Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Benefits Of Reading

Whether you're a writer who reads or a reader who writes, you can only benefit from your reading habit.

I feel bad for those who seldom read books. Have you ever heard someone say Nah, I don't like to read. I'd rather watch TV. I'm sure you all know people who have said that or something similar. My inward reaction is that they miss so much. I'm not much of a TV fan. I have a few shows, and they're very few, that I enjoy but I much prefer reading in the evening than sitting in front of a screen.

I will admit that, as a kid, I became totally addicted to movies. TV was not in every home and movies were our main form of entertainment. How I loved them! The theaters changed venues a couple times a week and often showed a double feature plus a news short and a cartoon. And the coming attractions, of course. Those short bits showing what the next movies would be hooked me every time. I had mental lists of the ones I wanted to see. Which was usaully all of them!

Even with my movie addiction, I grew up being an avid reader from the first Dick and Jane books on to my adult choices. Always have been, still am, and will be as long as my mind and eyes hold up. Here are a few of the benefits I've derived from my reading habit.

I've traveled the world through reading. 

I've met people from every walk of life through reading.

I've gathered information of all kinds through reading. 

I've escaped from everyday cares through reading.

I've run the gamut of emotions through reading.

I've been entertained countless hours through reading.

I've been helped in my writing through reading.

Can you become a reader later in life if you've spurned it in the past? Yes, it can be done. My son read only what he had to for school and once he'd graduated from college, he pushed books far into the background of his life. He did read newspapers daily but never a novel. Ever! His wife and two daughters are all readers and one day a few years ago, his daughter got him to read a novel she'd enjoyed. He did it for her, I'm sure, and to his utter surprise, he was hooked. At the time, he traveled a lot for his job, and he found out that taking a paperback novel with him helped get through those hours of waiting in airports and on airplanes. So, yes, you can become a reader later in life.

I don't feel guilty about reading. Whatever else I may be shirking will most likely still be there waiting when I finish the book. Rationalization? Perhaps but readers can always find a reason to read.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Icing On The Cake

Today's post is an article that I wrote for a Children's Writer's Newsletter a few years ago. Although originally geared to people who write for children, the information works just as well for those who write for adults. I interviewed two people I considered experts in their field for the article. 

The Icing On The Cake
By Nancy Julien Kopp

A cake with no icing is about as appealing as toast with no butter. The
basic food is there, but the special something that makes it taste so good
is missing. The icing makes the cake sweeter, prettier, and more
appealing. A story may have a good plot but without the little extra, it
may end up being rather ordinary.

Sensory details enhance a story like the icing on that cake. We use our
five senses hundreds of times a day without being conscious of doing so.
Think about the many every day things you do that involve your senses.
When you look out your kitchen window and see a bird, your mind registers
more than the fact that you saw a bird. You know that it is a bird, you
know the color, the size, and perhaps the sound it makes, you know how
soft the feathers would feel if you stroked it. We see, hear, smell, taste
and touch with our daily experiences, so why not include them in our stories?

Children relate to things in their personal surroundings. They know that
the bristles of a brush might feel scratchy. They squeal with delight at
the sound of the ice cream vendor, and they wrinkle their noses when
taste-testing a new food not to their liking. Include these experiences in
the stories they read, and you could end up being a sought-after
author-the writer who made the story come alive.

Margaret Shauers, author of many children's stories and regular columnist
at Write4Kids, says "The way humans communicate is through shared
experiences and emotions, and we experience life through the five senses."
Ms Shauers has a word of warning. "We rely too much on sight and need to
hone our skills at the other four. Keeping a sense diary helps-a short
sentence or two about each sense every day." She admits that it is easiest
to include sight and sound in children's stories. Touch runs a close
third, but taste and smell are senses she must concentrate on when she writes.

Look at the sentences below. Which example in each set is more interesting?>

1.  Sam saw a big wave.  Or   Sam's heart leaped in his chest when he
spied the huge wall of water headed his way-taller than his basketball
goal at home.

A few added words allows the reader to see the wave headed for Sam.

2.  Sally heard thunder.    Or   Sally covered her ears when thunder
boomed overhead and echoed across the prairie. The wind whistled through
the tall grasses as she raced toward home.

We know that the noise is very loud if Sally has covered her ears, and we
can discern the sound in the grass, too, through the active verb form.

