Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Can You Smell That?

A Happy Smell

A Nasty Smell

I read an article about memoir writing the other day. One small section has stayed with me, keeps popping into my mind off and on. It's a very small part of writing memoir that could be applied in fiction writing, personal essays and poetry, as well.

Smell! That's what has been on my mind. Writers know that the sensory details they include bring life to their writing and allows the reader to relate easily. Narrow it down to smell for today. 

When you reach  back into your memory bank, what smells from you childhood do you think of? Which ones, good and bad, stand out? Is it the perfume Great Aunt Nettie always wore? Or the smell of the barn that Grandpa carried with him through his work day? What about the aromas in your mom's kitchen on Thanksgiving Day? Did your grandmother use a certain floor cleaner that you can smell to this very day? 

Here's a list of smells, odors, or aromas that I remember from years ago:
  • the big jar of paste at school that the teacher used to fill smaller jars
  • chlorine at the swimming pool
  • baking in my mom's kitchen--cookies, pies, yeast breads, cakes and more
  • gasoline at the station when Dad filled the gas tank in our car
  • a red floor oil tht my Great Aunt Jane used on her wood floors
  • the real Christmas tree we had every year
  • meat roasting in the oven
  • the fresh smell after a spring rain
  • carnations--they had a sweet, spicy scent unlike the ones today that have no aroma
  • sheets dried on a clothesline
  • Vicks Vapo-rub that Mom rubbed on our chests when we had a cold
  • the special aroma found the minute we walked into a Fannie Mae chocolate shop
  • old books
  • coffee that my parents drank daily
  • a mingling of wonderful aromas in the back room of my grandma's bakery
  • the after-smell of a cap gun being shot
  • bubble gum
  • bleach and bluing my mother used in the laundry
  • disinfectant used in the restrooms at school
  • ink used in a mimeograph machine
  • baby brothers' diapers
  • leaves burning in the fall
Make your own list. I'm sure you'll duplicate some of mine but also add others. Your list may trigger memories that can be used when you write a new memoir piece, a personal essay or even a fiction short story. Include the way the smell affected you and your reaction.

Exercise for Today:  Take note of smells as you go about your daily routine. How many different ones have you encountered in one day? Keep a list, then write something about each one.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Are School Libraries In Danger of Being Replaced?

I think every day is a good day for a book. Squeeze in a little reading time as well as your writing time. You'll reap the benefits over and over.

I read an article in today's Kansas City newspaper that startled me, upset me, and gave me a great deal of food for thought. The article detailed a new trend in schools. When librarians retire, new ones are not being hired. Instead, schools are putting in maker spaces to sharpen science and creative skills and to encourage teamwork.

The article states that grade schools haven't much need anymore for the libraries of 20 years ago. Children are given tablets or notebooks and can read books on them rather than go to the school library. We're in the digital age which I must admit to. I also think that the maker spaces are innovative and beneficial to the children of today.

Even so, it hurts me to think of school libraries being obliterated. The article featured a Kansas City suburban school librarian who spoke to her school board about the importance of books in a child's life and a place where they can go to select one of the many on the shelves. One of her quotes was "Stories, stories and more stories" and I imagine she stated it with gusto.

Four of the schools in this suburban area have hired 'innovation specialists' to run their libraries when fall classes begin. That's the term given to those who conduct the hands-on labs of creation and computer-assisted innovation. The movement is nationwide and more about robotics than dealing with reading.

The article noted that the word librarian was not included in the job description for an innovation specialist in one school. Nor were the words stories, books, literature or shelves. 

Innovation specialists need only be certified to teach elementary education. A school librarian is state-certified. There is a difference but I imagine the state-certified librarian will go the way of the dinosaur before too very long.

The maker spaces are deemed so important in today's education world that schools are seeking space for them, and that library is considered prime property.

