How I’ve STARTED WITH WHY and the times I LOST MY WHY

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Simon Sinek was able to take things we all think or have thought in the business world and world of creative leadership and make sense of it. He rationalized it all in a way that makes sense to us. I found myself nodding and giving him silent “Amens” as I read along, chapter by chapter, immersed in the question he started asking himself about successful leaders and organizations: How do they achieve the level of success? How do they begin?

They start with WHY.

As I read, I became more inspired with each story, example, and principle underscored and highlighted by Sinek. I haven’t read a book since Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR that has sparked my creative spirit, my entrepreneurial curiosity, and my desire to inspire others as much as START WITH WHY: HOW GREAT LEADERS INSPIRE EVERYONE TO TAKE ACTION.

Sinek took this notion of starting with WHY and theorized it to help him better understand leaders. He made a Golden Circle. He examined the Law of Diffusion of Innovators and the tipping point in companies—when an idea becomes a movement— such as what happened with the iPhone. He puts WHY in plain language for all to understand; he tells stories worth listening to; and, he inserts himself into the bigger picture thinking toward the end.

So powerful is his writing that I couldn’t put the book down, and I was wondering if my students in a new creative course I am teaching felt the same way. After our class discussion only minutes ago, I can tell you that I think they took away the key points beautifullly—those most worth noting—and some were wholeheartedly inspired to always start with WHY.

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The students brainstorming in our new collaborative course on campus.

As for me, I was intrigued and enamored by his connections from the second I started reading his book. During my own careers (and I do mean that, as I’ve had several), I always started with WHY. During my time at the Baltimore Orioles, believe me when I say I wasn’t getting rich there. I had a fantastic job—one that constantly inspired me—and I can tell you that what Sinek says is so true: if you are inspired by THE WORK, the money is secondary to what you are doing and the bigger picture of WHY you are doing it. When I left the Orioles and went to my next job, the WHY was much fuzzier; I went for the wrong reason–to make more money than I previously made. And while I did that, the WHY and inspiration was missing from the work. When I broached the subject of leaving that job while on vacation in London with my husband, I asked him this question: “Why can’t I do the two things I love: teach and have a writing/design business?” His answer was the best anyone could give: You can.

And so I did.

When I made the foray into full-time teaching, I knew my WHY. I had discovered it when I began as an adjunct teacher at a local community college back in 1993. I wanted to be a teacher because I was a born cheerleader—I wanted to inspire, coach, and help others with their education and prepare them for careers. I think I knew this my whole life—that this would be my chosen profession eventually—but it took me working in another profession to find out that the WHY for teaching was not to be ignored and it warranted serious consideration.

When I decided to become an author and write fictional books, I knew my WHY: I wanted to entertain and inspire others through storytelling. I chose to become a self-published author and wrote and produced three novels. I lost my WHY a little this summer when book promotion took hold and made me leery of WHY I was a writer in the first place. But then, upon being asked to give a talk about self-publishing at Stevenson University to faculty and staff, I remembered and was reconnected with my WHY. I write books because it is my PASSION, and I just LOVE the process. How many books I sell should be secondary to the task I adore so much—storytelling. And so, newly refocused, I will continue along my writing and publishing journey.

In 2013, along with my colleagues, Chip and Leeanne, we decided to write a textbook on event planning. After scouring the library and bookstores for a good text to share with our students that attached communication theory to event planning and coming up empty-handed, we decided to write our own textbook. So, what did we do?

We started with WHY and asked this question: What is the WHY behind what we do in event planning? And out of this question was born our book, EVENT PLANNING: COMMUNICATING THEORY AND PRACTICE, published by Kendall-Hunt Publishers.

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If you adopt Simon Sinek’s approach—that anything you do that is meaningful must start with WHY—you are more likely to find some meaning in it and grow from it. In turn, you will learn from it and maybe even have great success from it. And without even realizing it, you begin to inspire others.

START WITH WHY is a book you will not soon forget, and I will recommend it to anyone who wants to be an inspirational leader, as well as to anyone who has lost his or her way and needs to be reminded of their WHY.

 

 

Every One of My Books Has Killed Me a Little More

 

 

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In 5 years, I wrote three novels and a textbook while working full-time as a professor. I think that warranted a short respite.

