Friday, September 19, 2014

Will The Sun Come Up Tomorrow?

Last night, our Kansas State football team played a rare game on a Thursday evening which was shown on national TV. They faced a powerhouse Auburn team, ranked #5 in the nation while we are #20. It was a big, big, big game for us.

The stadium was full to capacity and then some, with over 53,000 fans that added deafening noise, cheers and a few jeers as well. The weather for the 6:30 game was near perfect. The teams both came out to play. The fans were ready, too. Our team held Auburn to 20 points, which is below what they usually score, but the K-State guys made a few costly mistakes that cost them the game. They ended up losing by 6 points.

Yes, the sun came up again this morning but I doubt the players cared much about that. Their thoughts are on the next game. Last night's game is history, it's time for them to move on. And they will. I know that as sure as I know that I'll write a new blog post next Monday. When practice time rolls around, coaches and players will work on those mistakes that cost the game. They'll watch film over and over until they're satisfied that there is no more benefit in doing so. The team will be ready to take on UTEP on the 27th. The fans will be back in the stadium cheering them on, too.

So, how does all this relate to your writing life? Think about it. You work hard to write a short story or an essay or a chapter of a novel. You give it your all, but perhaps you make a few costly errors in the writing. Things that an editor will spot immediately. Maybe the editor likes the general premise of what you submitted but finds that those little errors in the writing are too prevalent. Few editors today are going to help you rewrite a piece. They want you to send work that is publish-ready.

When your work is not accepted, you need to do what those football players and coaches will do this week. Go back and find the mistakes, make corrections. Write stronger, perhaps with more emotion. It all depends on what might have gone wrong with what you had written.

After any rejection you receive, the same thing happens for you. The sun will come up no matter what. Learn from your loss just as the football team should do. If you've made mistakes, your goal is not to make them again.

Last night, every K-State fan hoped for a stunning win over a great opponent. You hope for your work to be published with every submission you make. Sometimes it happens and, many times, it does not. When that occurs, move on. Don't beat yourself up over what feels like failure. Every writer knows that rejection is part of the writing world. We all just happen to hate when it is us who receives the rejection.

Yep, the sun will come up tomorrow no matter what today brings us.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Deadlines and Achievement

One more repeat post, one that was very popular when it first ran. 

Years ago, I told my five-year-old son he could not go to kindergarten until he learned to tie his shoes. "The teacher is too busy to do it for every boy and girl," I added for emphasis. For weeks, he struggled, gave up, and tried again and again. The day before school started, he achieved his goal. What happiness radiated from that little face when he demonstrated his new ability to me.

This little episode illustrates two universal truths. We push ourselves harder when there is a deadline and achievement is all the sweeter when we can share our success with others.

In our writers world, don't we tend to work better when there is a specified deadline? Of course we do. We think and think about writing a story or article but life tends to get in our way. We make vague promises to ourselves thinking things like Tomorrow, I'll get to it. Tomorrow arrives, the phone rings and we're off to another meeting, pick up a sick child (or grandchild) at school or....
But if a story must be sent to an editor by Thursday, we'll create time and get the job done.

That deadline looms over us, so we move it to the top of our To-Do list. The machine can answer the phone. Pizza places deliver night and day, so the family will be fed. Few of us like to dust or vacuum anyway, so that's not a problem. The library committee meeting can go on without us this time and a niece will appreciate a check for her birthday as much as a gift. We need to block out everything but the writing project. We don't want to face failure or the humiliation of telling the editor the piece is not ready.

Achievement is accomplished by setting priorities and being firm in keeping them. Get your ducks in a row might be a good illustration. If we're wishy-washy, our goals float farther and farther away.

When we receive good news from an editor, we've achieved a goal. We'd love to share the good news with someone--usually someone who means something to us. Like my son, we radiate joy when sharing news of an acceptance from a publisher. Satisfaction settles over us like a warm comforter. That, however, is not the end. Success only inspires us to continue writing and submitting. If you receive eleven rejections and one acceptance, which one do you think you'll remember longest?

That small son of mine is now a successful businessman. He learned all about achievement before he went to kindergarten Here's hoping you did, too. If not, it's never too late to learn.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Stringing Pearls

A repeat post with some story links

We do not remember days,
we remember moments

I read the quote above at the bottom of a Happy New Year greeting someone sent me this morning. It fit perfectly with the topic I'd selected for today's post. I wish that the person who wrote this quote had been named. Sadly, it is anonymous.

We do remember the special moments in our lives with a clarity that I find amazing. I've had special moments that have stayed with me for the many decades I've walked this earth, and it's been those moments that have created those memoir stories that seem to be perfect for many anthologies. 

Each one of those special moments is like a pearl, and as writers, we can string them together to create a memoir of our lives. The individual moments shine in our memory bank like the pearls on a necklace. They shine and step forth clearly so we can write about them. 

