Howard Taylor on the Power of Practice

Howard Taylor gave a masterful presentation on the power of practice, and I’ve been learning from it ever since I first heard it. He references the article, How Not to Talk to Your Kids, which I also recommend.

He also references this graph:

Three phases of development toward adult expertise

Listen, then tell me your thoughts!


Balloon Marketing

I found a fun strategy to use at book signings, especially stores that sell helium balloons. Here’s what you do:

1. Purchase 2-3 helium balloons (enough to get the word around, but not too many to keep track of)

2. Request that they use “hi-float.” It’s a goop they put in the balloon just before pumping it up that keeps the helium from leaking out slowly–yes this step is necessary. If you use a mylar balloon, it’s not necessary.

3. Write on the balloon with a sharpie, something like, “Book Signing, taking place right now near the candy section,” with your name and the name of your book.

4. Cut the ribbon off so that you only have about six inches left hanging from the balloon.

5. Tie your business card or bookmark (relating to the book you’re signing, of course) to the 6 inches of string.

6. Find something to add additional weight to the string, such as paperclips or aluminum foil. I used half of a chocolate kiss, still in the wrapper. The idea here is to add just enough weight to keep your balloon in stasis, so it doesn’t float up or fall down. Obviously it won’t stay put, and will drift up and down some, but you want to get it as close as possible to balanced.

7. Walk your blimp balloon to a decent traffic area of the store and let it go.

8. Go back to your table, and enjoy the signing! You can now ignore your balloon.

What will happen is the balloon will slowly drift toward any moving air. If someone walks by, it will follow them. If there’s a fan, it will do laps around the store.

If you have a quiet moment with no one around, you can check on your traveling marketers. If they’ve fallen asleep in an obscure corner of the store somewhere, bump them back out. But for the most part, you can totally forget about them and they’ll wander and advertise for you.

Don’t try to adjust the balance to make them higher flyers, unless the ceiling is within reach. Don’t weigh them down enough to get stuck on the floor. You want them to wander within an adult’s line of vision. If kids get them, let them play with them. Most parents will eventually tell them to let it go, and may even come by to see you and your book.

I had a signing for my book, Marriage is Ordained of God, but WhoCame Up with Dating? at the Stokes Market in Salem, Utah, on Saturday, and was glad to see they sold helium balloons. I’d had the idea of trying helium balloons, because we’d had “pet” balloons at home many times, and I was excited to try it.

It was a flying success (pun intended).

I sent my balloons off at the very beginning of my signing, and it worked great. I was a little worried they might annoy people, but what happened was quite the opposite. They delighted everyone who saw them, and anyone who stopped to read it looked over to see me smiling next to my table.

They did get grabbed by kids a couple times, but only one was taken home.

With my first balloon I left the full ribbon on, but it just kept snagging stuff, so I shortened it to the six inches length, and it made all the difference. Balloons are a very personable species, and will try to make friends wherever they go. As long as the weights were put on right, and don’t fall off, they stay low enough to reach.

I also brought my laptop and had my book trailer looping. I put out a couple bowls of Hershey’s Hugs and Kisses (it is a dating book, after all), which brought a lot of “free-samplers” to the table.

The signing went great! I sold some books and lined up a potential fireside and radio interview. I don’t know for sure if the balloons had anything to do with it, but they certainly had something to do with my jolly-good mood.

The Middle Grade Novel, with Author Jennifer A Nielsen

At LDStorymakers this year, author Jennifer A. Nielsen gave an amazing presentation on writing for middle-graders, AKA middle-readers.
If you’ve ever even considered writing for the middle-grade audience (approximately ages 8-13), you don’t want to miss this presentation.

If you’re having trouble getting the full audio, try this link (I hope it works better:)

The Creative Power of Limitation

I think one of the greatest ways to promote creativity is to have limitations that seem to hamper the progress you are able to make. Think about it. If material is lacking, you learn to be creative with what you’ve got. If money is an issue, you get creative with the money and resources you already have. If you don’t have much space, you either turn a bedroom into a studio or find a way to do your work outdoors, where the atmosphere is better anyway. Limitations and roadblocks promote greater creativity.

If you think your limitation is hampering your creativity, maybe you just need to think more creatively about your creativity.

It rarely does any good to put off an aspiration until you have the money or means to do something about it. Whatever it is that you want to do, start doing it, with whatever time, money, and resources you DO have.

For example, let’s say you want to take up sculpture, but have no clay, and no money. That is an issue – but not enough of an issue to justify waiting until you have money or clay before moving forward. Start with home-made playdough. Does that sound too cheap?

Have you ever heard of Don Marco? He’s a crayola crayon artist, and he’s AMAZING. It’s not the fact that he uses crayons for art that’s amazing – your kids do that, (though yes, they are amazing in their own way, but you know what I mean). It’s the fact that he makes incredible art with crayons.

