Monday, January 26, 2015

Preserve The Past

Novelist, Isabel Allende makes a good point for writing your family stories. All the past history in your family should not be forgotten. But it will be if all you do is tell the stories at family dinners. Sooner or later, the elders in the family will have passed on and many of those stories will be gone, as well. 

There are multiple things in our families that should definitely not be forgotten. My writer friend, Terry Needham, writes about a terrible storm in the Hays, Kansas area that took a mother from her family far too soon. She froze to death when she and her husband got lost trying to make it home in a blizzard. The woman was Terry's grandmother. That episode is but one of the family stories he includes in his book When I Was A Child. He has woven the story of the children who were left motherless in a masterful way. This author definitely wrote what should not be forgotten.

Many of us will never write a complete book of our family stories and publish it. Even so, you can write these stories for your own children and grandchildren to read and keep. But nothing says you can't write a full book of your own family stories. Many have done so. Memoir upon memoir sells in all the bookstores and at Amazon. 

Every family has its share of tragic happenings as well as some that are humorous or just plain heartwarming. Write enough family stories and the reader will begin to see each family member more clearly. Was Grandpa a crotchety old guy on the outside with a heart of gold? Or was he just plain mean like my mother's grandfather was? Did your Great Aunt Gert dress weirdly? Tell off-color jokes? Or swear like a sailor? I have an aunt that was so unique that I doubt she has an equal anywhere. I have yet to write about her but she's on my To-Do list of things I need to write. 

Weddings should figure in the family stories you write. Did your great-uncle desert his bride-to-be? Whose wedding cake toppled over before the reception? Which child was a flower girl who refused to set one foot down the aisle? Who passed out at the altar while saying wedding vows? Lots of things happen at weddings. Include them in your family stories.

Same thing for funerals. Not all the things that happen at funerals are sad in nature. Funny things occur, too. They might not seem as funny at that time but later make a good story. 

Our school days give us lots to write about. Consider how many years you went to school? And the different stages you went through during those years. Funny, sad, scary and thrilling things happened to us during the time we were being educated.

Weather creates stories within families, too. It certainly did in Terry Needham's book. Memorable weather experiences stay in our memories forever, but you'd better write about them so the younger members of your family will learn about the episode. 

How about the places where you lived? Those should not be forgotten. Some folks stay in one place for a good many years but others have moved around the country or even within a small area. Some have lived overseas for a period of time. What interesting tales can be told about places we've lived and the moves we've made. 

If anyone in the family served in the armed forces, there are surely stories to be told. What happened during basic training or when deployed overseas? Did your family member thrive on the military life or detest every moment? Did he/she make lifelong friends while serving? Did they learn a skill that carried through to the remainder of their life? 

I could go on, but you get the drift. All the people who think there is nothing of interest in their family history might be surprised once they try to write about the people and places. Don't let them be forgotten. It's up to us who are left to preserve the stories and celebrate the people in our families.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Take An Ounce of Courage and....

The poster above urges us to try. True that we'll never know what might happen until we do.

The problem is that sometimes it takes courage to make that first step. What holds us back? Try these for starters.

1. What if I try to write something and it turns out to be a piece of junk?

2. What if I write something and it's a wonderful story and then I have to measure up with all the rest of my writing?

3. What if I'm just fooling myself that I am actually a decent writer?

4. What if I write a good story but then have to find a place to submit it? That's hard work!

Let's look at each of these worries. And don't kid yourself, these are the kinds of things that many writers do find of great concern.

1. So what if what you write turns out to be a piece of junk? There's no rule that, once you write it, you have to show it to anyone, have to submit somewhere, or even like it yourself. The big thing is that you actually took that first step and wrote something. Go for it!

2. If you have written something you feel is really good, you'll do it again. Maybe not every time but you will definitely write a good story again. All writers have files of writing that they are proud of, writing that could be better with some work, and writing that is a 'forget-it' type. Nobody, or almost nobody, writes a blue ribbon winner every time they put forth the effort to write. Maybe what you put into the writing is part of what group it will fall in. The harder you work, the better the piece is most likely to be.