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You see the title there, and maybe that’s why you clicked over to see what’s going on here.

If you did, please know I didn’t say that quote. It was said by the famous late writer, Norman Mailer. “Every one of my books has killed me a little more, ” he said.

I didn’t know the man. I’m not on par with him as a writer. I am not as prolific a writer as he was. And I certainly don’t earn my primary income as a writer as he did.

And yet, I can totally understand what he said.

As some of you who follow my blog may know, I hit a wall this summer. Exhaustion took over, and I needed a break from writing. While writing novels hasn’t killed me, the promotion of them was making me crazy. Every morning I thought to myself, “Just what do I need to do today to sell one book? How can I market my book today on social media? How can I spread the word about my novels? How can I post one more thing on social media without annoying my friends and supporters?”

img_1179These thoughts began to consume me, and I knew I had to tread lightly. Ruining friendships over book promotion is not worth it, but I needed to put a little distance between me (as a person and friend and mother and wife) and my writing and marketing. I could feel myself slipping into a sort of dark abyss and feeling quite down about things, and I didn’t want those feelings to affect me and my family.

Taking a respite from writing has been just what the doctor ordered. I am concentrating on my family, helping my son with his college applications, teaching at the university, planning a new course I am co-teaching, and exercising, something I had let slip as well.

The miraculous thing that happens when you put a little distance between you and your writing are these things called invigoration and inspiration. I find I am becoming inspired by things I’ve neglected to notice; I am invigorated by relationships I never knew I could have; and story ideas seem to be coming to me at a mile a minute.

It’s a good thing I keep a notebook. I jot down ideas that may be novel-worthy, and I’ll examine which stories I might like to tell next.

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I still keep a paper planner in which I jot down things, keep notes, make to-do lists, and write inspiring quotes. Still works for me as opposed to using my iPhone or Outlook calendar.
I’m not done writing novels, I’m just gearing up for something I can sink my teeth into to grab hold. The inspiration fairy, when given some room to breathe, seems to want to come to life and help out a weary writer and marketer.

And, moreover, because I do LOVE writing so much, I don’t ever want to utter the words Norman Mailer said.

I won’t ever let my creativity and need to tell stories kill me a little.

I absolutely refuse to allow that to happen.

 

Dickens Is Missing

Image result for great charles dickens quotesI’ll make this one short and sweet.

Where the hell is Dickens?

My son is now a senior in high school, and all this time I’ve been waiting with anticipation each year to see which books have been selected for the high school English classes for the year. I am sad to report that now, for four straight years, we’ve had no Dickens on the list.

I’m not a fan of Common Core, but I am a fan of Dickens.

When I was in high school, I read Great Expectations. I read A Christmas Carol on my own. Now, Dickens’ novels are missing from high school reading lists. When I took MFA courses from 2009-2011 in creative writing, I took a WHOLE COURSE in Dickens. I reread Great Expectations with vigor and experienced it in a whole new way than I did when I was in high school. It was so much better and much more meaningful. I read the 800-page Bleak House and loved it.

My love affair with this man’s creativity continues.

I love his writing.

I love everything about it.

His writing has taught me much, and I’ve learned so much from his technique. I was hoping my kids would be prompted to do the same through school.

It would be my wish that Dickens returns. There’s so much to gain from every aspect of his storytelling.

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.

Stephanie

20841993_10155523297888954_3655226197486168242_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Ignore Your Passions – A Cup of Inspiration

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This is definitely one of my husband’s passions, but it’s quickly becoming mine also – kayaking in Annapolis.

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I won’t deny that I get pretty excited talking about my passions.

And you should, too.

So much of what we do on a daily basis are chores and errands and monotonous stuff we have to do to live a good life, like pay bills, clean the garage, make dinner every night, organize the office, or serve as a carpool driver, just to name a few.

Yes, we do these things. We have to do them. They are called responsibilities.

We can’t ignore our responsibilities, but we also can’t ignore our passions.

Recently, a friend of mine asked me how I do it. She said, “I don’t understand how you accomplish all you do…you teach, write novels and textbooks, have a family, get involved in the community…how do you find the time for it all?”

My friends, the truth is, I don’t FIND time for it all, I MAKE time for it all.