3.  The dead mouse smelled bad.    Or    The rotten stench of the dead
mouse made Susie gag, and clap her hand over her nose and mouth.

Gagging and covering her nose and mouth illustrates the nasty smell so
much better than simply telling the reader the mouse smelled.

4.  Tommy didn't like the vegetable.    Or    The slimy, green spinach sat
on Tommy's tongue and refused to move any farther. He'd never be able to
swallow the bitter stuff.

Here we not only know what the taste is, but we can also see the vile
veggie Tommy is trying to eat.

5.  Jody petted the cat.  Or   Jody giggled when the cat's soft fur
tickled her hand as she stroked him.

The sense of both touch and hearing are evident in this last sentence.

Did you notice that the first sentence in each group was a telling
sentence, while the next one showed what happened. Using sensory details
remedies too much telling.

Picture book author, Barbara Santucci, pays close attention to sensory
details in her three picture books--Anna's Corn, Loon Summer, and Abby's Chairs.
Ms Santucci says "The more sensory details we include, the richer our
writing becomes, and the more able we are to show and not tell the story
plot and the emotions we are trying to convey." Anna's Corn is a story
built around the sound of corn growing in Anna's grandfather's field.
There is, of course, a good deal more to the story, but the music of the
corn Anna remembers figures strongly in this tale of loss.

Ms. Santucci adds "Our writing should create concrete and vivid images in
the minds of readers that help them experience the emotions of the
characters, thereby creating a mind and heart connection between the story
and the reader."

That "mind and heart connection" is what a children's author strives for.

Adding lively sensory details will achieve that connection more easily.
For most of us, it's not a given. We need to practice writing those
sensory details so that they become second nature when writing a new
children's tale. Let sight, sound, smell, taste and touch be the icing on
the cake in your stories.

* Keep a Sense Diary. Write a short sentence or two about each sense
    * Practice writing phrases that include sensory details
    * Watch for sensory details when you read.
    * Be observant. Take note of the sensory details in your daily life.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Writing Exercise

Here's a picture prompt exercise for you that has a little something more to help you get started. Ken took the picture when we were in Germany this past summer.

I've given you the opening paragraph below. Use it and the picture to help you create a scene or a full story. Be creative. Use sesnrory details. Give us a sense of place. Tall order for a Monday!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving but there will be no turkey and cranberries for me this year. I'm in Hamburg, Germany on a tough assignment. I feel so depressed already that I can only imagine what depths I'll sink to tomorrow. This charming house where I'm staying will not be filled with the Thanksgiving aromas I long to savor. What can I do to save the day? 

Friday, November 21, 2014

My Two Keywords For Writers Plus One More

Friday seems a good day to talk about the advice in the poster above. You who read the blog on a regular basis know that my two keywords for writers are patience and persistence. The poster says the same thing but in a more poetic way. Still, for me, those two words sum up the attitude that a writer needs to have or acquire.

Most of us don't have patience when we start writing and subbing our work. It comes slowly over the years as we wait and wait and wait to get a response from an editor or agent. The persistence is also a learned thing. The easy way is to give up when our writing career doesn't skyrocket in a matter of months. If you're serious about being a writer and being published, you need to persist relentlessly.

This writing game is definitely not for the faint of heart. If you have been writing for a long time and and have had your work published, you're strong as the lion who claims to be king of all he surveys. If you persist, you're tough. You're courageous. You're self-confident. Maybe you have all these qualities in different degrees. And maybe you're strong for awhile, then slide back.

That's perfectly alright. It's normal. If you made a line graph of your writing journey, it would probably resemble a roller coaster ride at an amusement park. There will be ups and downs from start to the present and continue that way into the future. Even top authors who sell books by the carload have those ups and downs. Let's face it--not every one of their books rates the same with readers. Some will be far higher on the chart than others.

In the poster above, there is one more keyword to add to my own patience and persistence. That one is believe. Consider it step one in your writing journey. We all need ot believe in ourself as writers. With each success we have, that belief becomes a little stronger. Key here is to not let the rejections and the downs in your writing life poke a hole in the belief balloon. When you write something that leaves you feeling satisfied with the end result, believe in yourself. When someone critiques your work and has more positives to say than negative, believe in yourself. I can't do it for you. Your spouse can't do it for you. Believing in yourself is entirely up to you.