3. It's possible that you are fooling yourself, possible that you may never make it as a published writer. But that's OK. At least you took the first step. You tried. It's also very possible that you are better than you think you are. We tend to put ourselves down more than we should. So, don't be too hard on yourself.

4. Yes, dear Writer, it is hard work to find a place to submit your work and then make the submission. You don't wave a magic wand to find a home for what you writer. If only! You must study the markets and look for the best match for your story. You need to make a list of possible markets for each story, poem or essay you write. Lists and more lists. Some writers whine that all they want to do is write. That's fine if you don't care about being published but if you do want to sell your work or see it in print, grit your teeth and get on with the search for a place to submit.

So, take an ounce of courage and try. You'll never know what might happen until you do.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Photo Prompt Exercise That Might Be Hard To Resist

This wonderful picture was on the front of a Christmas card we received last month. It absolutely melted my heart when I slipped it out of the envelope. On the back of the card, I learned that the artist is a woman named Lisi Martin, born in Barcelona, Catalonia. Her paintings depict the wonderful world of children.

Use this picture for a photo prompt exercise today. Study the little girl and the rest of the picture for awhile before you begin to write. Then begin writing and keep going as quickly as you can. Do a freewrite just as we do for some Random Word exercises. Later, you can edit and revise your story.

If I were teaching a writing class, I'd love to use this photo prompt exercise and then have each person read what they wrote after studying the picture. If anyone would like to share with our readers, copy and paste your story in the Comment box.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Comma--Tiny But Meaningful

Grammar and punctuation often bring a rolling of the eyes and a sigh. Boring! might be the word most people attribute to these most important elements of our writing world. Well ladies and gents, they may be boring but they're also mighty important.

I'd like to hone in on one tiny part of the whole punctuation picture. That is the comma used after an introductory clause or phrase in a complete sentence. I do a lot of critiques in my online writing group and that tiny comma is one place I find myself making a correction very often. I am amazed at how many writers omit the comma in this instance.

Look at this sentence: 
Incorrect: When I left the beach the sun had dipped down to meet the waves. 
Correct:  When I left the beach, the sun had dipped down to meet the waves.

In the correct sentence, note that the part of the sentence after the comma could stand alone. That first phrase is not needed but it does add something to the sentence, doesn't it?  Try reading both sentences aloud. Which one is easier? The comma in the second one gives you a place for a slight pause, a nanosecond of a breath, which makes it much easier to read aloud. In the first one, the whole thing runs together. 

Even when only using a couple of words as an intro, the comma is needed. Look at the two sentences below:
Incorrect:  That evening I slipped into bed hours later than usual.
Correct:  That evening, I slipped into bed hours later than usual.

Once again, the second part of the sentence--the part beyond the comma--can stand alone. The two intro words tell us more. They let us know when. 

For a little more detailed look at using a comma after an intro phrase or clause, look at this page or google the topic.

That tiny little comma makes a whale of a difference when it is placed in a sentence or when it is omitted. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How Do You Feel When You Write?

How do you feel when you are writing, especially when deeply immersed in a story or essay you've been working on? 

When you write, do the cares of your everyday life vanish? Do you feel like you're in a world all your own? 

Does the act of writing increase your happiness quotient? Or does it up the anxiety level? Are you aggravated when you have to stop writing to attend to other things in your life? Or are you relieved?

I find that when I'm writing, I do block out all other things. I'm also happy, at peace with myself, and satisfied. Yes, even when a story is not going the way I would like it to. It's not what I'm writing as much as the act of writing itself that gives me these feelings. 

I think that there are also writers who find writing painful but also feel compelled to keep writing. It makes me wonder why these people keep beating up on themselves. But we humans are funny--we do a lot of things that give the psychologists fodder for their theses. 

