Friday, August 26, 2016

Everyone Has A Story

We moved to a senior living community seven months ago. We eat at the restaurant here a couple times each week. If there is an empty place at a table, anyone can join those already there. It's a good way to get to know the other people living here.

Life stories get shared across the table that is covered with a white linen cloth and contrasting color linen napkins. A small vase of flowers sits in the center of each table. It's quite nice but even better are the people who sit at our table. Ken and I have heard some of the most fascinating life stories from the people who eat with us.

One woman seldom talks; she says she'd rather listen to others. But one evening, she told us about being a Navy nurse during WWII. She met her husband on a ship in the Pacific theater during that period of time. Anyone seeing her in a grocery store checkout line would be so surprised at the life-changing experience she had during wartime. No doubt in my mind that she could have written a book if she'd wanted to.

Another woman was married to a funeral director for many years. She has a great wit and can tell a story so that everyone stops eating to give their full attention to her. She says she wishes she could write a book about some of the experiences she and her husband had in the funeral business but being in her nineties now keeps her from doing so.

When you pass people on the street, you make a mental assessment of them. You know what they look like physically, how they are dressed, whether they made eye contact or not. But you don't know their story. Pass ten people in one block of walking and you've moved by ten life stories, ten people who have gone through something that changed them. It might be huge or minuscule but they all do have a story.

To help you create a fictional character, make a point of talking to the people you meet. Learn about their background. Ask about the work experiences they had. Or what happened while they raised children. Talk to people and ask questions. Many times, they'll answer and keep on talking. All the things you learn can be filed away to use when you write.

I've found that real people are far more fascinating than those we make up in a story we write but they can also help us create fictional characters.

Years ago, I started posting many of my stories on a website called Our Echo. At the top of the page, it says Everyone has a story. What's yours? Maybe your own life story will give you material to create a fictional character. It's certain that many fictional characters have been based on a real person, or a combination of people.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Grab Your Grammar Hat

Grammar is probably not the topic you would list as something you wanted to learn more about as you move along your writing journey. Boring? Maybe. It's also something that might make an editor toss your submission in a hurry if you write with too many mechanical errors or grammar no-no's.

The people in my online writers group are not beginners but I have seen many submissions where the writer changes tense in the middle of a paragraph, then reverts back to the original in the next. I will venture to say that most, if not all, of these writers know better but they get wrapped up in the content and errors slip by. It's one very good reason to have others critique your writing for both content and mechanics.

The three main categories of verb tenses are Past, Present and Future. I'm sure you all know that but if you are writing in past tense, then suddenly switch to present in one or two sentences, it throws everything off. Consistency in verb forms is not just a nice thing to do. It's mandatory.

I frequently suggest--even urge--writers to wait a couple days or even longer before editing whatever has been written. It's the little things like verb tense that will show up then. If you start revising and editing immediately after writing the first draft, you're less likely to catch the errors.

Strive for harmony with your subjects and verbs. If you have a singular subject, you need a singular verb. A plural subject requires a plural form of the verb. 

I remember grammar exercise sheets that my 7th and 8th grade English teacher handed out at the beginning of every class, five days a week. We had to fill in the blank with the proper form of verbs, adjectives, adverbs and other grammatical subjects.  It's a known fact that we learn through repetition. Some students hated those exercise sheets but I know that they helped me learn proper grammar. Ok, I have to confess that I enjoyed doing these exercises while many of my classmates did not. I have always been a word person while many others claim title to being a numbers person. For them, those grammar sheets caused a lot of misery.

There are far too many articles on this topic for me to link to just one. Use your favorite search engine to find them, then take some time to review the proper usage of tenses in writing. You'll find good examples of subject and verb agreement as well as the usage of different tenses of verbs. My aim here today is to make you aware of these two parts of grammar so that you will see them when you write, then edit, your own work. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Believe In Yourself

Yesterday's post centered on turning negatives into positives. One way to be able to do so is to believe in yourself. It's obvious that the kitten above has great plans for her life. She's going to be Somebody. She believes it!

