Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Seeing Possible Stories in Lexington, Kentucky


We are spending a few days in Lexington, Kentucky this week. It's Horse Country and also home to the University of Kentucky. You've heard of all kinds of trails but the one in this area is the Bourbon Trail where you can visit one distillery after another.

The weather has been near perfect--sunshine and 75 yesterday. We are with two other couples who are ongtime friend and are enjoying time together. The men have played golf each morning and the women have shopped and enjoyed exploring the area. Today, we are meeting our husbands, after gofl, at the Horse Farm for a tour.

Evenings, we seek out interesting, local restaurants. Last night, we ate at Malone's Steakhouse where the service, atmosphere and food all deserve several stars. The night before we tried a local Soul Food place that did the southern food justice.

We've found the people to be very friendly and welcoming. They seem pleased to have visitors to their area and I can say that we are happy to be here.

I see story possibilities everywhere we've been. Just a few are these:

  • I noticed the hotel manager slipping his hands into rubber gloves. "Getting ready to operate?" I asked him. He grinned and answered "No, I'm going out to clean up the parking area." I was impressed that he was not delegating this job but doing it himself. 
  • In a department store, the clerk looked at my credit card and smiled. "My name is Nancy, too," she told me. Just then, another shopped chimed in with "I'm a Nancy, too!" We three discussed having this old-fashioned name. 
  • The steakhouse we ate at was filled with amazingly interesting diners. Any one of them could be used as a character in a fiction story or novel. A man eating his salad with chopsticks, rather than a fork, drew my attention. I wanted so badly to go ask him why! 
  • Getting lost in a strange city, despite having directions, is always a good basis for a story line. And yes, we did get lost as we tried to find our downtown hotel.
  • The people eating breakfast at the hotel intrigue me. Why are they staying here? Where did they come from? Where are they going? Business? Pleasure? Health issues (this is a regional medical center)? 
When you travel, use your writer's eye as you explore a new area and meet myriad people along the way. Make notes to use later. 

I'm looking forward to our visit to the Horse Farm this afternoon. There should be many story possibilities there.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Paddling Your Own Canoe

The quote above is attributed to Katherine Hepburn, movie actress of the '40's and 50's.  Awards and admiration followed her during and after her Hollywood career. I think she was a perfect example of her own quote.'

Writers can apply the quote to their own journey. Some writers complain that they never seem to get anywhere, that they aren't being published as often as they like, that they aren't growing as a writer. If you're one of those writers, take a step back and look at how you've been pursuing your writing craft.

  1. Have you made enough time to write?
  2. Have you done enough research to give you the background needed?
  3. Have you revised and edited until the piece shines?
  4. Have you researched the appropriate markets or picked the same old, same old?
  5. Have you tried writing something different than you usually do?
  6. Have you looked for possible contests to enter?
  7. Have you submitted at least one piece each week?
  8. Have you given your best effort to each piece you write?
  9. Have you done writing exercises to practice your craft?
We'd all like to answer yes to these questions. If we're totally honest, there are going to be some no answers. None of us is perfect but we do strive to be better. If you want to answer yes to many of the questions, it's going to take hard work. You'll to paddle faster and faster. There is no one else who can do it for you. 

Mark the questions that are most important to you or ones that you feel needs work. Then make a list of what you need to do to improve. Pick up your paddle and move at your own pace. But do move!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Writers--Think About This

How long ago did you start writing? 20 years? 10 years? 1 year? More or less? No matter the number of years, you have made progress. Don't shake your head and tell me that you feel like you're stuck in a rut, have achieved little or nothing. Sure, you tell me, look at all the rejections I've gotten. Look at the frustrations I've lived through. Look at the writing friends who have surged ahead of me.

Even so, I am going to ask you to look back at your writing career. Think about the day you started. Think about the first time you worked up the courage to submit something you wrote. Think about the first rejection you received. Think about the melange of emotions you experienced then. Think about the very first time you were published and the effusive joy you had. Think about the many positives in your writing life.

And then, I am going to ask you to stand up tall and straight and be proud--so very proud--of what you have accomplished. Scratch the bad times. Consider only the good parts. You've worked hard. Now reap the happiness and surge ahead.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Rejections and Apples

It's apple picking time in many areas of our country. When I look at this basket of apples, I have visions of apple pie, apple cobbler, apple cake, applesauce, apple dumplings (my husband's fave) or just the goodness of a fresh, raw apple. 

In our writing world, we can compare our submissions to the basket of apples. We send our precious words to editors with the aim of being published. Our hopes are high but we are realistic enough to confirm the thought that chances of being rejected are higher than of being accepted. We fill our apple basket with work that has been published and we toss those worm-eaten apples, our rejections, into the trash. Usually in disgust.

Don't trash the rejections. Like the not-so-good apple, we can salvage something. We cut away the bad part of the apple and use the rest. Why not cut away the bad part of the rejected piece and use what is left? Take the remainder and build upon it to make it a better piece of writing. 

Take a good hard look at the rejected submission. I would suggest doing this a few days after getting the bad news. The same day you have emotions spinning through that wouldn't allow you to look as objectively as you can later. If you are lucky, the editor sent a note with the rejection saying why they did not accept it. But that happens only occasionally. If you get a note from an editor, pat yourself on the back. It means they did like something about your writing and perhaps they hope you'll submit again to them. Any editorial comment is encouraging. 