One of my favorite pearls is a story I wrote for a Chicken Soup Tea Lovers book. My grandmother and I had afternoon tea at the famous Walnut Room at Marshall Field's department store in Chicago when I was four years old. Only a young child, I still remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. Because the memory remained vividly in my mind, I found I could recreate the event well enough to have the story published. Read it here.

Another is a story about a valentine box my dad made for me during my second grade year. I remember it so well, I think, because a revelation hit me while Dad and I spent time together making the box. You can listen to or read the story here.

Yet a third special moment memory that produced a publishable story is about the first time I had surgery. I was four and staying in the hospital proved frightening until a beautiful and compassionate nurse eased the experience for me. She set me on a path of service to others for the rest of my life. Read it here.
When an event occurs in our life that has some importance in shaping our character or signifies love and family, the memory becomes more important than the mundane things in our days. The memories are stored until we pluck them out and add one more pearl to our life'sl necklace. All it takes is a little trigger to bring the memory forth. Once it's there, it's up to you to write the story. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

All On The Same Page

Another repeat post about a pleasant day with people who write because they want to, not because they are trying to make a living with words. The 'friend' referred to in this post has passed away. Her zest for life and her commitement to writing will remain with me forever.

Yesterday, I drove an hour east and south of my home to attend a writer's meeting with a group by the name of Cat Tales. A writer friend is the coordinator of the group, and she's invited me to attend many times, but they met on an afternoon when I have another commitment. This summer, the meeting time was changed to morning, so off I went after breakfast to visit the group.

I enjoyed my drive through the rolling Flint Hills along the interstate on a summer morning bathed in sunlight. I reached my exit and followed the mapquest directions. Found myself on a two-lane, no-shoulder country road for about seven miles. I didn't meet a car coming or going the entire way but did see farmhouses here and there, so I didn't feel like I'd left civilization. But almost! Finding the cafe where the group meets was no problem as the town is very, very small.

The first thing I noticed as I approached the entrance of the cafe was a bench with a large International Harvester logo on it. I had to smile when I noticed it, as my dad worked for that company his entire adult life. The first thing I heard as the door opened for me magically (I didn't see the man standing behind it who had graciously opened it for me) was noise. Lots of it!

This had to be the town meeting spot, and a joyous place it was. The cafe was one very large room, and I found the Cat Tales group seated around a large round table in a corner. My friend greeted me and said to bring up a chair. Everyone around the table scooted closer to one another, as I joined them. Eleven women and one man all introduced themselves to me. Those who had brought something to read did so, moving around the table with comments from the group when finished.

The group was made up of mostly senior citizens. I gathered that a few have been published, but probably more have not. Many write for their own pleasure. One woman told about pursuing writing as a way of healing after a long, abusive marriage. But one thing stood out amongst the people who sat around the table.

They share a bond in that they are people who write. They are people who like to write and who have done what many others have not--they've pursued their desire to write. And they have come together as a group to share their writing, to talk about writing experiences, and to encourage one another. I don't think their intent is  to become another Danielle Steele or Stephen King but to put their thoughts on paper for self-satisfaction, to leave for family members and sometimes in hopes of publication. They are hobbyists, not freelancers working to put food on the table. They call writing fun, not work.

 They won't spend their senior years rocking on the porch, hands in lap. No, they will be using hands and mind to write myriad stories, poems and memoirs. They're all on the same page in this writing world.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Wannabe Writer's Son

A repeat post while I'm away from home.

Every writer was once a wannabe writer singing that song over and over. I wannabe a writer, oh Lordy, how I wannabe a writer! It's pretty easy to want that status but actually going after it is a different story.

I wanted to be a writer for the vast majority of my life, but I did little to make it happen. I gave myself one excuse after another. They were all pretty valid reasons--at least, I thought they were. Working while attending college left precious little time to pursue my desire. Next came marriage, still teaching and running a household for two. Still wanted to write but....  In a few years, I had quit teaching but was a stay at home mom to two children and helping my husband in his career by handling the social end of things connected to his job. Even so, I did take time to do other things I enjoyed. I played Bridge, read a lot, quilted baby quilts for a hospital gift shop, was a hospital volunteer. But I didn't try writing. I still thought about it but something held me back. It wasn't until we landed in a new community as empty nesters and where it was hard to make friends that I finally pursued my longtime desire.

Guess what? I wish with all my heart that I'd done so years and years sooner. But that's beyond happening so no use fretting now.

If you're a wannabe writer, don't give yourself a string of excuses like I did. Part of the reason we do that is fear. What if I am a terrible writer? I can almost guarantee that you will not be an award winning writer right from the git-go. It's a rare person who can achieve such a status. You won't become a good writer until you spend endless amounts of time writing. Almost every writer I know cringes a bit when he/she looks back at their early efforts. New writers generally commit all the no-no things possible. They overwrite, they are redundant, they forget the sensory details, they tell too much, they forget the use of dialogue--all kinds of things that they correct little by little as their writing life progresses.