If we grow up with parents who encourage us to try new things and to challenge ourselves, we'll have an easier time of achieving that attitude. If we had parents who consistently told us we couldn't achieve this or that, we might start believing that we didn't have the ability and stop trying. What a shame that would be.

Parenting books urge moms and dads to instill an attitude of I can do this! in their children. We should tell our daughters they could be president of a big company someday, or even president of the USA. We should let our children know that anything is possible if they work hard and have a passion for whatever field they choose to work in. Once again, the positives outweigh the negatives. 

My dad was definitely a male chauvinist and he readily admitted it. Nothing would convince hm that a woman could work in a man's world and achieve big things. As a teen, I once thought I'd like to work in the advertising world. Dad burst that bubble in a hurry. "That's way too competitive for women," he told me. I didn't agree but I knew better than to argue with him. I never did work in advertising but I pursued the one thing I was truly passionate about--writing. 

I knew that I had the basic tools to be a writer. I loved my English classes in school, from the early grades on through college. I had good grades in that subject and encouraging comments on the papers I wrote for those classes. That helped me believe that I could be a writer. I knew that it was a tough field to work in. More writers hope to be published than the number that actually achieve that goal. I never worked as a writer on a career path; instead, my writing is as a hobbyist, but serious, writer.

Even so, I did believe in myself as I worked my way along the writing path. Every rejection felt like I'd fallen down and couldn't get up. But I did make it to my feet and moved on. Part of what helped me move on was that self-confidence I had. There are lot of falls along the way to be a successful writer but you can overcome them. Bumps and bruises perhaps but also experience. 

We learn from our experiences and we also boost our self-confidence if we concentrate on the positives of those situations. When I joined my first online writing group, I knew I might not be as professional as some of the other members, but I told myself I would learn from them and reach a new level in my writing. That is exactly what happened. That group gave me the self-confidence to submit more and more of my work for publication. I still got plenty of rejections but I also received numerous acceptances and placed in many contests. Small contests, to be sure, but I tried bigger and better ones as I moved along my writing journey. 

If you believe in yourself, your writing will probably show it. If you believe in yourself, you'll make it in the writing world eventually. You'll achieve those small goals along the way and maybe you'll hit the big ones someday, as well. If you believe in yourself, others will, too.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Turn Negatives Into Positives


We encounter a lot of negatives in our writing world. Things like writers' block, rejection, fierce competition and lack of growing as a writer--they can all evoke anger, sadness, or actual depression. I doubt that there is any writer who has not had to deal with any or all of these problems.

We can deal with them by having a furious temper tantrum, thereby alienating anyone who happens to cross our path. What we are seeking is to vent our frustration and maybe to get some attention from a family member or friend. Unless they are also writers, we aren't going to have a lot of sympathy from them. They might easily adapt the attitude that you wanted to be a writer, this is part of it, now deal with it. They might come up with a superficial phrase like It will get better. Remember that they can't understand what you're going through.

We can handle the problems by being the saddest person on the planet--too sad to get out of bed some mornings, too sad to clean the house, too sad to carry on a normal conversation with others. Sadness tends to expand. The longer we have it, the harder it is to rise above it. We can fall into the 'poor me' syndrome pretty easily.

Some writers fall into a real depression over the problems in their writing life. It would be a relatively small number but if you're there, you know how debilitating it can be. At this stage, professional help is needed.

One way to fight the problems cited above is to turn the negatives into positives. Instead of falling into the anger mode or the sad situation, adopt a I'll show them attitude. Make I can do this! your mantra.

Rejections mean that you need to find a different market to submit to or start revising and editing the piece until you know it is improved. Look at it as a challenge. Ask yourself how you can make the story better than it was. I think every story, essay, poem or article can be made better. None are perfect; some come close but there's always somewhere to up it a bit.

If Writer's Block is getting you down, walk away from writing for awhile. Do other things that you've been putting off. Inspiration often strkies when we least expect it. When the urge hits, hie thee to thy keyboard and start writing again. Don't try writing an entire story or chaper. Write a scene. Move on a little at a time.