Use what you have to do what you want to do. Then when the resources are available, you can move up – and still have a unique portfolio.

What if time is your limitation? Become a five strokes a day artist, or perhaps “The Five Minute Painting” artist, or whatever. You don’t have to base your career on your limitation, but turn your limitation into an asset by trying something creative with your creativity.

Creativity is spawned where limitations prevail.

I’ve been publishing CD’s for years, and though it would be awesome and ideal to record with a real grand piano in a real studio, that’s never been an option to me, because it’s so dang expensive. But instead of complaining or waiting until I had the funds, I record with a professional program that allows me to fix minor mistakes that would be untouchable in a studio recording. That made my first CD better than it would have been if I’d had a studio to record in. Limitations aren’t roadblocks, limitations promote synergy.

If something goes wrong and you suddenly find yourself lacking what you once had, turn your disability into a superpower. Only you can figure out how to do it. That’s the beauty of creativity.

Progress never comes from maintaining the status quo, but from running into problems and coming up with solutions that were better than the initial plan.

Preparing for Turn Thirteen

I heard an interesting interview with a bobsledder. He was talking about a ride where one of the major turns went incredibly well, and then, almost without warning, the sled flipped, and the crew was going down on their heads.

Being the one responsible for leading into the turns, he apologized to his teammates, who asked what went wrong.

“I did turn twelve so well that I lost sight of turn thirteen.”

Photo by familymwr on flickr

How easy it is for writers to make the same mistake; after experiencing a small success, to get lazy with the next thing. It could be a well written chapter, a book that was accepted for publication, or even a brilliant signing. When confidence clouds vision, and you become lazy with with your discipline, technique, or schedule, you crash. A great turn, though invaluable, is not the finish line.

How to Prevent Missing Turn Thirteen
Let a successful turn refine your focus, rather than distract you from it. You should be grateful, and celebrate—but don’t look back. When things go well, work harder. Instead of softening your grip, tighten it, and let the momentum of your mini-success propel you into complete success.

Hobby vs. Occupational vs. Serious Author

Photo by J. Paxon Reyes

I’ve been thinking a lot about my role as an author.

It’s been almost eight years since I started writing my first book, and I hope I’ve come a long way. I used to think of authors simply as people who wrote books, but now I see that while that’s true, there are also many kinds of authors. Most are one of three kinds of authors (or working to become such).

There are those who work on a book once in a while, and ten or fifteen years later, they complete it. They have day jobs, various hobbies, and writing is one of them. They will probably only write one to three books in their lives.

Then there are authors who are experts in a field, and as a way of advancing that field, they write a book on the topic. They have day jobs doing the very thing they write about. They’re authors as a means of promoting their day-job. They may write multiple books, but those books will most likely all be relating to their niche.

Then there are serious, full-time authors. They are the authors who write and write and write. By the time they finish a book, they’ve got at LEAST one more underway. They may also write for magazines, newspapers, journals, or any number other places, but they write. They may participate in events, seminars, and teaching, but for the most part, writing IS their day job. They may be fiction or nonfiction authors.

I suppose there are a dozen other kinds of writers, but these seem to be the main three.

I started out as the first. I wrote my first book as something to simply pass on to posterity. As I got near the end, I decided to clean it up to make it marketable, but by the time it was finished, I discovered something interesting: I absolutely LOVE writing. I love it passionately, every bit as much as I love composing music, sometimes more so.

By the time I completed the first draft of my second book, I was fully converted to the writing life, and determined to write for a career someday.

Only recently have I realized that aiming for some etherial future career isn’t going to be enough–not really, anyway. It’s not enough to passively write and hope for the best. I’ve got to make plans, give myself deadlines, and become a serious, SERIOUS author. I may not be able to up and quit my day job, but it’s time to stop working for the future and simply BE the author I’d intended to one day become.

I’m not suggesting that one type of author is better than another. Obviously every author will have a different story, focus, and plan.

But as for myself, I choose to be the serious author.

Recent Signings

I’ve had a couple of great signings with Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with Dating? recently. The great thing was that Jenni got to come to them as well.

The first was at BYU bookstore, and the second was at Confetti Books and Antiques in Spanish Fork. At BYU Bookstore, I was able to meet with three other authors, Andrew C. Skinner, Alonzo L. Gaskill, and one other who’s name I don’t remember (which is sad, because I had a great conversation with him). They’re really great guys, and I hope to get to do more author stuff with them.

The second was at Confetti Antiques & Books in Spanish Fork with Mandi Tucker Slack, Misty Moncur, and Sherri Mills. That was a fun signing. Those three were great to sign with, and fun to talk to. It also helped that the store was a cool antique shop, so even once we got done, Jenni and I stuck around for another 45 minutes.

