Friday, October 31, 2014

Classics Speak To Us

Last night, Ken and I had a wonderful evening attending a touring company performance of the Broadway hit of years ago Anything Goes. Music and lyrics were written by Cole Porter and the first production in 1934 starred Ethel Merman. Debuting in the middle of the Great Depression, this entertaining show helped give people a short reprise from the worries of the day.

It made me feel somewhat the same. For 2 1/2 hours, I didn't have to answer the phone to yet another politcal poll questioner nor did I think about Ebola, Jihadists and the midterm election coming up. I escaped into another world, if even for a short time. And what a world it was. The snappy singing and dancing, the corny but fun storyline, and the exquisite costumes held my attention and made me feel slightly disappointed when the finale finished. I could have happily watched more. The play has been brought back a number of times on Broadway and with professional touring companies such as we had here at Kansas State University. There have also been two movie versions. I think we can rank Anythnig Goes as a classic.

What about the books and stories we read that have some quality that allows them to remain with us long after we close the cover after reading the final page? What makes a classic? The simple answer is that they stand the test of time. These books or stories are as relevant today as when they were written. They have a universal theme; something that most people can relate to. I think we must add that they are also well-written.

We all have our own personal list of classic reads. They may or may not appear on a literary list. Instead, they're stories that have some relevance to your life or speak to you in some exceptional way. They're books we read more than once. When I see a movie for the second time, I always find something I missed on the initial viewing. Reading a book for a second or third time is the same.

Here are a few of my own personal classics, books that I consider special for me alone. Many would not be on a literary list of classic books, I'm sure, but they each spoke to me in some particular way. There are many others but my list would be far too long if I named all of them, so here are five.

1.  The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

2. Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather

3. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

5. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Think about some of your favorite books, make a list, and make time to read some of them again. I have a feeling you'll enjoy the read just as much, if not more, the second time around.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sometimes Close Does Count

Last night the Kansas City Royals came so close to winning the World Series.  I went to bed feeling  so disappointed for this team that had a magical run through the play-offs and the series itself. At 4 a.m., I was wide awake and started thinking about the game. One run in the bottom of the ninth would have tied the game and given them new hope. The adage, Close does not count came to mind but then I decided that sometimes close does count.

For the Royals, it counts as a terrific accomplishment for a young team. They had a goal and almost reached it. Once they get over the hurt of the final loss, they have a lot to look forward to. Their fan base is as solid as a rock and a fresh slate appears next season. No way are they going to give up.

Still wide awake, it occurred to me that writers  can also experience that Close does not count situation during the submission process of the stories, poems, and essays they write. Those who submit to the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies are encouraged when they receive a notice that their submission has reached the final cut selection round. They are asked to sign a permission release form and return it to the editor. Hopefully, the editor reads the entire letter they receive because it also states that a small percentage of these final round stories will end up being cut. And then begins the waiting time.

When the congratulations letter arrives, the writer has final confirmation that her/his story made it. Time to celebrate, time to tell other writer friends, time to do the happy dance. For those few who didn't make the cut, it's definitely a disappointment. Should they pout a bit and tell themselves Close does not count? I hope not.

Instead, I'd rather they took the attitude that they almost made it. Their story was good enough to get to the final round and a few thousand others did not. It's time to take an objective look at the story and see if anything stands out as to why it did not get selected. Next, send it to another publication.

This is only one situation where a writer comes close to having work accepted and published but doesn't quite make it. It also happens when an editor returns a story with a rejection but adds a small personal note. When those 'encouraging rejections' happen, you know you almost got there. It's not enough to make you do the happy dance but it should serve to spur you on to continue writing and submitting your work. To me, it's a sign that should make you practice that old patience and persistance. 

Sometimes Close does count!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

All That Other Stuff Writers Do

A writer's most important job is to write. That's a given. But there's a lot more to this writing business than the writing itself. There are other things to be considered and time made for them, as well. There will be writers who say they want to write, not to do all that other stuff. I like to have a clean house but there are lots of thngs I have to do to make that possible. It's all that other stuff that helps me reach my goal.

Here are some of the other things a writer should make time for:

1. Reading a variety of published material that fits your writing. It's important to know what publications there are and to familiarlize yourself with them.

2. Learning the submission process. There are general rules here and ones specific to individual publications. Earlier today, I happened across an excellent article on submitting. It would be to your benefit to take a look at it here. It addresses submitting to literary magazines in particular but is good general advice, as well.

3. Keeping up with trends in publishing. It's one good reason to read magazines like Writer's Digest and The Writer. When I first started writing children's stories, the trend was mood books for younger children. They were all the rage until they suddenly evaporated for whatever came along next. It's much the same with all types of writing.

4. Continue educating yourself about the craft of writing. Subscribe to writers newsletters, read magazines like mentioned in #3 and watch for new books about writing. We don't reach a point and say we know it all. Not ever! Learning about writing is a never-ending process.

5. Record-keeping helps you be an organized writer. It's important that you know what you sent to whom and when. You need to note whether the submission ended up published, rejected or nothing heard. You also need to keep records of your earnings, if any, for tax purposes.

6. Attending conferences related to your writing field. Once again, you need to keep learning and these conferences also allow you to interact with others who write. This is a major benefit to conferences.