Click on the article link above if you'd like to read the entire story. I'm in no way putting down the maker space movement but I am heartsick over the trend of losing our school libraries because of this new innovation. I worry that, over time, children will not seek out stories and books on their pc, tablet or notebook. I would hope that the classroom teacher would urge that they do so. The classroom teacher will have to put on one more hat. She/he will be the new librarian.

I think of the many hours of joy I have found in my school libraries and my local library and I want that for my grandchildren, too. I sincerely hope that school systems will find a way to include both the maker spaces and school libraries. Space and funding will be a problem but let's hope the librarians left will blaze the trail.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Look Back To See Where You Stand As A Writer Today

When you find yourself a bit discouraged about your writing world, it's helpful to step back in time and see where you were 5, 10, 15 or even 20 years ago.

Go back to some of your earliest writing projects and read them. Read them carefully. Use an editor's eye. Are you proud of them? Or are you cringing a bit because they seem a bit amateurish to you? Do you see that the topic and the points you made were good but the mechanics were pretty awful? Or maybe it's the other way around.

The fact is that most of us do grow as writers as the years slip by. We read books about writing. We receive critiques from other writers. We read other writers' work and soak up the good things from what they've written.We read blogs about writing. The problem is that the growth may be slow and we aren't even aware that we've moved a great distance from those beginning days to the present.

I hope you have kept all your writing both in your computer files and hard copies in a large leaf loose binder. If you haven't done so, I'm sorry to hear it. It is so very important to keep copies, both digital and hard copies of everything you write. Do you date the copies? I have to admit that is not something I did and now I wish I had. I know which pieces are from my early days of writing but someone who goes through my hard copies years from now will not. They might be able to tell the earliest writings from the latest just by quality of the piece. Or maybe not because whoever reads this later--grandchildren or great-grandchildren--are not going to look with the same eyes as she who wrote it.

When you look back to your early days of writing, how long did it take before you were actually published? Did it get easier as time went on and you grew as a writer? Did the quality of the publications get better as the years went on? I have always advocated that beginning writers start submitting to smaller publications because their chances of being accepted would be greater. Start there--yes, but then move on to better quality markets. If you start with the high dollar markets, your rejections are likely to be overwhelming and discouraging.

How about the amount of time it takes you to complete a short story or essay or memoir piece? Can you do it faster now than you did 10 or 20 years ago? Most likely, the answer is yes. The more we write, the easier and faster we can turn out a finished piece. Another sign of growth as a writer!

What about the mechanics of writing in those early pieces? Did you use a lot of cliches? I did! Did you use more passive verbs than active? I did. Did you sprinkle the piece with unnecessary words? I definitely did. Did you repeat the same idea using different words because your weren't sure your reader would 'get it?' I did that, too. I committed the sins of all beginning writers and I think most of you did, too.

We do travel great distances over the years that we write. It takes looking back and some assessment of those early days compared to right now before we are fully aware of how far we have traveled in our writing journey. After you've checked out those early writings and compared them to what you write now, give yourself a pat on the back. Whether it's been only a few short years or a good many, whatever you've achieved, you've earned by hard work. Maybe you feel like you've reached the pinnacle of your writing journey. I hate to put a pin into your balloon, but with every year that goes by, you should grow even more. We can get closer and closer to the top but I'm not sure we ever want to actually reach it. Where would we go next?

Spend some time this week-end looking back to see where you started and how far you've come. You might be in for a pleasant surprise.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Are You A Positive Or A Negative?

Maybe I don't need to write a post today. This poster says it all so very well. Superb advice for our writing life and the rest of it, as well. However, being word-loving me, I will add my thoughts to the quote above. Do remember that this is my opinion. You may have an entirely different viewpoint.

We all know the old cliche It's water over the dam. Might be old but it still works when we start crying over what happened before today. It's done. It's over. You aren't going to be able to change it. Forget it!

That's easy to say but not always so easy to do. Many of us have to work at having the ability to put the past behind us and look ahead. It seems people are divided into the positives and the negatives. The negatives are more likely to dwell on the broken pieces of yesterday while the positives are going to have an easier time in looking ahead and beginning anew.