I never worry about a piece being rejected while I'm working on it. That comes later when I actually submit it somewhere and only sometimes, not with everything. There are probably some writers who think negatively the entire time they are writing something. They defeat themselves in doing so. 

I question whether we can change what our feelings about writing tend to be. I'm not sure how one goes about making a change from unhappy to happy when writing. Anyone have a thought? Send us your comments on this question and anything else you'd like to tell us. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

SIT and STAY Isn't Just For Dogs

I loved this poster picture put out by Writing Sisters. So simple and yet so profound. Really!

Stop and think about what these words tell us. We cannot write unless we sit at the computer or with notebook and pen in hand. We cannot actually write unless we stay where we are and get to work!

How often do you go about your everyday life thinking about writing something but somehow never getting to that sit part of the advice above? I'm as guilty of this as the next person but then I reach a point where I force myself to sit in front of my computer. 

Next, I stay there for a reasonably long time working on whatever project is at the forefront on my  mental To-Do List. How do you do it?

One simple word covers it--discipline.  I remember when my children balked at memorizing assignments in school and in their catechism classes. Why do I need to remember this? I'll forget it later. They might learn something from what they'd memorized or it might come back to them many years later when needed, but I am a firm believer that memorizing as a young person helps to acquire discipline. That quality is one that can be of good use the remainder of your life. 

Just for fun, I looked up discipline on the dictionary website. Among several meanings was one that fits our topic for today. They even used a sample sentence that fit quite well:

activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill;training:
A daily stint at the typewriter is excellent discipline for a writer.

There are myriad articles on developing self-dsicipline. Google the term and you'll have plenty of help if you are a person who needs to acquire more of this valuable trait.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Word Painting

While looking through some old files, I found a short piece I'd written a good many years ago after seeing something that made me wish I could paint. Here it is below, unedited.  

Word Painting
 By Nancy Julien Kopp

Out of breath and heart pounding, I make it to the top of the hill. Tallgrass prairie spreads before me, wildflowers springing up between the sharp blades of grass, dotting the hillsides with bits of bold color. Not a cloud mars the intensity of a clear azure sky.  The strong breeze ruffles my hair, and I take a deep breath, pleasure encasing my very soul. Soon, the sun will turn to flame and begin a slow descent before the darkness of night covers the rolling hills like a vast blanket.

Oh, to be an artist and capture the scene God has placed before me. But a paintbrush and canvas are useless for a person like me.  I can see the spectacular display, but never would I be able to duplicate it with an artist’s tools. I earned C’s in art classes all through my school years, and only for effort, not as the successful result of any assigned project.

I sigh, survey the living prairie once more, and bend to pluck a wildflower. I twirl the blossom between thumb and forefinger, then head to my car. The dust on the gravel road swirls behind me as I drive, and thoughts dance through my mind.

Maybe there is a way to capture what I’ve seen here today. Since I’m a writer, I paint my canvas with words in every story or article I create. That flower lying on the seat next to me—soft as the down on a baby’s head, purple as royal robes, and delicate as lace. All of these phrases describe the pretty little blossom. I bring it close and sniff to catch its sweet scent. I think of more phrases to capture this beauty for others. The artist’s canvas hangs on a wall or rests on an easel for all to see, but my words can live on, too.

The artist may dip his brush into paint and splash it across canvas to portray the sky, while I paint my sky with words—words that articulate, emote, surge the senses, highlight emotions. Can the artist capture the movement of the tallgrass prairie with a swish of his brush? A gifted painter can do so, but I can, too. I sift through phrases in my mind until I find the ones I want. Gentle breezes cause only a slight stir in the stiff blades of grass, but a strong Kansas wind can bring wave upon wave as it surges swiftly across the prairie. My words flow as easily as the artist’s brush. I paint my words with passion and excitement. The picture emerges from the depths of my heart. It is the gift God has given me, a gift He allows me to share with others who read my work.

Danny Kaye, actor and comedian, said, “Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.”  I, too, am an artist, and I’ll dot my prose with colorful words as long as I’m able.