIONARY – Clicking on this icon will automatically link you up to the Cambridge online dictionary.
  4. JOURNAL – If you want to chronicle your writing, or you have a sudden urge to journal in the middle of your work, you can easily open this function up. I actually find it helpful to do a little practice writing in my journal first before I dive into my manuscript. I find that writing in my journal helps me focus my mind by getting rid of random thoughts and stray ideas.
  5. NOTEBOOK – is for writing down story snippets. Often ideas come up and you don’t know exactly where they should go in your story just yet. The notebook is a great place to store these ideas until you’re ready to use them.
  6. NAME GENERATOR – generates names for your characters.
  7. WRITING COOKIES – pop up whenever you open a certain function. The cookies are a selection of quotes about writing and are supposed to inspire you whenever you feel a little tired of writing.
  8. BOOKSHELF  – contains the manuals for each function, along with the WRITING COOKIES, and various other articles such as the WRITING RECIPES by Harriet Smart help you brush up on some writing techniques.
  9. WRITING PROMPTS – help you kickstart your creativity by giving you something to write about. It can be a good story idea generator, or a good way for you to practice writing.
  10. STORYLINES – The most important and most useful tool in the Writer’s Café program.

Storylines

storylines xp October 23, 2010 (5th meetup): Using Technology To Organize Your Writing Process: Software You Can Use Before, During And After Writing Your Bestseller

Is the heart of the writer’s café program. Mostly used by screenwriters, this tool is the most helpful one I’ve found for plotting.

StoryLines is linear in the sense that its columns move forward, one column after another. Each column can represent then a chapter or a scene. A chapter is a collection of scenes, so then it may be best to use StoryLines one column for each scene. However, you can use one column per chapter in a more general overview way. For a full novel of 25 chapters you will then have 25 columns of cards going up and down. If you choose to use one column per scene you then will have to think of more like 150 columns in StoryLines, 6 scenes per chapter, and that is a lot of work to organize ahead of time before writing your dramatic text.

The software can be downloaded here.

II. DURING WRITING

Now that you have an outline of your plot, and a list of scenes, it’s time to delve into actual writing.

You can keep the window for Storyline open, or you can print out the list of scenes. Whatever your preference, storylines will definitely help you as you flesh out your scenes.

YWRITER 5

snipyWriter5 October 23, 2010 (5th meetup): Using Technology To Organize Your Writing Process: Software You Can Use Before, During And After Writing Your Bestseller

Ywriter is a software program which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. It does help you keep track of your work, leaving your mind free to create.

Simon Haynes October 23, 2010 (5th meetup): Using Technology To Organize Your Writing Process: Software You Can Use Before, During And After Writing Your Bestseller

Simon Haynes created Ywriter.  He has twenty years of programming experience and is also the author of the Hal Spacejock series which is published by Fremantle Press and distributed by Penguin Australia. Because he is an experienced programmer AND a published author, yWriter contains a bunch of tools a working novelist will find useful.

Ywriter focuses on scenes instead of chapters:

  • A scene is a pleasant chunk to work on – small and well-defined, you can slot them into your novel, dragging and dropping them from one chapter to another as you interleave strands from different viewpoint characters and work out the overall flow of your book.
  • You can also mark a scene as ‘unused’ if you’ve written yourself into a dead end, which will keep it out of the word count and exports without deleting the content.
  • Of course, you can’t just write a bunch of unrelated scenes. You need an overall design goal … your plot.
  • yWriter will generate a number of different reports from your scene and chapter summaries, from a brief scene list to a comprehensive synopsis.
  • If you update the ‘readiness’ setting for each scene it will even generate a work schedule showing what you have to do to meet your deadline for the outline, first draft, first edit and second edit.
  • yWriter also allows you to add scenes with no content – just type a brief description and you can pretend you’ve written it. This is great for the parts you’re not ready to write yet, or for when you get blocked. Skip over that part and come back later!
  • Unfinished scenes, rough ideas … it’s so much harder to keep track of them when they’re all pasted into one long word processing document.

Features of Ywriter

  • Organize your novel using a ‘project’.
  • Add chapters to the project.
  • Add scenes, characters, items and locations.
  • Display the word count for every file in the project, along with a total.
  • Saves a log file every day, showing words per file and the total. (Tracks your progress)
  • Saves automatic backups at user-specified intervals.
  • Allows multiple scenes within chapters
  • Viewpoint character, goal, conflict and outcome fields for each scene.
  • Multiple characters per scene.
  • Storyboard view, a visual layout of your work.
  • Re-order scenes within chapters.
  • Drag and drop chapters, scenes, characters, items and locations.
  • Automatic chapter renumbering.

I showed the participants how to use Ywriter to write and even edit their novels using the various tools and reports ywriter is able to generate.

IV. AFTER WRITING

You’ve edited your work a hundred times, and now you’re ready to send it out your query.  To have a better chances of getting an agent, you send a hundred queries a day icon biggrin October 23, 2010 (5th meetup): Using Technology To Organize Your Writing Process: Software You Can Use Before, During And After Writing Your Bestseller .

A software program to help you keep track of these submissions is Sonar 3.

SONAR 3

Sonar3 October 23, 2010 (5th meetup): Using Technology To Organize Your Writing Process: Software You Can Use Before, During And After Writing Your Bestseller

  • Sonar is a manuscript submission tracking program, and Simon Haynes wrote it because he was going nuts keeping track of short story submissions.
  • This program tells you which market has each story, whether a story has been sold or rejected and which stories are gathering dust instead of earning their keep.
  • If you decide to use it, you will be able to view a list of all your stories and then filter them in various ways (e.g. only show stories which are available to send out).
  • You can add markets, stories and submissions and best of all it’s completely free!

TO SUMMARIZE:

Writing Process to Organize

Software to Help us Organize It

Cost

Brainstorming/ Mind Mapping

Personal Brain

Basic version of Personal is FREE for noncommercial use,

The  fully-featured  Core and Pro versions, cost $150 and $250, respectively.

Plotting

Anthemion Writers’ Café STORYLINES

A (limited) downloadable version of Writer’s Cafe is available for no cost, and a registered full version costs $45 ($34 for educational discount).

Writing

Ywriter5

FREE

Editing

Ywriter5

FREE

Submissions

Sonar 3

FREE

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