I fall into the positives group and I'm thankful that I do. How does it happen? How do we become one or the other? If we want to change, how do we do it?

When I look back at my growing-up years, it seems to me that I should have fallen into the negatives group. My dad was one of the original male chauvinists. He really believed that women could not do a man's job and he made it very clear to all how he felt. As far as he was concerned, my lot in life would be to marry, bear children and wait on others. I've done that and a whole lot more. What I'm pointing out is that my positive nature came out very early. Maybe it was a I'll show him! kind of thing. One of the reasons I try to stay positive and look ahead rather than back is that I know doing so makes me feel better. So why not pursue the pluses in life so that I can continue to feel better?

Do I ever get down? Do I ever sound negative? Of course, I do but I don't let it take hold of my life and continue in the same vein. Ever give yourself a verbal spanking? Well, I have done so many times, especially when those negative feelings begin to creep up. I can talk myself right out of them and start looking ahead.

If the writing project you're working on gave you fits yesterday, look at today as a whole new beginning. Start with a positive attitude and I bet your writing works out better, too. Wallow in yesterday's problems and today could very well end up the same way.

Why are some people more prone to dwell in the negatives? Fear and lack of self-confidence come into play here. Life experiences are also a factor but I think that there is something inborn in people that might push them into either that positive or negative group. That doesn't mean you have to stay there. You can work your way out and it might really be hard work.

There are also people who fall in the middle; they have both positive and negative tendencies. Might depend on which way the writing wind is blowing. Decide which place you are most comfortable. If you want to change, start a little at a time. If you're happy in whichever group you're in, then stay there but remember that it was your choice.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Voice in Writing

How is a writer going to be separated from other writers? One way is to develop your own voice as a writer. Many writers become confused as to what voice in writing is.

Voice is your style, your way of writing that is different from other writers. It's unique to you. It's the way you talk transferred to your writing. If you're born and bred in the deep South, your voice is going to come through in a very different manner than someone from New Hampshire. In addition, your life experiences will influence the voice you use when you write.

Those two people above are trying to shout each other down. They should forget that and work on developing their own voice for the stories or essays or articles that they write.

Have you ever heard a reader mention that they love a certain author and read all of his/her books? One of the things they find attractive is the voice that writer has developed. It's the way he/she says whatever they say. It's a matter of style.

Make a list of your favorite authors. Then ask yourself what it is about their voice, or style, that attracts you. You may want to write just like they do. Well, don't!

Instead, you want to develop your own voice, one that is unique to you and you alone. How do you do this? For one thing, don't try to copy others. Be yourself. Don't try to write in many different styles. Find what is comfortable for you and stay with it.

The more you write, the more your voice will come through to your readers. It's almost a natural progression. Work too hard at it and you'll end up sounding like a chorus of writers, not just you.

If you're still confused about a writer's voice, use your favorite search engine and read several articles to get a clearer picture.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Troubles We Have When Writing

I think I'll be a writer. Lots of writers have started out with a statement just like that. Piece of cake they think. I have ideas that can be put in print ready for the world to read. Fine, but...

Wanting to be a writer usually also means you wish to be published so others can read your work. That part is not so easy. You may have a super idea for a story or essay and you're eager to get it all down in black and white. First draft requires some editing. You know that. So you hurry through and add a bit of punctuation here, cut a word or two, add a thought and call it done. Next, you find an appropriate market and ship it off to the editor via an email, then sit back and wait to hear that your work was accepted.