We cannot ignore what makes us tick…makes us feel alive…makes us feel, well, complete. I explained to my friend that she does the same thing. She runs, swims, participates in distance runs and marathons.

“How do you find time to do all that training?” I asked her. “Just the same way that you carve out time to train for your athletic endeavors, I find time to write or play with fashion.”

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When we are passionate about things, as I explained to my students yesterday in feature writing, we absolutely must find time for them, whether that’s hanging out with friends, going to see a movie, playing a round of golf, going on vacation, writing a novel, running a 5K, doing charitable work, listening to or playing music, kayaking on the river, or hiking a favorite trail.

Passion drives us.

If you follow me on Instagram or on my Facebook page, you see that I post a lot of fashion pictures. I’m not a fashion blogger, but I do blog about fashion. I love it. I always have. Just ask my mother, who, when I was little and we would go to New Jersey to visit our family, would take me with my Christmas money to Willowbrook Mall to shop my brains out with my grandmother. How patient they both were to let me shop until or I dropped or my money ran out. My short stint as a fashion consultant ten years ago was so much fun and allowed me to get out of the house and meet people and help them build wardrobes before I became a full-time professor.

Even though I’m no longer a fashion consultant, it’s still a passion. I love clothes like some people love football or going to the theatre. And I have fun with it.

It’s just meant to be fun.

So today, I want you to do something for me (and for yourself). I want you to think about your passions and why you’re not doing them. I want you to carve out some time for YOU to do what YOU LOVE.

Make a promise to yourself that the things that make you tick matter.

And, if you are already pursuing your passions, good for you! I’m so proud of you. Keep at it. 🙂

Stephanie

20841993_10155523297888954_3655226197486168242_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

When People Reach Out and Remind You of the Advice You’ve Given? Blessed.

1481048898823Yesterday, I received an email from a former student of mine. She said she is an avid reader of my blog and encouraged me to keep on going having read one of my posts I wrote about needing a break from writing. She’s clever, this one. She asked if I remembered advice I had given in class, and stated that she remembered me offering it to students on one pretty, spring day. The advice I had given was this: to step away sometimes from things we are working on and come back to them with fresh perspectives.

Yes, I do remember saying that. It’s one of my mantras for writing. Put it away, and then look at it again later.

I can’t tell you how touched I was to receive that email that cheered me on and told me to persevere.

It’s not the only one I’ve received (which makes me feel super good that people are actually reading my blog and what I write!) I had another former student of mine tell me that my words saved her years ago in one of her darkest moments. Yes, I remember that, too. Her email brought tears to my eyes. We were both going through some tough times and we shared that with each other.

Many people have reached out to me to check on me. I find it sweet, touching, and encouraging.

Let me assure everyone that I am fine. Perfectly fine. Think of me as Elizabeth Gilbert, only without the year-long traveling to three different countries to reconnect with herself in Eat, Pray Love. I just needed a few weeks to sit back and take a look at what I was doing and ask the question why? (You can blame it on the book Start with Why by Simon Sinek that I’ll be using in the new course I’m teaching this fall). Clearly by reading this post and others I have written since that day, I am not giving up blogging. As I said in a previous post, it’s not the writing that is most challenging. I love that. I will keep on doing that. It’s the decision to just take a break from intense book marketing for a bit. It eats up a ton of your time and doesn’t allow you to do the thing you love most: WRITE.

Have no fear: I’ll be back at it. Why? Because I care about my published works too much not to give it all I’ve got.

I just hit the pause button the DVR.

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And that clever student of mine also reminded me of another discussion we had in class, as my post hinted at those people who want to see you fail (which, truthfully, we should never take into consideration—ever—although thoughts of them can make you work harder). She said that this notion really resonated with her, and that was “to celebrate other people’s accomplishments.” She said she thinks of our talk all the time, and we shared examples in class of people not always being supportive of our endeavors. As she said, and I quote her, “Learning to celebrate others’ successes showcases a person’s quality, and sometimes an opportunity can arise from that interaction.” In other words, yes, boost them up. Give them a high five. To tell them that the work they have done was well done. As she indicated, it’s a sign of someone’s maturity to be happy for another person’s success. It’s not an indication of our own failure.