As for fierce competition in the writing world--don't let it trigger an attitude that you're not good enough. Remember that those writers at the top of the game had to learn and grow in their own writing world just like you and I are doing now. They didn't become hotshots the day they started writing. You are as good as anyone else if you have the passion for writing that they do. You're as good as any other writer if you have the drive to learn and grow. Compettion is a good thing. It can only spur us on to improve as writers.

That final negative listed above is lack of growing as a writer. That is something you can control. You are the one who should read craft of writing articles and books. You are the one who should attend an occasional writers' conference or workshop. You are the one who must write on a constant basis so that you improve over time. You are the one who should read the work of other writers extensively to see how it's done.

Don't let the negatives become an excuse for not finding more success as a writer, Promise yourself to turn the negatives into positives. You'll feel better about yourself and you might have some success in your writing world. I'd like to see you smiling and dancing like the guy on the right.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Showing and Evoking Sensation Captures Your Readers

Here it is again. Don't tell. Show! You've heard it over and over from me and read the same in books about writing. You've heard workshop leaders say it. You've heard it on webinars you've attended. It's been said at your writing group meetings. 

Yep, we hear it, We read it, We know it. Even so, we still tend to do more telling than we should when we write. You can't eliminate all telling. That's nearly impossible. You can rid your work of a lot of it by showing and, as today's poster says, 'evoke sensation in the reader.' 

In a Random Word freewrite exercise that I did yesterday, I described a storm that occurred while we were at a cocktail party at a private club. After describing the thunder and lightning, the rain beating on the windows and wind bending trees to the ground, I wrote this:  Inside, the crowd enjoyed drinks and appetizers, laughter and chatter competing for noise with the thunder.  Several in my writing group commented that they liked this sentence, that it allowed them to 'hear' what happened. I could have written There was a lot of noise inside, too. That would be pure telling, wouldn't it? 

Learning to write so that we show, rather than tell, and write to 'evoke sensation,' is not a quick study. We must concentrate on writing this way. The longer we do it, the easier it becomes. We establish a habit of thinking in the show rather than tell mode. 

When you edit your work, look for areas where you can show, where you can 'evoke sensation' in your readers. Instead of saying Millie ate one bite of the apple pie you could write something like She let one bite of the apple pie slide across her tongue, savoring the combination of the tart apples and spicy cinnamon, before she swallowed. I don't know about you, but I suddenly want a bite of that pie, too. The second sentence showed Millie eating the pie and it also evoked the sensation of taste in the reader.

If you write a story that is all telling, it begins to sound like a report, or even a list of happenings. Not very interesting for your readers. Let them see the scene, allow them to feel what is happening and they are more likely to want to continue reading the story. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Wrting Your Memoir

Writing a memoir is high on the trend ladder right now. Yesterday, I read about a 35 year old man who has completed his memoir. Unusual for anyone to complete a memoir after a mere 35 years of living, but it seems this man did a whole lot of living in those three and a half decades. Much of it was negative but ends up on the positive side. His memoir is meant to be an example to others rather than a treasured story. 

Today's poster is the perfect springboard for memoir writers. My initial thought was that there are also a good many events or situations in our lives that we might not want to revisit. I do know, from experience, that writing about the bad things that happen is an aid to healing. This kind of writing can also allow us to look at whatever happened a bit more objectively which can lead to better understanding. All that adds up to a positive.

The biggest obstacle for those who would like to write a memoir is often Where do I begin? It's not necessary to begin with the day you were born. Nor is it necessary to think you have to write an entire book. Try writing bits and pieces instead. Write a story about the time you visited a grandparent you'd never met before. Write another story about the time you didn't make team captain in your chosen sport. Write a story about the day you met the person you would eventually marry. Write lots of stories about your life and keep them in a file. As the file grows, so will the base for your memoir book.