If only it was that easy! You may have a great story idea but if the mechanics of writing fall way down to the bottom of your Writers should... list, your work will be rejected over and over. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have the following in everything you write:

  • proper punctuation
  • using same tense throughout
  • clarity 
  • sentences that are not awkward 
  • proper spelling
  • proper antecedents
  • noun and verb agreement
  • not overly wordy
  • few to no cliches
  • short and long sentences to balance
  • not too many adverbs
  • dialogue that is easy to follow
  • no repetition of same words
  • active verbs 
  • minimum adjectives
Some writers have the opposite problem. Their mechanics would get an A+ from any English teacher but the story idea doesn't come through clearly and concisely. They ramble on and on and never get to the real subject. They intersperse too many other bits and pieces and lose the reader. Their introduction is so long that the reader is long gone before he/she ever gets to the meat of the story. They write long and convoluted sentences that leave the reader scratching his/her head. I'm assuming the 'reader' here is an editor and I'm also guessing that the editor is never going to accept the story that is written in this manner. 

It does not matter what the writing problem is. All writers have some kind of trouble when writing. The longer we write, the fewer the problems become. Nevertheless, writing a new story or essay or article does not mean we are always going to do it perfectly. Something is going to give us trouble. But guess what? The more we write, the easier it is for us to A. see the problem and B. fix it. 

If you get frustrated by the difficulties you have when you write, know this:  You are in good company. Bestselling authors have trouble when writing certain parts of a new book. Experience has taught them, however, that they can work it out. Persistence is part of overcoming a problem like that. 

Have trouble writing? It's one way you know that you really are a writer!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Write Stories About Family Weddings

Today is our 52nd wedding anniversary. The pink bells remind me of the ones that topped our wedding cake in 1964. My mother and I ordered the cake from the local bakery, whose owners happened to live next door to my parents. What a lovely surprise when they refused to take any money for the cake, giving it to us as a wedding gift.

Our wedding was quite small by today's standards. We had twenty people celebrate the big day with us. Our immediate families and a couple close friends. Even so, we were married in church and I had a traditional wedding dress in the style of the day. It was ivory peau de soie with a waltz-length bell shaped skirt, appliqued embroidery on the bodice. My veil was attached to a Jackie Kennedy pillbox circlet to match the dress. We had a wedding dinner at a supper club after opening gifts and being toasted with champagne at my parents' home. The reason that our wedding was not a big one is that the groom declared that he was not coming if it was over 20 people. I thought it pretty important that he be there, so I caved! To this day, he still claims ours was one of the nicest weddings he ever went to.

Ken had just started a new job in a bank so no time for a honeymoon. We spent the night at a nice hotel near O'Hare airport and went on to our new home the next day. The 'new home' was a furnished apartment in Zion, IL which is located in about the farthest northeast corner of the the state of IL. Right on the shore of Lake Michigan. I remember a romantic walk on the beach that Sunday.

When I talked to my mom the next week, I mentioned that I hoped she saved the leftover wedding cake in the freeezer so that we could enjoy it on our first anniversary. "Oh, there wasn't any left. Your three brothers ate all the leftovers that night!" And then she also told me that middle brother had come down with the measles that night, as well.

Even 52 years later, our wedding week-end seems like only yesterday. Events like this stay with us in our memory bank. There are wedding stories of all kinds that should be recorded and kept somewhere for others in the family to read. They are a perfect addition to your Family Stories Book.

Think about it--your children and grandchildren would probably like to read about your wedding. It doesn't matter if it was a huge extravaganza or very small. Or perhaps an elopement, which is what my own parents did. They kept it a secret for a full six weeks. My mother never wrote the story about their unusual wedding but she told the story many times. I am the one who wrote it for her grandchildren and others to read. How many women get married in a scarlet red dress and have to wait for the Justice of the Peace to answer a phone call and plan a fishing trip in the middle of the ceremony?

What are the wedding stories in your family like? Happy? Humorous? Sad? Miserable? Weddings bring out all kinds of things in families--good and bad. They all deserve to be recorded sometime, somewhere, somehow. If no one in your family has done so, take it upon yourself to write the story of your wedding. Or your parents' wedding. Or that of your children or siblings--anyone you are related to.

How about those wedding stories where you were a bridesmaid or a groomsman? Lots of good stories there.

Our wedding in 1964 with my parents