And this lack of support is something we notice. We notice when others are not happy for our success (and sometimes they honestly don’t know just the amount of grit and sweat and tears and grueling hours we have that put into it—it can be downright maddening.) As difficult as it may be sometimes, it’s your duty as a friend or family member to extend congratulations when someone else does something awesome and to help in any way you can. We all agreed that we must always try our best to be congratulatory always when someone we know has worked tirelessly to achieve a goal. I’m so glad my student remembered this bit of advice, too.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: it’s been wonderful to hear from people who actually do want to see you continue on your path and hope you reach your goals. And, it’s been pretty cool to have people reiterate some of the discussions we’ve had in the past. Therefore, to my former students, friends, colleagues and family who have reached out to have a side conversation regarding these latest thoughts, THANK YOU. I appreciate you more than you know.

Stepping back to re-examine is a good thing. I’m blessed to have so many helpful encouragers in my life.

And a fresh writing and book promotion perspective is just what the doctor ordered.

I’m working on that.

Stephanie

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

 

Do You Write to Sell or Do You Write to Tell Good Stories?

Yesterday, when I was texting with a dear friend of mine who has been quite influential in my life and career, I shared with him that I was taking a break from writing for a bit. Which, as you know, if you’ve followed along thus far in my tales of woe, really means that I became burned out doing book promotion as opposed to book writing. Anyway, he asked me this question at end of our text thread:

Do you write to sell or do you write to tell good stories?

I looked at what he had written for a long time, pensively, unsure as to how I would answer that question, because it’s a good one to ask. It made me pause and reconsider everything. It’s tricky because there are many components to it, but let me do my best to answer, and then, if there are any other writers out there reading this, I would love to hear your thoughts on it. I think all writers should be forced once in a while to examine why they write…why they slave away doing what they do. Therefore, I decided to enumerate my top four reasons for my own sake, with a caveat about the whole writing life exercise in one #5 summation.

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#1- I write to tell good stories. I have been writing stories since I can remember, telling stories for longer, and wanting to publish a book since the age of 13. I love the whole aspect of storytelling, of a tightly woven narrative, and of the clarity needed to tell a well-constructed story. I write to tell good stories, for sure, and it is at the crux of why I write.

#2- I write to show my students that I actually practice what I preach. If you have me or have had me as a teacher at Stevenson University, I hope you can verify that I am passionate about writing–about being able to articulate your thoughts on paper. It’s a skill that is imperative today. Being a clear writer means you have clarity of thought; you are a critical thinker who knows how to communicate. This skill takes you places in business for sure. A recent survey that polled top executives in large companies proved that the two skills employers want to see in candidates are the ability to write and the ability to speak and present in public. My job is to help both facets, with an emphasis on writing. Being able to show my students four books I have written serves as an example that I do, in fact, practice what I preach.

#3- I write as a creative outlet. I think of myself as a creative person even though I can’t draw or paint. My creativity comes in the forms of words and storytelling (and even blogging)! If I don’t have this outlet, something feels off in my life. It has become and will continue to be an outlet for the fostering and release of creativity.

#4- I write to make people happy. Being able to communicate here on the blog to an audience or through my novels seems to make people happy and that, in turn, makes me happy. Last night at a book club where members had read my novel, Inn Significant, the ladies told me I had a gift for storytelling (and they also liked the happy ending). Again–why not bring some happiness into the world? There’s plenty for us to be sad or angry about already, so a bit of joy in the form of a novel is a good thing.

Now, here’s the caveat:

#5- Writers need readers. And it’s not so much about selling as it is just having readership. We write to share stories and to be read. We write to connect with people. But in order for that to happen, we actually need some readers. And it was the constant time spent soliciting readers that was beginning to kill my spirit.

But when I look at this all now, a couple of weeks after my little meltdown, I may need to rethink my writing, strategy, and approach.

I’m being quite frank and candid about my writing philosophy. To those other independent authors and those with small presses—Why Do You Write?

Stephanie

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

The Truth About Burnout, Steps to Rejuvenation, and A Cup of Candor

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 11.07.11 AMI know this post is coming sooner than you or I expected it to come, so let me explain.