My annual state authors contest has a category for Memoir. That category receives the greatest number of entries in the contest. Why? Unlike fiction, memoir stories have happened and all the writer needs to do is bring them to mind and write about whatever occurred. To be a winner, however, the writer must present the story with all the tools he/she has in the writer's kit bag. The story needs to capture the reader (and the judge!). It needs to be written with sensory details, pleasing phrases, active verbs and more. Another reason is that we like to revisit our childhood or early adulthood memories--to feel a few things twice, as the poster says.

A memoir should not only entertain; the reader should gain some lesson or insight. It's much the same as writing the personal essay where a universal truth should be revealed somewhere within the essay's story. 

When you've finished writing a part, or all, of your memoir, look at it as objectively as you can. Ask yourself what others might gain from reading it. What might a reader relate to? What life lesson is there for the reader to see? Is there any emotion present--joy, sorrow, humor, anger and more? 

It's not only celebrities who can write a publishable memoir. You can, too. Or, you can write your memoir as a legacy to leave for your family members. I keep a hard copy of all that I write in a large loose leaf binder; actually, there are two filled at this point. I divided the writing into sections. One of them is Family Stories. My memoir section! 

There are many websites that give definition to memoir vs autobiography. Take a look at one of them. Note that the memoir is a more personal account. Being personal is the main reason I prefer memoir. How about you? Do you read them? Do you write memoir pieces? 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Book Clubs Vary in Style

There are activities in my life that take me away from writing. One of them, however, feeds my writing soul. It's my monthly Book Club. There are seven women in the group who have known one another for many years. Two of the women were the movers and shakers that got the group started. The approached people they knew who were readers and whom they thought would enjoy discussing what they'd read. 

There are several ways to operate a group like this but ours works like this. We each take a month to choose a book from a large list from our state library. We ask a specific librarian at our local library to get 7 copies. We need to allow sufficient time for the request and delivery of the books. The person for September hands out the books at the August meeting, giving members a full month to read the book. 

The person who chooses the book also hosts the meeting at her home. We made a rule that there will be nothing served but coffee or water. We meet at 9:30 in the morning, so a second cup of coffee is welcomed. The hostess also leads the discussion. Usually, the leader researches the author and finds discussion questions and editorial reviews online. Amazon has summaries and editorial reviews, as well as reader reviews. Click the link to see an example. Scroll down the entire page to see all that is offered. I find it a good resource. You can use a search engine to find others.

We are a varied group in political and religious backgrounds so our discussions are filled with different opinions. We do respect one another's opinion, even though we might not agree with it. We all grew up in different parts of the USA. Our childhood experiences often come into our discussions. 

We meet all twelve months of the year. The second Tuesday morning of the month is a day I look forward to. The husband of one of our members served on the Pulitzer Prize committee for a number of years, so she often has interesting 'asides' about a book. As a writer, I think I have helped these readers also see a book through a writer's eyes. Everyone offers something different. 

There is no one and only way to conduct a book club. These are a few things to keep in mind:

1.  Decide if you are a Discussion group or a Book Review group (In a Book Review group, only one person reads the book, then reviews it for the others)

2. Make a few basic rules--we have only two:  nothing served but coffee or water and whatever is said in Book Club goes no farther. This last rule allows frank discussions. Each group should make their own rules.

3. Don't have too many people in the group. If it is too large, it is easy for some to sit and absorb but not offer anything to the discussion.

4. Decide how you will select the books to read. Everyone purchases a book in some groups. In others, a few people buy the book, then share with others. Some groups select a full year's worth at one meeting. Others. allow individuals to choose the book.

5. Keep in mind that the newest books will be harder to get through your library. 

6. Vary the types of books you read. Include fiction, nonfiction, biographies, memoirs. I have read many books in book club that I might never have picked up on my own. Even so, I have learned something and enjoyed reading them.

7. It only takes one or two people to begin a book club. They should decide on a desirable number of members and start asking people they know. This is strictly a friends kind of group. There are others that are made up of people who do not know one another. You'll find these groups through your library or local book store. There are even online book clubs of different types. They all operate in a different manner.

8. There are groups that meet mornings or afternoons or evening, ones that serve food and drink or nothing at all, some that have one leader every meeting and those who share the duty. 

9. Reading is the number one priority for these groups.