Years ago, I attended a writing conference in Kansas City. Loved soaking up all the workshop material but I couldn't tell you today what any of those workshops were about. What I have never forgotten, however, is the motivational speaker after lunch. Her topic centered on not being afraid to tell people you are a writer. Being a newbie at the time, I had been reluctant to announce to others that I was a writer, even though I'd had a few successes. By the time the woman finished speaking, I had the courage and the belief in myself to say "I am a writer." Try it--even if you start by looking in the mirror and saying the words.

If you haven't acquired belief in yourself, patience on your writing path, and continued persistence, it might be time to work on an attitude adjustment. Build yourself up, don't tear yourself down.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Nonfiction Contest--No Entry Fee, Published or Unpublished Work

I've been waiting to enter the following contest. Those of you who have been writing family stories and your family history might give consideration to this contest, too. This is the announcement I found a few months ago.
2014 GENEii Family History Writers Contest Opens

NOW is the time to write your family's history. Submissions will be accepted for the 2014 GENEii Family History Writing Contest beginning 01 Nov 2014. Contest closes on 31 Dec 2014.
The GENEii Writing Contest is for factual articles: either family history or local history, character sketches, or memoirs. Winning entries capture a sense of a family's experience(s), the character of a locality, or reveal an individual's character and personality. Complete contest rules can be found here and a brochure can be downloaded here. Winning stories for the past 10 years can be found here.
Cash prizes are awarded in two categories: articles (1000 to 2000 words: $200, $100, and $50) and Category 2 (under 1000 words: $100, $50, and $25).

To read the specific guidelines go to this link and download the brochure. Note that there are two categories, mainly marking  a difference in word count. Your entry can be a purely factual history or a character sketch/memoir which allows you to be a little more creative, still keeping to the facts.

You are not restricted to history of southern California history, anyplace is eligible. They state that entries have come from around the world. There are cash prizes and publication possibilities. One thing I especially liked is that your entry can be either a published or unpublished piece. Another plus is that there is no entry fee.

Ponder on this today. Do you have something already written, or even published, that you might enter? Or do you have a thought about a new piece to write specifically for this contest? I am considering a story about my grandparents that has been published. Before I send it, I am going to expand on parts of it, add more to bring out the character traits of these family members. If you want to enter something you've already written, look carefully to see if you might improve on it before you submit. 

Read and study the guidelines carefully to see if your submission fits.

Note the deadline for submission is December 31, 2014. That gives you about six weeks. 

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Why Should You Attend A Writer's Workshop?

This is a candid snapshot of me teaching a workshop at our Kansas Authors State Convention last month. I must have been listening to an attendee's comment or question as my mouth is not going a mile a minute as is often the case.

The topic I spoke on was The Basics of Writing.  The program booklet suggested it was for new writers and a review for more seasoned writers. We covered a lot of ground in the slightly less than an hour's time allotted.

One thing I noted was the absolute attention those who attended gave to me, the speaker.  I hope they each took away some information that will help their writing and allow them to grow as writers.

There were questions and comments at each of the two sessions I taught. It was obvious that these people had come to learn. They weren't there passing the time until the social hour began. I would give a gold star to each one for pursuing growth in their writing.

The one thing we writers do not want to do is to find a slot we're comfortable in and stay there--even if you feel happy in that spot. In each workshop, I emphasized the importance of growing as a writer and that we should never cease seeking that growth. One woman stopped me the next day and said, The best thing you said yesterday is to never stop learning.

I don't think we ever reach a stage where we know it all. Even those who have written for years and years can benefit from new methods that come along. If a writer has the attitude that my way is just fine and I don't need to try new things, they may rue that attitude.

One of the reasons I attend conferences is to find out what the new trends are. I want to know what has changed in the publishing industry that will affect my style of writing. I look for the genres that are the hottest in the market. Does my writing fit there? Or am I way off in another land? What attitude changes should I make?

A topic at my online writers' conference about three years ago was Branding. When I saw it on the program, I must have had a big question mark on my face but by the time Mary Bower finished her presentation, I had a pretty good idea of this newer term. At the workshop I recently taught, I asked how many knew what branding was. Only two raised their hands in each session. If you are unawaare of all it involves, I suggest googling using the keywords branding for writers. You'll have a wealth of articles to read to help you understand what it is and how to achieve it.

Keep learning your craft. Keep up with the tools we use as writers. Keep up with trends in our industry. Don't ever stop learning!