Earlier this week, I experienced something unfamiliar. It came out of nowhere and yet came from everywhere. I imagined myself in the image of an old wind-up toy that had hit a wall; I was marching along, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was swimming in “noise,” as we communication folks like to call it. It was filling up my head and causing me not to think clearly.

Some people might call it burnout.

Burn•out (noun) /ˈbərnˌout/  def. physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. “high levels of professionalism that may result in burnout”

It was an emotional reaction that, quite frankly, had my friend Elizabeth puzzled when we talked on Tuesday.

“What happened?” she asked. “What happened after our lovely visit to Oxford?”

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 1.19.54 PMShe had sweetly volunteered to come with me and my daughter to the Plein Air event in Oxford where I was signing my latest book, Inn Significant, at the bookstore, Mystery Loves Company. I had been excited to go for weeks as my novel happens to be set in that sweet, picturesque and welcoming town.

“Nothing happened because of Oxford,” I told her. “It just happened after Oxford. I woke up in the morning the next day and didn’t know if I could write one more post about the book. I was becoming exhausted by the idea of book promotion.”

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When I told her more about it, she completely understood. So let me try to articulate it here. Forgive me if I don’t do it perfectly, but here are my thoughts on last Monday’s meltdown.

If you are not an independent author or an author with a small press, you may not understand fully the trials and tribulations of book promotion, but I know that these folks will get it — completely — so here’s the way it goes. Every morning you wake up with the thought, “How can I sell some books today?” For the last six years, that has been my relentless task, in addition to being a full-time professor, wife, mother, writer, blogger, and member of society who also likes to spend time with family and friends. That one, singular thought became an obsession for me, and here’s why: we care about our work, the stories we are producing as authors, but what good are they if no one reads them? The only way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to chip away at book promotion little by little, day after day. We write press releases. We enter book contests. We attend book talks, festivals, and signings. We are omnipresent on social media. We take photographs and come up with tidbits about our books to share on social media sites. We check our blog stats and our Amazon and Barnes & Noble pages to see how many books we have sold daily. We follow other people who are doing the same and see if we can learn from them. We see where we need to improve. We examine peak points on social media and try to post at those times that yield the biggest results. Then, we wake up each day and start over. And over. And over.

We drink a helluva lot of coffee.

And then we hit a wall.

Just like that.

Boom.

And the worst part is, I LOVE creativity. I love it so much, you guys. I love to talk about it, research it, read books about it, and just be creative through my writing and blogging and teaching, and yet, guess what was being zapped?

My friggin’ creativity.

Sucked away like Potter’s Dementors.

And so I had a knee-jerk reaction.

Stop writing. Stop blogging. Stop book promotion.

The problem came two days later when I realized that I didn’t want to stop blogging or writing, I just needed a sabbatical from book promotion.

I also realized that I needed to change my blog. It has been on my mind for a couple of years to rebrand it a bit, while still keeping the Steph’s Scribe flavor. As anyone in business knows, things can’t always stay the same, and change is good.  I’m one of the top Entertainment bloggers on Paperblog, and I have over 10,000 blog followers, so the last thing I wanted to do was start over.

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So you can see I’ve compromised. It’s got a new title, with Steph’s Scribe as a subtitle so I don’t lose my followers; it has topics that I would like to cover regularly; and my goal is for it to have a little more spirit and candor.

Not everything in life is roses and caviar, and I believe I didn’t always allow myself to be as candid as I would like. So, we’ve got a new approach and a new focus.

And now to you, my dear readers: I would love to hear from you about what you would like to see in the new revamping of the blog. I need some input. Creativity takes brainstorming and often can’t be done alone, so if you have some ideas for me, I am open and in need of them.

To those of you who wrote to me, people like Danielle, Jack F. and Jack G., Deborah, Elizabeth, Whitney, Heather, Linda, Leeanne, Chip, Laurie, and so many others, your words made me examine this much more quickly than I thought was possible. So thank you. Thank you so very much.

And while the “noise” may not be completely cleared and sent to Mars, it’s getting better. And while I cannot fully stop book promotion if I want my books to be read, I can still take a breather from it and perhaps manage the chaos in a different way. And while I may not be ready to write another novel, at some point, I will probably do it again.

And if I love blogging, well then, damn it, I’m just going to keep on blogging.

