Ten Things Every Aspiring Writer Should Know . . .

In honor of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I want to share ten tips for aspiring writers.  Writing a novel is a significant challenge, but I’ve written five books so I know that it can be done.

Ten Things Every Aspiring Writer Should Know

1.  If you want to be a writer, start writing.  Don’t waste precious years of your life with the vague intention of writing “someday.”  Make it happen.

2.  If you want to write but don’t know where to begin, start a journal.  Learning how to sort through your real-life experiences will help you learn how to write meaningful fiction.  It’s also a great way to develop your writing style.

3.  Be original.  Don’t try to copy another writer’s style or voice.  If you want your work to stand out, it has to stand apart.  Your writing style should be as unique as your personality.

4.  Start small.  You don’t have to know how the novel will end when you write the first line.  Just start writing whatever bit or piece has come to you.  It will unfold if you let it.

5.  Keep an “idea book.”  Chances are that once the creative juices begin to flow you’ll start developing several ideas at once.  It’s a great way to keep track of ideas that come more quickly than you can write them into full-length books.

6.  Make your characters unforgettable.  The truth is, all plots are relatively similar.  Great characters can become part of the culture.  For example, consider characters like Frankenstein’s Monster, Sherlock Holmes, Jo March, Ebenezer Scrooge, Willy Wonka, and the Wizard of Oz.

7.  Use symbolism.  It’s the difference between a good novel and a great novel. Having a good understanding of the Bible is a tremendous asset.  Greek myths have also been used a lot in English language literature.

8.  Read great books.  Pay attention to structure, style, and the characters.  There’s a reason that books remain in print for years and years.  It’s one thing to know that Uncle Tom’s Cabin sparked The Civil War.  It’s another thing to immerse yourself in the novel and experience the power of it.  If you’re serious about becoming a writer, make sure you read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Little Prince, A Farewell to Arms, 1984, Moby Dick, and The Chronicles of Narnia.

9.  Don’t use profanity.  Nothing will build your creative use of language when you are forced to vent your rage in other ways.  This is also helpful in developing your style.  Besides, the creative phrases you utter could be worked into a book.

10.  Keep writing.  If you write a few pages and walk away from it, your dream of becoming a writer will never materialize.  You are the only one that can make your dream happen.  So get started and don’t stop until you’re satisfied with your manuscript.


A Professor Reveals What the Parents of Every College Student Should Know . . .

Unfortunately, the national college dropout rate in the United States is over 50%. Despite the rigors of testing in high schools, students seem less and less prepared for college every year. With midterms around the corner, some students will be facing the reality of a D or an F for their midterm grade. However, they still have half the semester to turn things around. Here is a list of five simple steps to help a college student pull up a low midterm grade:

1. Go see your professor as soon as possible. Let them know you are committed to getting a good grade. Ask them what your options are. Can you do some extra credit work? Is there a major project or test coming that can significantly affect your grade for the better?

2. Attend every class and take notes. There is no substitute or shortcut that can take the place of absorbing the information firsthand. Taking notes is important, because outside of extremely rare cases of photographic memory, no student can make it through college without taking notes. Besides, these behaviors indicate to your professor that you’re a serious student.

3. Develop a calendar system to keep track of assignments. It’s better to use a paper calendar rather than an app, because you can see the entire month laid out rather than one day at a time. That way a major project, paper, or test won’t sneak up on you at the last minute.

4. Keep your cell phone turned to silent while studying. The constant distractions of texts and social media posts are not conducive to concentrating on difficult material.

5. Remember that procrastination is your biggest enemy. This is true in college and in life. College is not a cakewalk, it takes serious effort. The sooner you take action to accomplish what needs to be done, the better your grade will be. Your stress levels will be lower, too.

For more tips and tricks to be successful in college, check out my new book A Professor’s Book of Secrets for College Success.