Interview with Author Mandi Tucker Slack

One of my favorite things to read on a blog is author interviews. Especially when the author wrote a book that I’m excited to read. That’s why I was excited when Mandi Tucker Slack was willing to let me interview her about her book and writing in general. You’ve all got to check out The Alias. I’ve posted the trailer at the bottom of the interview, because it’s awesome! You can learn more about The Alias and Mandi on her website, and her blog, (I love that URL).


Tell us a little about yourself and your book(s)?

I’m a mom of three great kids. I have two boys, ages 6 and 5 and a little girl, who is 2. I’ve been married for 11 years and we love living in Utah. I grew up in Emery County and I feel very blessed for the memories I have. I love the desert and mountains, and I’ve been interested in everything from archeology to paleontology…and I could go on and on. Really, I just love the outdoors. One of my favorite hobbies is collecting and searching for fossils in the desert and surrounding areas. I also grew up frequenting museums and accompanying my parents on archeological digs in the San Rafael, and I love to incorporate my hobbies and interests into my writing. I love spending time with my husband and children and we spend most weekends rock hounding or exploring new places as a family. I’ve written several manuscripts, all in various stages of editing, and The Alias is my first published novel.

Do you have any writing mottos or rules for yourself?

I like to finish what I start, even if it is years down the road. I have a ton of ideas written on notebooks that are scattered around my house, but if I start writing an actual manuscript, I like to finish it. It drives me nuts to have a half written novel hiding on my shelf or sitting dormant on my hard drive. Once it’s finished, then I go back and work out all the little (usually big) kinks and quirks.

How do you balance raising three kids with writing? What advice would you give other writer parents with kids at home?

I would give anything to say I am a “Super Mom”, who can balance writing, children, a dog, and housekeeping, but I’m not. I write when I find time to write. Usually that’s when the kids are outside playing or at school. I do try to get up early in the morning and write, but normally I write late into the night when my children are asleep. If I can find time during the day to write, I do, but usually I have my youngest daughter in my lap. I just write when I can and don’t when I can’t. And I love it! Really, I wouldn’t want it any other way. There are times (more often than not) when my house is a mess or my dishes need washed. And quite often, you’ll find me in my pajama pants. Trying to find a balance is definitely difficult, and often times, frustrating, but somehow it all works out. My main focus is my family and I’ve found through the years, when I put them first, everything else just falls into place. I’m not always the Super Mom or dynamic writer that I long to be, but I do the very best I can, and really, that is the best advice I can give to other writer parents. It’s impossible to keep everything in balance all the time. Do the very best you can and try not to stress when you can’t.


Yes, I have a few ideas floating around my head for a sequel to The Alias, but I haven’t settled on one firm idea yet. I would like to write a novel based on Blaze when he is older and reaching those imperative “teen years”.

What do you find is the best thing about writing? What’s the worst?

My favorite thing about writing is being able to create my own adventure. I was a tom-boy through and through and as a child and I craved adventure. I explored exotic countries and conquered high mountain peaks all from the comfort of my own back yard. I had a very vivid imagination and that love of creativity followed me into my adulthood. I have so much fun when I am able to sit down and pound out the ideas floating around in my head, and I enjoy writing the type of stories that I love to read. I grew up reading Dorothy Keddington and Jennie Hansen, both excellent suspense writers. I think the worst thing about writing is simply finding time and…commas! I hate commas. I’m not sure why, but correct comma use is beyond my comprehension at times and I’m blessed to have such a patient husband, who corrects me often.

Is there anything that you wish you had known earlier in your writing career that would have helped when you were just about to attempt your first novel?

Yes, I wish that I had written a storyline first. With my first manuscript titled The Edge of Dawn, a novel that I wrote years before, I just sat down and started writing. Since then, I’ve learned that it’s so much easier to keep facts and character’s straight when write out a detailed storyline. I like to name my characters, build their personalities, and then write a summary— a very detailed summary— of the plot. This way, I can look back and see where I have anomalies before I get into the thick of the story. I can keep names straight and facts accurate, and when writing, I have a quick reference to use when I get lost.

Is there a deleted scene from your book, perhaps a paragraph from The Alias that didn’t make the cut that you could share with us?

I did cut a scene and a character before I sent it to the publisher. Jacey is asked to sing in the ward choir. When she replies, “Okay—well, I’m not a member of your church, so—I…”, a robust, out-spoken woman named Georgia Colbert replies, “I don’t care if you’re a Baptist or a Buddhist. As long as you’re here, we need you. I need more sopranos, especially ones who can sing.”

Are there any facts you could tell us about Jacey or Blaze that weren’t included in the book that readers might like to know?

I tried to include most of Jacey and Blaze’s interests in the book. I have a lot of fun developing my characters. Their unique personalities become real for a time. They become “friends”. Jacey was one of my favorite characters. She’s soft spoken, but spunky when she needs to be.

Last words?

I hope you all enjoy my book, The Alias!!