Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Reaching For Perfection

A piece of dialogue in a long-ago movie popped into my head when I saw this poster. Ain't nothin' gonna be perfect in this life. I'm sorry to say I cannot remember which movie or the situation that brought forth this comment or who said it.That doesn't really matter. It's the words themselves that should have an impact on each one of us. 

Writers can attest to the fact that there is nothing perfect in this life we are leading on earth. Wouldn't it be great if it could be so? Seems to me there are degrees of that nothing perfect category. We have close to perfect, hardly perfect, near perfect, so perfect, not perfect and more. 

What if everything was perfect? What if you sold every story you submitted? What if every novel you wrote was an overnight best seller? Sounds wonderful? Hold on a minute. If all that you touched turned to gold, what would you have left to strive for? What incentive would there be to write the very best story? Why bother to write a good story if you know anything you write will sell? 

So, back to reality. Perfection is pretty hard to achieve. Glitches of all kinds rain on our parade. Sometimes we feel like there is one bump in the road after another. Nothing goes right. We hate what we write. We receive multiple rejections before one acceptance. Critiques of our work have more negatives than positives. We throw up our hands in disgust or lay our heads on the desk and shed a few tears. 

Yep, we all get down when things go wrong. The little girl with the wheelbarrow is right. Things do eventually come around to allow us a more positive view. Maybe not right away but eventually. All you and I need to weather through times that are tough is patience. A small word when standing all alone but so very important. Those who read this blog regularly know that my two keywords are patience and perseverance.  

It's not an easy task to be patient and wait for the good things to come to us. It takes grit and determination. It means you must wade through the bad times before you find that field of flowers waiting for you. Our writing world is filled with ups and downs. As that piece of dialogue so nicely illustrates--Ain't nothin' gonna be perfect in this life.  Even so, I think you'll find enough bits and pieces that are almost perfect to keep you motivated to continue writing. Patience does pay off.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Recipe Box Disaster Leads To Thoughts On Writing


Friday, I had a small disaster in my kitchen. I pulled out a shelf in my pantry cupboard and a small recipe box flipped over backwards onto the bottom shelf. Recipe cards were scattered all along the shelf and the floor in front of it along with the alphabetized dividers. I muttered to myself as I retrieved all the cards and the box. It's one I don't use all that often but there are some old tried and true recipes in there that I've collected over the years--many from friends and family. It still gives me great pleasure to see and use those handwritten by my mother. 

I tossed the whole mess on the kitchen counter after deciding I couldn't deal with it at that moment. Today, while I was watching a basketball game on TV, I put the dividers in order, then began sorting through the recipe cards, many faded with time. Ones I knew I'd never make again, I tossed and refiled the others. The box is now organized and lighter--ready to be put in a new spot. It will definitely go somewhere that the disaster will not repeat.

As I worked my way through the dozens and dozens of index cards, I started to think about the stories, articles and poems in my writing files. They aren't going to fall off a shelf and scatter hither and yon. Nope. They just sit quietly in my Documents file until I pull them up for one reason or another. 

It might be a good idea to go through your own file to see what you want to save and what you may want to dump. Some writers would never get rid of anything they've written. Not ever! Even if it is nothing more than an opening paragraph to a story. I would never delete without careful calculation. I'd need to ask myself if I've written something already to replace it. Or if it is so godawful that it doesn't deserve to be kept. I might wonder if revision and editing could save it. There could be a few things that I truly hate. I might wonder if I'd written it on a bad writing day. Yes, I do believe there are things not to be kept. But, if you just cannot destroy the words you've written, so be it. Make a folder with those stories in it. 

But what about those that merit staying in the file? There are plenty of completed stories that have already been published. Should I keep those? Yes. Why? There are plenty of places that take reprints and maybe the story can be published once again. I might possibly use it as a base for another story. I might want to use it for an example in this blog. I like it--which is as fine a reason as any other! An editor might ask for a sample of my writing and those published stories come in handy. 

Others might need to be kept for revision and editing. It seems like no story is ever completed. Even those published works are open to revision when submitting as a reprint. 

You know what else most of us have in our files? Unfinished pieces. I have some that are nothing more than a paragraph or two. I once wrote an opening scene for a children's story that was great. But once I set the scene, I didn't know where to take it. And so it sits--waiting for me to continue. I bet you have some of those, too. 

Spend some time with your Document files. You may discover some hidden gems--like me today with the recipes. Some of them made me want to start cooking on a bigtime scale. Maybe some of those forgotten stories will give you the itch to start writing to bring them to a submittable stage. 