I like the end of the quote above It's that easy, and that hard. I've found that most worthwhile things don't come easy. You have to work at it and maybe you need to work at it for a very long time. The important thing is that you must start. Yep, sit yourself down at the keyboard and put one word after another until you find a stopping place. Not gonna be a masterpiece, but it will be something you wrote. Progress! You don't need to show it to anyone unless you want to. You don't need to ask for a critique unless you want to grow as a writer. You don't need to do it again unless you really mean the words of the wannabe writer song.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Authors Don't Always Write Good Books Every Tim

We're traveling again so I'm repeating some popular posts for a few days.

I read a wonderful book recently,which shall remain nameless for reasons apparent farther into this post.

It was a real page turner and so well written that it grabbed me in the opening pages and held on until I closed the book after finishing it.

I decided I'd like to read something else by the same author, so I looked up her credits and found that the boryyok I'd just read was her second published novel. I checked out her first book at our library and was eager to read it.

What a disappointment it was. It was a historical novel, like the other book, but set in an earlier time. It had all the elements of what should have been a good novel. There was a little romance, a mystery, a ghost, descriptive passages, an interesting setting. But I had to littering slog through it. There was an abundance of unnecessary material, and I got frustrated waiting for something important to the tale to happen. I kept plugging away at it thinking it was going to get better. It didn't. Finally, after going two-thirds of the way through the book, I flipped to the final chapter to see what happened to the characters. It was then that it hit me that I didn't really like any of these people, could not relate to any of them. The whole dreary thing disappointed me.

It made me wonder why an author cannot write a winning story every time. Maybe it's like a race horse who cannot win the race every time they fly out of the starting gate. And maybe we shouldn't expect an author to write the same kind of story (an interesting one) every time. The ones who stay in our minds and who make lots of money writing have the ability to do that. Maybe we shouldn't expect it of every author.

I don't write novels,, but I do know that some of my essays and inspirational creative nonfiction is better than others. It would be wonderful to have a winner every time, but that might happen only in a perfect world.

I reminded myself that even though this author had written one excellent book and one not so hot, she did get two novels published which is more than a good many writers can claim.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Saddest Birthday On A Day We Must Never Forget

The Saddest Birthday

Today we recognize and remember the tragedy of 9-11. I'm posting a story I wrote some time ago. I ran the same story one year ago today. It still seems appropriate to do it again this year. Take a moment or two out of your busy life to honor those who lost family members and friends that day. 

Birthdays are special in our family, celebrated and recognized all the waking hours of the specific day. Not only a cake and gaily wrapped gifts mark the occasion. Extra smiles and hugs come the way of the birthday person, as well. Treasured memories of other birthdays seem to pop up during dinner table conversation. Daily chores might be cancelled for the honoree. In short, the birthday person reigns as the star of the day.

But in recent years, my husband’s birthday has been clouded over with a sense of sadness and grief. His special day happens to be September 11th. Never again will we celebrate without remembering that ill-fated day in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. 

That morning I’d greeted the birthday boy with a kiss and a hug and presented him with a card and gift. He smiled broadly as he fingered the purple and white shirt with the Kansas State logo gracing it’s front, and I knew thoughts of wearing it to Saturday’s football game ran through his head.

After the gift-giving, we settled into our usual routine. Since Ken had retired, we spent our early mornings reading the newspaper from front to back and keeping an occasional eye on the Today show on TV. We both looked up from the newspaper at the urgent sound in the broadcaster’s voice as she narrated film showing a plane flying into a skyscraper in New York City. In less time than it takes to sneeze, the tragedy repeated itself. And we knew immediately that it was no accident.

The remainder of the day found us tuned into further reports of the devastating occurrences which are seared into the memories and hearts of all American citizens. I never made the cake I’d planned on. The birthday greeting calls our children made to their dad were not filled with good wishes and teasing remarks. Instead, these adult children of ours were as overwhelmed with the day’s happenings as we were.

Late in the day, we received word that a baby boy had been born to one of our daughter’s childhood friends. Shadows of grief surrounded the joy we felt for Jen and James and their new son. As evening fell, it occurred to me that the birth of this baby and all the other babies born on this day might be taken as a sign from God that no matter what had happened, life would go on. These new lives became seeds of hope sown in sadness.

The American people banded together on that tragic September 11th. They picked up the shards of their lives and soldiered on. Hearts shattered, but prayerful resolve pieced them together again.

This year we celebrate another birthday for my husband on September 11th. We’re back to those special celebrations once again. I’ve been mulling over cake possibilities and worrying about what to give him to commemorate the day. Even so, we’ll take time to remember the saddest birthday he ever experienced and to honor those who’ll not have an earthly birthday anymore.