A Professor Reveals Five Secrets for Success in College

As a college professor I am deeply disturbed that the national college dropout rate is over fifty percent. There are approximately twenty million college students in America, and every year millions of them are bitterly disappointed as they walk out on their education, dragging a four or five-figure student debt behind them. A college dropout then has to try to find work in a stagnant job market, and with little work experience and a weak resume, it will be difficult to find anything that pays above poverty wages. If you don’t want this to be your fate, keep the following tips in mind:

1. Have a calendar system in place. The workload of college is too much for you to be able to keep track of without it. On the first day of class, take all of your syllabi and copy the due dates of every assignment in your calendar. It will take you less than an hour and it will be an enormous help. It can be helpful to have a paper calendar where you can see the entire month rather than an app that will only show you one day at a time. That way a big project won’t sneak up on you at the last minute.

2. Humans are creatures of habit, and developing a study routine is one of the best habits you can develop in college. Getting into a routine of studying at certain times of the day is great way to guard against your free time getting eaten up with social media, web surfing, movies, video games, etc.

3. Choose a few different study spots, like your favorite places in the library or in a study lounge. If you study in your room it may be too tempting to put the books away and watch television or play video games. But if you have a few select study spots, you will get in the habit of focusing on your studies whenever you’re there.

4. Keep your cell phone turned to silent while you’re studying. A constant barrage of texts, Tweets, and Facebook updates will be far too distracting for you to get anything done.

5. If you start to fall behind in a class, be honest with yourself why it’s happening. Is the material too difficult? Have you been negligent in handing in assignments? Are you not taking the class seriously? Once you know the reason, talk to your professor. Let him or her know that you are committed to getting a good grade and ask what you can do to pull your grade up.

For further tips, pick up a copy of my new book A Professor’s Book of Secrets for College Success, available in paperback and on Amazon Kindle. Get your copy here:


Memorial Day: We Didn’t Get What We Paid For . . .

No words can adequately honor any American military member who died protecting this nation . . . let alone the 1.3 million who have died in all of the wars that this nation has undertaken.

We live in a society that often says, “Freedom is not free.”  We also live in a society that says, “You get what you pay for.”  But for people like myself who have never served in the military, we didn’t get what we paid for.  The freedom that we have was paid for with the lifeblood of astounding, selfless heroes who died for people they would never know.  Our best and brightest souls volunteered to preserve a way of life that they scarcely had time to enjoy before they left this world.  As Americans, we walk in a freedom that is unimaginable to many people on this earth.  This nation was founded on the core belief that all men are created equally, that everyone has equal opportunity to work for the life that they want and to speak, write, and worship as they choose.

We owe a debt of thanks, gratitude, and love that we can never repay.  You may not agree with the politics of every war we’ve fought.  But regardless of what you think of any military conflict this country has been involved with, how can we be anything but humbled by the thought of people who are willing to die for us?  Who died so that we could get up in the morning, start the day peacefully and live the life of our dreams?  They rest under the green grass of quiet cemeteries as we embrace the fruits of their sacrifice.  Unless you’re a veteran of the American Armed Forces, let us never forget that we didn’t get what we paid for.  We were given a tremendous, nearly unimaginable gift that we could never reciprocate.

We owe to every fallen American soldier, sailor, marine, airman, and coastguardsman our undying gratitude, not only on Memorial Day, but everyday of our lives.  In the words of Abraham Lincoln:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

God bless America, and God bless the souls of those who died for our freedom.

The Neighbors: A Hilarious Show that Deserves a Second Chance . . .

If you’ve never seen The Neighbors on ABC, you’ve missed out.  Sadly, one of the most hilarious shows in the history of television was canceled after two short but triumphant seasons.  The Neighbors featured some of the most unique and original writing to hit the airwaves, played to genius perfection by a shining cast composed of Simon Templeman, Jami Gertz, Lenny Vinito, Clara Memet, Tim Jo, Ian Patrick, Max Charles, and Isabella Cramp.  Although each member of the cast is fantastic in their roles, the real standout of the series is Toks Olagundoye, who is just as talented as comedy legends Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett.