Mark the areas that are of importance to the piece in one color. Choose a different color to mark the places that could be cut--maybe redundancies, rambling away from the topic, poor grammar, boring dialogue--whatever it might be. Go line by line to check relevance. Essay writers sometimes forget to include that all-important 'universal truth' which is most important in essay writing. The fiction writer might have left out information the reader should have. There are any number of things that can either be omitted, changed, or expanded upon. 

When you go apple-picking this fall, or buy them at a roadside market or the local grocery store, think about those rejections. When you peel and slice apples for a pie, consider those rejected pieces in your files, the ones you kept. Take that first bite of a warm apple cobbler and remember that you're going to work on those rejected treasures of yours. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Ways We Write

One of the most repeated pieces of advice to writers is to write every day.  A worthy goal but not always possible. Life tends to get in our way and we have to answer the call to which situation takes priority any given day.

However, writers write even when not at their keyboards tap-tapping away. Let me list just a few of the places writers are thinking about writing:

  • in the shower
  • checkout line at the grocery store
  • in bed
  • filling the dishwasher
  • riding the commuter train to work
  • filling the gas tank
  • changing the baby's diaper
  • in church during the sermon ( oh yes, it's done quite often)
  • walking for exercise
We have story ideas swirling in our heads long before we sit down to write that first draft. Lines of a poem come to us at strange, and often inopportune, moments. A solution to a problem in the plot of a fiction story pops into our heads when we least expect it. 

We're writing when we do research for a story or interview someone that we will write about later. We're writing when we jot down notes to be used later. 

Even if you don't write something at the keyboard, or with pen and paper, every day, don't fret. I would bet that you're still writing in one of the ways pointed out above. Just don't stay away from the keyboard too many days in a row. Writing every day can become a habit but the reverse is also true.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Piano Guys--A Show Worth Seeing

Last night, we had the great joy of seeing The Piano Guys, an internet sensation, at the auditorium on the K-State campus. If you aren't familiar with the group, they mix classical music with pop in a very unique way. The show was just plain wonderful. Should they come to a place near you, do take advantage of the opportunity to see them perform.

I noticed many children in the audience of the 'sold out' performance. One of the men onstage said that one of the goals they have is to teach children and young adults to appreciate and enjoy classical music along with the pop. They obviously achieved that goal if the enthusiasm of the kids I noticed is an indicator.

One number they performed is brand new and just released. What a wonderful inspiration to young people and old about handling problems in our lives. You can see and listen to it on YouTube. There are several other YouTube performances of theirs on the same page. The video presentation of marvelous areas of our world is worth seeing along with hearing them perform. The video of some of their songs was present last evening, too. Some good chatter during the show, lots of lighthearted comedic bantering, and some spiritual offerings, too. Add the terrific talent of the two main performers on piano and cello and it is WOW! time. Check out their website to learn more about them.

As I sat in the theater, totally enthralled, possible lines for a poem kept dipping and diving through my mind. Wherever I go, writing comes to my mind in some way. I talk here on the blog about motivation and inspiration. Believe me, these guys can definitely motivate and inspire. I didn't have a pad and pen with me but wished for one to capture those lines. I did jot notes down when we got home last night.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Writing A First Draft

Has there ever been a first draft written that could be deemed perfect? Most doubtful! Even though many high school students will zip off an essay assignment in one sitting and call it done. Why? Because all they care about is completing the assignment and handing it in. 

But you, the writer, cannot be that nonchalant about your writing. You know that the first draft is nothing but the base of the building you plan to erect, brick by brick if need be. We need that first draft to see where we are going. We also must have it to find the places that need help or ones that should be cut out--sent forever to the land of lost words.

I love the quote above. It makes the point so very well. The first draft is only a beginning. How much you build onto that is the writer's choice. Some writers will do one revision/edit and call it finished. Others will work on a piece of writing many times before they feel satisfied enough to submit it to a market. That's the writer's decision. Sometimes, it's agonizing. With each revision, a writer asks: 

   Is this the best this can be?
   If I revise one more time, will I mess it up completely? 
  Should I give it one more go? 
  Am I satisfied with this result?

The more we write, the easier it is to assess the revised first draft. Beginning writers have a much harder time deciding when to call it finished. 

This past week-end, I submitted the first draft of a poem I'd started one day when in a real funk. The poem was about as negative as one can get. I set it aside and went back to it the next day. I inserted new, more positive, verses between the originals. It seemed to work better but it was still that raw, first draft. I like the word raw in describing a first draft. I subbed the poem and asked my writing group if they thought it too simple to be worth anything. I expected little or no response but was pleasantly surprised when several critiqued the poem with praise plus some excellent suggestions for making it better. 

What if I had not submitted to the group? What if I'd shoved that first draft into a file and left it there? Of course, there is still no way of knowing if that particular poem will ever be published but after revisions, it very well might be.

Don't give up on a first draft. Remember that it is only a beginning. It heads you in the right direction for a finished product. Never expect perfection from a first draft. You're not that high school student who only wants to complete an assignment. You're a writer who wants to produce a polished piece of writing. The first draft cannot swirl in your mind forever. Whether it turns out pretty good or just plain awful, it has to be written.