Was this candid enough for you? If so, I look forward to a cup of candor each week with you as we progress.

Love to you all.  Have a wonderful weekend…

Stephanie

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

How Pieces of You and People You Know End Up in Your Characters

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Luckily, for some people I know, I don’t write a lot of villains into my novels. As I do in real life, I try to not let nasty, uncaring, judgmental, ridiculously competitive and fake people seep into my world too often. However, in the short stories I write, I let them in because I don’t have to deal with them for too long, as short stories are just that—short. However, writers have to allow what we learn about people to grace the pages of our stories and illuminate our characters; these sketches of folks should glide into our stories seamlessly. As well, the same is true with the goodness and quirkiness and loveliness of people.

For example, in my recent novel Inn Significant, I texted my friend Charles and told him that Miles was based on him and my husband—kind of a conglomeration of the two. He had no idea, and was flattered by the depiction of Miles in the book. There are people in real life who can bring liveliness and charisma and charm to the characters you are writing—so let that unfold as the characters are made up of characteristics that you see in people.

As for us as writers, how much of ourselves do we let into our stories? I have a wild imagination, so I tend to consider the character and what he or she likes and what would make them that way. For example, in Inn Signficiant, the main character is Milly, and she narrates the book. How much of Milly is in me? Well, let’s see. We both love living near the water. We both are writers and like to read. We both love cruiser bikes, though hers is pink and mine is seafoam green. We both love our families. We both know what true love feels like. We both know what heartbreak feels like. We both value a pretty simple life. We both have a sense of humor.

What we don’t share is that she has felt tragedy, as she has lost her husband in a horrific accident, and goes through a bout of depression. And while I haven’t felt loss like Milly (thankfully), I can imagine its intensity, devastation, and profoundness. I also understand what feeling depressed is like, as I bumped up against that a few years ago during a trying time in my life, and one in which I learned a few lessons about good friendships vs. yucky ones.

As writers, we have to allow these things we know and understand to help develop our characters. We do allow bits of ourselves to show up in our characters, and if it’s not a bit of us, then it’s a collection of bits of others that we know, have interacted with, have been friends with, or maybe even have had a falling out with along the way.

The main point to writing character is to believe that they are real, and then make others believe that they are real. Make them so authentic that people completely understand them. That’s not to say that the characters might not drive readers crazy at times or make them shake their heads and say “what?,” but we need to put realism into our writing.

Plot is wonderful, but people have to be able to identify with the characters.

Years ago, I read the book The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbaugh. I read this book because I was writing Baseball Girl, and I wanted to read as much baseball fiction as I could before I published anything. While Harbaugh’s writing is absolutely beautiful—a true work of literary splendor—the characters were, to me, wholly unbelievable. I couldn’t relate to any of them, and truthfully, only finished the book because I was so deep in at that point, that I needed to see how it ended. But I didn’t enjoy it that much, if I’m being truthful. I desperately wanted to connect with any one of the five main characters in the story. I wanted to find some of their actions redeemable, and yet, I came up just feeling this way about it: meh.

My goal is not to have anyone say meh about my characters. I keep that in the back of my mind the entire time I’m writing.

So don’t leave yourself out of the equation when writing strong, memorable, and relatable characters. You have the potential to bring so much to the story.

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Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

 

Put Your Positive Pants On: Staying Positive Amidst Negativity

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Some people enjoy dwelling in negativity. All you have to do is look at some of the political media coverage in our country to know this is true. The media loves to dwell in and propagate negative thinking and doom and gloom, and it can be suffocating. When I feel this way, I turn off the television.

The same is true in real life: when people are filled with negativity, I tune them out as well.

This is not to say that disturbing things don’t happen today. There are, indeed, very disturbing situations taking place all over the world, but when we begin to allow them to affect our own personal outlook and ability to change things, it could hurt us in the long run.

I don’t like being held captive by negativity. By nature, I’m a positive person, but a few years ago, I felt myself go into a downward spiral, I didn’t like it, and I didn’t like who I was becoming. Not one bit. I made a conscious effort to get myself back to who I was and to the power of positive thinking.

Since I’ve done that, a whole lot has changed for me. For the better. I don’t have time to feel badly now—about myself, about others, or about the world around me.