The Neighbors was the story of the Weaver family who bought a condo in a closed community only to realize that the entire community was composed of aliens disguised as humans.  The story lines often revolved around the misguided efforts of the aliens to live as normal humans.   Although the premise seemed farfetched, it was a masterful comedy featuring absurd situations and twists on wordplay that was unrivaled by anything on television.  From the aliens terror of children attempting to “invade” their community on Halloween (in episode “Halloween-ween”),  to embracing the joys of the petty politics of the PTA (in episode “The Gingerbread Man”), to trying to figure out the perfect practical joke (in episode “September Fools”), The Neighbors marched to the beat of its own drum.  The show didn’t really fit into a mold of the genre shows and it didn’t rely on sensationalized violence or the dark side of the paranormal.  It also didn’t rely on dirty humor (well, most of the time).

Sadly, ABC pulled the plug before the show had much of a chance to take off.  Whether it was because the time slot was changed or because there was very little promotion, it didn’t get a third season.  And so this is my plea:

Dear ABC,

Please bring back The Neighbors!  If you won’t bring it back for a third season to ABC, please put it on ABC Family.  Although I commend you for bringing a whole new standard of comedic perfection to the air, you can’t in good  conscience deprive us of it now!  It’s too cruel!  If you give it the time slot and promotion it merits, it could be a runaway hit as it deserves to be!

Thank you,

Jade Heasley (and every other fan of The Neighbors)

Luck vs. Hard Work

Every year around St. Patrick’s Day people tend to bring up “the luck of the Irish.”  The truth is, I don’t believe in luck.  This might surprise some people because I’m part Irish (and I have the curly hair to prove it).

To me, the whole concept of luck seems pretty farfetched.  Even if luck did exist, I wouldn’t want to sit around and wait for random chance to give me some sort of advantage.  I would rather work hard to get the opportunities that I want, it’s much more reliable.

As it turns out, some very famous and successful people didn’t believe in luck either.  Here are some great quotes about people who would be considered lucky:

“The reason so many people never get anywhere in life is because, when opportunity knocks, they are out in the backyard looking for four-leaf clovers.” – Walter  Chrysler

“I wasn’t lucky, I deserved it.” –Margaret Thatcher

“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Luck? I don’t know anything about luck. I’ve never banked on it and I’m afraid of people  who do. Luck to me is something else: Hard work – and realizing what is opportunity and what isn’t.” – Lucille Ball

If there’s something that you want in this life, don’t sit around and hope that you’ll eventually luck out.  Get up, work hard, and make it happen.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Reflecting on February and the Lives of Incorrigible Dreamers

February 3, 1959 has become known as “The Day the Music Died.”  On that fateful day, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died in a plane crash in Iowa.  Buddy Holly was 22, Ritchie Valens was 17, and The Big Bopper was 28.

Ironically, none of them were supposed to be on a plane.  They were supposed to be traveling by bus but the heater broke so they took a plane instead.  They never made it to their destination.

February of 2014 saw three other celebrities die as well:  Sid Caesar, Ralph Waite, and Hollywood legend Shirley Temple.

What do all six of these people have in common?  They were all ordinary people who had an extraordinary dream and beat the odds.  They made it.  For those who may want to argue that Shirley Temple wasn’t an adult when she started, I will argue this:  She never complained about being a child star.  She only ever spoke positively about the experience.

I have a term that I use to refer to people who achieve seemingly impossible dreams:  Incorrigible Dreamers.  They live lives that everyone dreams about it, but they sacrifice and strive and work and fail and keep getting back up every time they get kicked in the dirt until they have earned the very things that most will only ever dream of.  This kind of ambition is not for the faint of heart.  Most people never attain their dreams because they don’t have what it takes to make it through the long haul.

I would imagine that when most people think of February they think of Valentine’s Day, but when you reflect on the lives of these half a dozen celebrities it’s also a good month to be reminded that life is short.  Whether people live long lives, like Sid Caesar, Ralph Waite, and Shirley Temple, or whether their lives are cut tragically short like Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, our time in this world is limited.  We all have dreams, but few make their dreams into goals.  Are you striving to create the life you want?  Or are you content to lead a life of “quiet desperation”?

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

–Henry David Thoreau

If you don’t want that to be your fate, I encourage you to sit down and do some serious thinking and planning.  Don’t approach your dreams recklessly, but find an intelligent way to keep up with your current responsibilities and begin building the life that you want.  Take your time.  Sit down with a pen and paper and begin making a list.  And then make it happen.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

-Henry David Thoreau

To get your copy of my book “The Incorrigible Dreamers” click here:


Why Are We Still Obsessed with the 1980s?