It's all too easy to forget what is in our Document file so do check through it every now and then. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Food For Thought--Quotes On Writing

I'm posting several quotes about writing today. Many you will nod your head in agreement when you read them. Maybe some of you will raise your eyebrows and mutter "Really?"  These are quotes by writers and who knows better about this world of writing than he/she who has done it?  Consider them Food For Thought.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Caring and Boasting Are Two Different Things


A writer friend has been on a winning streak lately. Her work has been accepted by several editors and she's shared the good news with her fellow writers. In one comment she said,  I know we're not really supposed to care so much if others like our work or not, but it still feels awfully good when they do.

I fired back an answer to her that she had every right to care. Maybe her feeling is based on things our mothers taught us as kids. We all heard things like Don't brag. Nobody likes a person who boasts. Don't toot your own horn.  In some cases, that's good advice but once you become a writer, you need to step back and look with a different perspective. Besides, caring and boasting are two different things.

So, exactly why do I think this writer should care? Here's my list of reasons

  • she's put in a great deal of time and effort on her accepted pieces
  • she sends in her very best work
  • she studies her markets carefully
  • she continues to learn and grow as a writer
  • she has set goals and attains them one by one
  • she is genuinely talented in this field
  • she has a strong voice that comes through in all her work
  • she's earned the joy of caring a lot about her accomplishments
I think every writer should care if others like their work. We care a lot when an editor sends an acceptance. We care when a reader sends a positive comment. We care when our writer friends compliment our work. And you know what? It's perfectly alright to care a lot. So go for it without any reservation. Jump for joy! Do the Happy Dance! Smile broadly! Puff out your chest! 

And most of all--when the bad times come in the form of stories that don't work or multiple rejections, reach into your memory bank to remind yourself how good you felt when things were going well. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bits and Pieces About My Writing World and Yours

OK, so it's the third day of this new month but we can still say hello to this shortest month of the year. Leap Year adds one more day in 2016. Today, I have several bits and pieces to share. 

1.  Followers on this blog:  For some strange reason, when I finally got my internet service going again, I noticed that my Followers number had dropped by 20. One or two might have been understandable but 20! I had not been posting because of the move and phone/internet problems so I knew it was not because of anyone getting angry over something I'd written. Would 20 people drop when they didn't see the usual Monday to Friday posts? I rather doubt it. So, I went to the Help section on Blogger and found no help regarding the situation at all. 

So, I would ask for your help in this small matter which probably means something to me and few others. Please check and see if your name is gone from the Follower's section. If it is, and you're agreeable, please sign on once again. If you did drop purposely and have a complaint, please let me know. If you like this blog, would you recommend it to others? Ask them to sign on as a Follower, too? 

2. Being Published:   We were invited to a Wine and Cheese party last evening in our new neighborhood. We knew only one person there so were asked many questions regarding what Ken and I do, where we hailed from long ago etc. I mentioned that I had started writing about 20 years ago to follow a lifelong desire.
"Are you published?" was the next quick question. I said that I was and they asked "Where?" When I mentioned having many stories in the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, one lady said "Never heard of it!" She is a retired archaeologist, so maybe stories about people who are alive today do not interest her. But it did make me think that something as popular as the Chicken Soup books may only hit a certain percentage of our reading population. 

3. Learning Something New:   I have been part of a group that is exploring Prose Poetry for 4 weeks. Sadly, it started about the time we moved and I have not been able to give it the amount of attention I would like to. Pamela Casto is the coordinator of the group. She is known for Flash Fiction and has a group that you can join if you are interested. The newsletter she puts out is most informative and filled with market suggestions. I'd like to learn more about Prose Poetry and may continue to learn on my own. It appears that there are many schools of thought on what a prose poem is. 

4.  Writing Group:  I was told that there is a Writing Group in this Senior Living Community where we now live. I have been wondering whether to visit it and see if I would like to be a part of the group. One of the women at last night's gathering mentioned it but then added, "You're probably way beyond most of them." Maybe yes and maybe no, so I would need to visit to find out if it is a group where I could gain something as well as offer something. It's a bit difficult to know what to do. If I visit once and don't return, they might think that I thought their group wasn't good enough for me, and I wouldn't want that. 