Instead, I’m focusing on how I can do the things I want to do and be the kind of person I want to be in a positive light. I am in control of how I can make a difference and positive impact on people and situations.

There will always be those people who want to see you NOT do as well as they do. There will always be folks who are NOT rooting for you. And, there will always be a line of thinking that is not in line with YOUR way of thinking. These obstacles are just that—obstacles—and you have to power to overcome obstacles. Turning up your positive volume requires you to be strong when you have tremendous belief and passion. Forge on, and remember that the positive energy comes from within you and not from outside sources.

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There are a plethora of quotes and articles about the power of positive thinking. This stuff is real, otherwise, we wouldn’t pay attention to it. And, more than that, it is effective. Things can change for you by adjusting your sails, as John Maxwell’s quote above indicates.

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I had to explain to one of my kids the other day, who was being a little harsh on himself, that the worst thing you can do is to compare yourself to others. I asked him if he did the best he could do on a particular endeavor, and his answer was “yes.” I explained to him that I don’t compare myself to other writers, because if I did, I might start feeling really awful about myself. I told him that what I do is to compare myself as a writer TODAY to the writer I was YESTERDAY, or more specifically, I ask myself if my latest book is better than the one I wrote before it? The only person you should ever compare yourself to is who you were yesterday–are you better than you were the day before and the day before that and the day before that. Comparison leads to negativity, and we should just stop doing that immediately.

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If you want to compare and be competitive, then compete against yourself. That can certainly be a motivator. And, it can be easily tracked. You will know for sure if you are doing better each day.

Positive attitudes can truly change your outlook on things. And it beats the alternative of being down in the dumps, angry, bitter, and negative.

Just typing those words leaves me feeling uneasy.

 

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

 

Writer’s Toolbox: Tips on Writing Successful Description

Inn Significant | Available via Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com

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One of the tips I have students practice a lot in my college classes is writing using their senses. In case you have forgotten how to do this from your writing classes, it means to write using your sharpest senses. Start any passage by asking yourself these questions:

What did it smell like?

What did it look like?

What did it taste like?

What did it feel like?

What did you hear?

Sharpening your senses will make your writing vivid. Remember: we are shooting for the ideal, which is to transport people to that moment, place, or situation. When a reader becomes completely engrossed by your words—your magic ability to string words together to create a seamless paragraph that is telling and compelling—you have successfully transported them to that moment in your work.

Here’s an example from my latest novel entitled Inn Significant. In it, the protagonist and narrator, Milly, opens the contents of her dead husband’s box that she forgot she had moved with her into her new cottage at an inn. She loved her husband more than anything. Here’s the scene:

When one lone box remained, I opened it. I must have forgotten to label it. Gil’s belongings were inside the box. As soon as I lifted the lid, an aroma I had been familiar with for fifteen years wafted into the air, and I remembered all that I had saved. Gil’s favorite ballcap, the Orioles hat he bought at the ballpark when we went with a group of friends to the game; his favorite t-shirt from our trip to Italy; his college sweatshirt I seemed to wear more than he did; his wallet made of Italian leather; several cards and letters I wrote to him over the years; the Burberry watch I gave him on our tenth anniversary. I picked up the shirt, the one I could picture him in when I closed my eyes that said “Italia,” and brought it to my nose. He couldn’t really be dead; there was still a scent of him in the clothing. His wallet contained a picture of the two of us. I sat down on the floor of my parents’ cottage wishing I’d never opened this box. I wept uncontrollably, ignoring all the advice I’d received from Gretel, Angela, my parents, my sister, and even Miles.

After many minutes of inhaling the scent of my dead husband and having a complete breakdown, I heard the knock at the door. (from Inn Significant, by Stephanie Verni, copyright 2017)

In this scene, I wanted readers to understand that she could still smell her husband, even though he was no longer living. In her mind, she was having trouble acknowledging that he is dead. And while I never come out and say he smelled like——, it is understood that he had a smell that she could identify. The description of what she finds is vivid; she recounts each item for the reader so the reader can “see” what she’s uncovered from the box…his Orioles ballcap, his Italia shirt, the leather wallet. The reader can visualize all this stuff and can then, also, feel empathy for Milly as she removes it all, one by one, from the box.