I lead a very happy and fulfilling life as an author and a professor, so why is it that every once in awhile I wake up on a Saturday morning with the urge to eat a big bowl of Freakies cereal (discontinued about twenty-five years ago), sit around in my pajamas, and watch The Muppet Babies?  I recently asked this question on my Facebook page, and some of my fellow 1980s kids anxiously liked and commented on my status.  Maybe it’s because to those of us who were children in the 1980s the decade stands out in our minds as the gleeful epoch where everything seemed exciting and new.  One could argue that everyone looks back at their early years with nostalgia, but I’m not trapped in the past.  I have long ago given up the side ponytail, high-top sneakers, and I’ve deliberately purged my vocabulary of words such as, “tubular,” “radical,” and anything else that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would have bellowed triumphantly in their subterranean battles with Shredder and The Foot.  But to some, the 1980s have never ended.  If you don’t believe me, go to the mall, sit on a bench, and see how many mullets you spot over the course of an hour.  The few who still sport their vintage mullets are proud people, and you can sense the satisfaction that they get from the long cascades of curls flapping in the breeze created by the momentum of their own cowboy boot clad strides.
However, the mullet wearers and I are not the only ones who still experience a blissful enchantment when recalling the decade of floppy disks and VCR tapes.  A walk through any department store makes it obvious that the general public is quite anxious to snap up anything that is reminiscent of that time.  Leggings and oversized t-shirts are coming back in style, people are buying iPhone covers that resemble cassette tapes and vintage Nintendo controllers, and toy departments are filled with Rubik’s Cubes, My Little Pony, Transformers, and Plug-and-Play gaming systems that allow a new generation to discover the joys of the original Atari video games. There are special edition DVD and BluRay disks of iconic 1980s films and shelves are packed with CDs of best selling 1980s albums.
Maybe part of the appeal of the 1980s is because most of that time seemed nearly carefree.  After the troubles of the 1970s including the Viet Nam War, Watergate, and the gasoline shortages, things seemed to stabilize again.  With the stress and turmoil of the previous decade faded, people just wanted to strap on their fanny packs, hang out at the mall, and spend money on the newest technologies.  There was a genuine feeling of pride for any middle class family who crowned their floor model wooden television set with a four-hundred dollar VCR – especially if the VCR was equipped with a remote control.  Who could ever forget the thrilling rush of power when stepping into a video rental store knowing you could bring Hollywood cinema into your nylon carpeted living room for a mere three dollars?  A trip to the video store was almost as fun as going to the arcade, where jamming fistfuls of quarters into the glowing red coin slots of bleeping, chirping video game cabinets brought a joy like no other.
I think the reason that we are looking to recapture some of the magic of the days of neon splatter paint is because we’re all trying to bounce back.  For more than a decade, we’ve been facing the uncertainties of the economy, unemployment, terrorism, the wars in the Middle East, natural disasters . . . the list goes on.  The world today is very different from the one we used to know, and the shift is making us nostalgic for seemingly simpler times.  There were some troubles in the 1980s, the decade began with the Iranian Hostage Crisis unresolved, there were economic woes and unemployment, and the Cold War was in its final stages.  But as Americans we pulled through, just like we always have.  I think that when we look back to the 1980s, we are looking to boost our morale . . . and we often do find something that brings a smile to our faces.  Whether it’s remembering the soft hum of VHS tapes rewinding, the feeling of one pound earphones squeezing the sides of your head, or coating your hair (and your lungs) with magnificent clouds of aerosol hairspray, they were all a part of living through the 1980s.
Time is shoving us all into an uncertain future and most of us are thinking, “What’s next?”  As the old adage says, history always repeats itself.  I think that most of us are secretly hoping that times like the 1980s are on their way back.  We all want days of abundance, shiny new toys, and the carefree feeling that our troubles are behind us.  When those days come, I want to spend an occasional Saturday morning eating Freakies cereal, sitting around in my pajamas, and watching The Muppet Babies.
I don’t think that’s too much to ask.