5. Writing Routines:   Ever take a break from writing and then had a hard time getting back to it? With the break I've had these past weeks, I am definitely finding it a bit difficult to get back in my usual writing routine. The desire is there but the habit got bent a bit. It only pointed out to me the benefit of keeping a writing routine and writing on a very regular basis. Definitely a life lesson! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Character Sketches--A Writing Exercise

I had a series of flashbacks when I saw the poster above. Growing up in a large apartment building meant I had a passel of neighborhood kids to grow up with. We separated ourselves into age groups. Nothing formal, just drifted to those within a year or two of our own age. When my brothers and I went out to play, it was rare that we found the courtyard empty. It seems kids were always around.

Some stand out more than others now that these many decades have passed but I do remember all of them. With some, it is because I liked and admired them, had fun with them. And for others, it is due to their unpleasant behavior. One or two were just plain mean! Yes, we had bullies in the 40's and 50's, too. 

Think about the kids in your own neighborhood during the years you were growing up. Which ones did your mother encourage you to bring home? And who were the kids your mother told you to avoid? 

Those kids you played childhood games with can benefit you today as a writer. Make a list of the kids you remember most. Write a character sketch for each of them. Start with the basics like physical description. As you do so, I think that more about each one will come back to you. Round out with the child's emotional make-up, their kindness quotient, or their ability to make other kids cry. Add the reasons you liked or disliked each one. What kind of small habits did each one have? Did one always lick his fingers before pitching a baseball? Or was there someone who turned around 3 times before starting a hopscotch game? Highlight whatever was a unique habit. 

By the time you finish writing these character sketches of the kids you grew up with, you'll have a nice folder to draw from when writing your stories. Any one of them could fit into one of your fiction stories or perhaps you can use one or more when writing memoir pieces or other creative nonfiction. 

These short character sketches might even be an inspiration for a story idea. Give it a try. Do one a day for as long as you can, or keep on going if you're motivated to do several at one time. 

Playmates Character Sketch:
  • make a list of the names you remember
  • choose one and write a physical description
  • include any habits unique to this person
  • add their emotional make-up
  • tell what kind of family they came from
  • designate the leaders and followers
  • why you liked or disliked them
  • tell if they were leaders or followers
  • how they dressed
  • voice--loud, soft, annoying
  • crybaby vs tough guy

Monday, February 1, 2016

Journaling--Every Writer Should Do It!

Home Office, Workstation, Office, Business, Notebook

Yesterday, I read an interesting article in our local paper that had appeared in the Wall St. Journal this past Tuesday (1/26/16). The article featured a man who lived in Manhattan, KS, where I live, for many years. He has held several jobs in his nearly eight decades but writing tops his list. Charley Kempthorne started the LifeStory Institute when he initiated workshops in journaling and writing life stories for senior citizens.

He wrote to the Wall St. Journal about a life story written by a woman in her nineties. He felt it deserved publication. A very long story short--Jessie Foveaux of Manhattan, KS manuscript sold for over a million at a publisher's auction. 

But back to Charley and journaling. Read here what he has to say on the subject, then hop over to his Home Page for more. If you're interested in the book written by Jessie Foveaux and how it came to be published, check out that page, too.

Journaling is a calming salve that aids in emotional healing. It also serves as an anchor, something to hold us in the right place. Journaling every day is like coming home after a hard day's work. It brings a sense of peace, gives the writer a place to vent about that day or the day before. Writing our thoughts on a daily basis also allows gives us chance to let those thoughts flow into words, phrases and sentences that last.

I wrote some time ago about Julia Cameron's suggestion to write first thing in the morning. Every day. She says to write at least three pages (longhand) and let your thoughts flow in a ceaseless way. She terms it Morning Pages. It's just a different name for journaling. Young girls love to keep a diary, and that is also a form of journaling.

My oldest granddaughter had a second grade teacher who used journaling as a classroom tool. Those little children wrote something in their journal every day. What good practice that was. I wonder how many have carried it through the rest of the growing-up years. My granddaughter is nearing twenty and she is a writer. Whether that early journaling had anything to do with her loving to write, I'll never know. I think it was one of those 'can't hurt, might help' kind of things.

When you keep a daily journal, you give yourself the gift of writing every day. There is no better exercise for the writer than that. Write something every day! Be it journal, morning pages, diary or a set writing exercise--it's going to benefit you in some way.

It's your choice as to how you proceed to journal. The photo above shows both laptop and notebook for longhand writing. And, that cup of coffee can only add to making the journaling part of your day a pleasant chore.

Journaling might be a job at first but as you progress, day by day, it will become a habit. One of the most important parts of journaling is to set aside some time each day to do it. Not hours. You can manage 10 or 15 minutes a day. Work on establishing this habit and you'll not be sorry.