7. Critique groups, whether two people or a passle, are so worthwhile that making time for them is critical in my estimation. I've said it many times but here it is again--if you participate in a group like this with the right attitude, you'll learn a great deal and will grow as a writer.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Write Your Halloween Family Stories Now

Telling Halloween Stories

This being Halloween week, it occurred to me that those of us keeping Family Stories Books need to delve back into our memory banks and write a family story or two  to add to the ones already in the book. 

For newer readers, I have urged people to write those family stories we are all so good at telling around a holiday dining table. Hearing these family treasures is wonderful, but they need to be written and kept as a record for your children, grandchildren and generations to come. One of the things you should be sure to do is to date your entries and to add whatever dates you can to the stories. Years from now, the ones who read your efforts will be appreciative. 

What kind of stories should you include for Halloween? We all have memories of certain years that we or a sibling had an unusual costume, a scary party to attend, or a laughable mishap while out Trick or Treating. Maybe your dad ate most of your Halloween candy. 

Did you like Halloween? Or were you like me and listed it as your least favorite holiday? I've written a short essay on that subject which was published a few years ago. You can read it here. I've posted it on the blog a couple times so will just leave the link for those who have not read it.

What was your favorite Halloween costume? Which one did you hate? Which one did your mom insist you wear, even though you didn't want to? What kind of Halloween celebration did you have in school? Years ago, schools often had parades and parties and children wore costumes to school. Not so much anymore. 

Where did you Trick or Treat? Did you have any house in your neighborhood that the kids were wary of going to? Did you play tricks on the night of October 31st? Did your mom make special Halloween treats? Were you ever scared on Halloween?

Add your Halloween stories to your Family Stories Book now. Once the holiday is over, you'll forget about them again until next year. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Autumn Photo Prompt Exercise

Let's start off the week with a photo prompt writing exercise. I've put three autumn pictures below for you. You can choose one and write a poem or story or just a couple of paragraphs--whatever you like. Or, try all three and see what types of stories you can create. Imagination plays a big part here. 

If you look at the photos and nothing comes to mind, play the What if... game. Ask yourself a question like what if a pack of wild dogs destroyed the pumpkin display? Or any other thing that comes to mind. Keep asking what if... to get the creative juices flowing.

Anyone who would like to share can do so in the comments section. The three pictures offer three very different phases of our autumn season. 

Photo Number 1

Photo Number 2

Photo Number 3

Friday, October 24, 2014

First Step, First Draft

I noted the quote and picture above posted on facebook today by Authors Publish. I am not endorsing them but take a look at the webisite if you have any interest. The quote here inspired me to write about first drafts today.

I've known beginning writers who have acted upon a good idea for a story that had them panting to get to the computer and write the whole thing. Gotta do it while it's fresh in our minds. Right? They get excited and write the story and send it to an editor the same day. Big mistake.

It's a rare writer who can call a first draft a publishable piece. It's you taking that idea that's been swirling in your head and putting it in black and white. It's your template--the pattern from which you'll continue to create a finished piece.

Have you ever had a story idea that keeps coming back to your mind over and over? If you have, you know you absolutely must start writing or the idea is going to consume your every waking moment. OK, so that's a bit of an exaggeration, but close enough. You have to tell yourself the story before you can tell it to readers. 

It's a good idea to write the story from beginning to end without stopping. Don't consider any revisions at this point. Once the final paragraph is done, put it in a file. Don't even read it through, even though you'll be tempted. Go empty the dishwasher or out for a walk or make a phone call. Get away from what you've written. Go back the next day or even two or three days later and read it. 

You may have one of two reactions. You'll either be pleased as a cat lapping up a bowl of milk or as depressed as a man just turned down after a proposal. Either way, your next step is to start revising. Look at the piece as objectively as you can--and that's not always an easy task--and get to work. Check your overall impression and decide what major changes are needed. Then do a line by line edit and revision, cutting where needed and expanding on areas that might benefit. 

Few good writers do one rewrite and call it quits. One of the authors at the convention I attended earlier this month has a trilogy of historical novels that are quite good. In his workshop, he mentioned that he rewrote the first book in the series twelve times. Twelve times! That's an even dozen. Is the man a perfectionist? Possibly. Or he may have wanted to have the best novel he could write. 

The first draft is step one in writing a publishable piece. We all know that step one is the very best place to begin. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Avoid Cliches in your Writing

a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usuallyexpressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lostoriginality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser,or strong as an ox.(in art, literature, drama, etc.) a trite or hackneyed plot, characterdevelopment, use of color, musical expression, etc.

Time to confess. Are you guilty of using cliches in your writing? It's quite alright to admit it. If you do, you're in good company. Me included! Why do writers resort to a cliche when an original phrase would be so much better? 

They're convenient; they're ingrained in us from childhood; it's a lazy/easy way to write. We use them to make an interesting comparison but end up becoming just another writer instead of one who stands out.

I've been guilty of using cliches and have had it pointed out in critiques from members of my crit group many times. I do try to make amends when I rewrite but I don't always succeed. I'm working on it and trying to erase cliches from my stories. It's hard because they are so convenient; we can pluck them out of our memory bank in a flash.

I found an excellent article on the use of cliches that delves into the subject on a deeper scale. The author talks about phrases we use but also how cliches are seen within our story structure, too. Read the article and pay special attention to the section on story cliches.


Look at this list of cliches. Rewrite each one in a more original way. 

1. time will tell

2. fit as a fiddle

3. old as the hills

4. time heals all wounds

5. gut-wrenching pain

6. nerves of steel

7. nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof

8. brave as a lion