When I’m teaching a writing course at my university, I use this example in class: What do you picture if I say, “The house at the corner of the street.”

If I say that to you, we all picture different houses at the corner of a street.

Diagon Alley at Universal Studios, Florida.

Now, if I say this, “The white house with green shutters, overflowing, vibrant flower boxes, and a curved slate walkway with a white picket fence,” a clearer picture comes to the reader’s mind. It’s easy for us to use our imaginations, but we appreciate that we actually can “see” the image the writer is creating for us.

Why do you think our mouths drop open when we visit Diagon Alley at Universal Studios? It’s because it looks exactly the way J.K. Rowling described it in the Harry Potter books. The description has come to life.

And so should yours when you are writing.

Allow yourself time as a writer to do this.

Practice using your senses; they will take you places.

 

 

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

“Beautiful. Brilliant. A Work of Literary Art.” – Summer Book Giveaway on Amazon

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A couple of good things have happened over the last two weeks. First, Inn Significant received a Finalist Award from the National Indie Excellence Awards. Second, Inn Significant received a 5-Star review from Readers’ Favorite. I think those two honors warrant another giveaway for the book, don’t you?

To enter to win a book in my Amazon giveaway, just click this link and it will take you there. https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/7bf380fda4adadf1

And then, let me take you to Oxford, Maryland (click here to see an lovely overview of the town form Only in Your State), where one reader said, “Brilliant. Beautiful. A work of literary art. The vivid imagery of Oxford, as you did with Annapolis in Beneath the Mimosa Tree, is just outstanding. No, its not just outstanding. It is compelling. It inspires me to return to a town I have twice loved.”


I hope you’ll enter to win and see what I’ve been up to, not just here on the blog, but in my novel-writing life.

I’d love the privilege of telling you a story.

 

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

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Overwhelmed at Work? Block Out Some Time for Yourself | Book Review

The other night when a group of ladies met to discuss my current novel, Inn Significant, for their book club, they asked me this question: “When do you find time to write? As a busy college professor with a family and other obligations, how do you find the time?” The answer is highlighted in today’s blog post: I block out time. And guess what? It’s easy to block out time to do something you love. That’s me today, just finishing writing this blog post, which I blocked out time to do. Enjoy!

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Here’s the scenario: Your inbox is overflowing. You have tons of emails to respond to, in addition to answering social media inquiries, answering texts, and making phone calls. You arrive at work and you already feel overwhelmed with what you must accomplish. You are all set to be productive, and then your balloon slowly begins to deflate as you sit sipping your morning coffee being totally reactionary and not proactive about what you need to accomplish. You know you have things you need to get done, and hope you can squeeze that in during the day.

Does this scenario sound familiar at all? If so, I’ve got some help for you, and it comes in the form of a little book called Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build You Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei. This book gets right at the heart of managing your daily work responsibilities, while also incorporating time for your own work pursuits. Comprised of short articles from experts in the field, you’ll find yourself nodding along and wanting to better construct your daily schedule. I’m certain of it.

While the book focuses on creative types primarily, it is perfect for anyone who feels overwhelmed by technology’s ability to creep into our lives and not leave us alone—not even for an hour or two while we work on something important.

The idea of “chunking” or “blocking out time” on your own calendar to be productive is at the heart of this book. As worker bees, we need to be productive and we need to answer emails. This is true. However, that should not come at the expense of our creative endeavors. They have to be in conjunction with each other.

The book’s brilliant suggestion is to make that morning time YOUR time. Get in early to work when you are fresh and block out the first hour or hour and a half that is YOUR time to do YOUR projects. This makes you less reactionary. Now you are working on things that make your heart sing and make you happy to get to work. Sure, some people may say you didn’t respond to their email fast enough, but you’ll respond in the afternoon (unless it’s absolutely pressing, then I’d get that one done and move on).

It’s so true that we don’t make time for our projects because our day tends to spiral out of control. We lose it to putting out fires, responding to the deluge of emails, or attending meetings that take inordinate amounts of time away from our true productive tasks.

If you’re someone who likes structure during his or her day while also being as productive as possible, I would suggest reading this book. It also has some good examples, like the one I read last night about how someone like Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, blocks out time for his creative endeavors each morning. It provided a lot of inspiration as to how to use your time wisely.

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

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