Friday, March 16, 2018

Reading Books--Happiness

Writers are also readers. Readers aren't necessarily writers. We who are both  feel like we've caught the gold ring as we ride by on the carousel horse. Reading a book is one of the greatest treasures on earth. We can do it as often as we like even if we must steal moments from other parts of our lives. 

Reading is relaxing, peaceful, calms the soul and is sheer delight at times. For today's post, I am sharing several posters that speak to readers. Look at them, save the ones you like, and then go find a book to read. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Great Big Piece of The Writing Puzzle

Image result for free poster on opening hooks in writing

"Your opening should surprise. It should contain the best sentences of your piece, the ones with the most energy and the ones that take the reader right into your world." 
The quote is from Jessica Smock who is an editor at herstories, a site for women in mid-life that write personal essays. She listed numerous things of importance when submitting your work for publication. Then, she stated emphatically that there was one more important than all the others. What is it? The opening hook.

Nearly every book on writing will tell you that you must pull in your reader immediately or you might lose them. True? Yes, I think so. Years ago, people assumed that an English author was going to march you around the mulberry bush a hundred times before getting into the meat of the story. Same with English movies. I don't think that is the usual case any longer. English writers have also learned the importance of hooking their readers/viewers. 

What do some writers do instead of grabbing the reader's attention immediately? They open  with background information or an introduction which eventually leads to the actual topic. They might use paragraphs and paragraphs. In today's world, time is our enemy and no one is going to spend that precious time reading something that is boring. Opening with a bunch of facts and figures or a this is what I am going to write about farther down the page is kind of a 'who cares?' thing. When we say to grab the reader, we mean 'grab them and then hold on.' 

Jessica reads myriad essays submitted for the website. You are going to have to grab her attention (or any other editor) before your piece even has a chance to hook your eventual reader. She's like the barking dog at the gate--placate it with a choice morsel and it will welcome you. 

The poster we have today gives you suggestions for a good opening. We want to have an opening that makes the reader sit up and pay attention whether we are writing fiction, personal essays or ever a poem. Let's take a look at these 5.
  1. Ask a question: That can pique curiosity, especially if the reader does not know the answer already.
  2. State an interesting fact:  Note the WOW afterward. That tells us that the fact should be very interesting, something to make us open our eyes wider and read on.
  3. Imagine...: Pull the reader in by putting him/her into a situation or place immediately. Make them think about what it would be like and they're likely to read on.
  4. Use action or onomatopoeia:  If you open with a man being chased through dark alleys, the reader immediately wants to know why he is being chased and who is doing the chasing. They will definitely keep reading. The onomatopoeia suggestion doesn't do much for me but you can use words that sound like what they are--cuckoo, meow, honk for instance. That alone will not grab and hold the reader, however. I'd go with the action first.
  5. Use a quote or dialogue:  A quote by a well-known name will be a draw/ You might even use the quote and a question.  Do you know what blind and deaf Helen Keller thought about life? She said......
Do all the things that are important before submitting your work to an editor but pay special attention to your opening. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

About The Blank Page

Image result for writing quotes for free
The Blank Page

No quote on writing today, just a blank page in a book. How would you, as a writer, describe this empty piece of paper at what appears to be the beginning of a book? The blank page can also appear as a sea of nothing in whatever computer program you use to write. It can also be a clean piece of paper with nothing on it. 

There are two keywords I would use to describe the above. Inspiring and Terrifying.  Can they be both? Certainly.

Eager writing students and freelance writers often view that blank page as inspiring. They might think several things:
  • There it is waiting for me to fill it with words that will draw readers.
  • It's brand new, waiting for no one but me.
  • Putting the first words on a blank page is as delightful as being the first one to put footsteps in new-fallen snow.
  • With a blank page, I can write anything I want to. It's all mine.
  • The blank page opens like a lady's fan giving me space to write myriad things.
  • I can hardly wait to begin!
  • Which of the many ideas swirling in my mind shall I put on this page?
That blank page can also be terrifying. If you're a student with an assignment, you might panic. Your thoughts could be:
  • Good Heavens! What am I going to write about?
  • Where do I begin? 
  • That page looks like an ocean and I have to fill it word by word. Oh no!
  • I can't think. What will I say? 
  • How will I fill this page?
  • Can I do the assignment on time?
  • Will what I write be drivel or worthwhile?
A freelance writer might have altogether different reactions with thoughts like this:
  • I love beginnings so this page is perfect for me.
  • I've got a deadline; how will I have the right number of works by then?
  • What if Writer's Block attacks? The page might remain blank.
  • What if I fill the page with nothing but stupid things?
  • Am I a good enough writer to put something worthy on this page?
  • Will an editor want to publish what I put on this page?
  • Will readers give good reviews to my offerings
We can look at this blank page as either inspirational or terrifying. We can also consider it a challenge. How would you consider the blank page? 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Surface Writing Or Soulful Writing?

My apologies for not getting a new post up on Monday. We spent the entire day traveling home from my brother's funeral services in North Carolina. It's a time to be with family where we love and support one another at a sad, and sometimes unexpected, loss. 

I had written Friday about getting those family stories written, not just told. On Saturday evening and all day Sunday, I heard one family story after another. Laughter accompanied some and others brought tears. Of course, there was no time to write them this week-end but that must be done in the coming days. 

The poster above seemed particularly appropriate since I started writing a poem mentally on one of our flights yesterday. I was too tired to read, an unusual occurrence for me, so I closed my eyes to rest. Words began to float through my mind, words about my brother whose life we had just celebrated the previous day. Before I knew it, a verse of a poem had put itself together. Four lines that came phrase by phrase. I grabbed a slim piece of paper in my purse and wrote them down. One verse that came from my soul. One verse that cries for a beginning and an ending which will come in time. When finally done, I am certain I will share it and that it did come from my soul.

Give some thought to the quote above. We all like to put pretty words together, words we hope will please our readers. If you share a part of your soul when you write, the words will be more than pretty. They will be memorable, gratifying, uplifting, possibly beautiful. 

There is surface writing and soulful writing. Which one do you think will be the better kind of writing? When we write on the surface, we are trying to get a job done. We pull words from the air and from our mind to achieve our goal in a particular project. There's nothing wrong with that. Many a professional writer writes surfacely, especially when facing a deadline. 

It's the projects where we write by pulling the words from heart and soul that will often be remembered by readers. For me, there is no doubt that soulful writing is going to be our best. 

If you have a few minutes, take a look at some of the things you have written, ones published or not yet published. Can you label them with surface or soulful? Can you tell why those labels are on each one? Does it make you want to be a soulful writer the majority of the time? It's something to keep in mind as you begin each new piece.

I am hopeful that the rest of the poem I plan to write can be as soulful as the one verse that has emerged so far. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Family Stories Are More Important Than We Realize

The picture above is of me and two of my three younger brothers, taken in 1947. The third one didn't come along until 7 years later. At the time of this photo, I was 8, Howard on the left was 4 and Paul, in the middle, was under a year. Howard was brunette and Paul and I had auburn hair. I remember that my dress was aqua blue.

Paul, aged 71, passed away in his sleep Wednesday night. He had faced multiple health problems from infancy to the very end. Even so, his death was a shock to all his family and friends. We will gather as a family to celebrate his life this week-end in North Carolina, far from the Chicago suburb where we all grew up. As we all married and made several moves, we spread pretty much from coast to coast.

Even so, we have kept in touch through the several means of doing so we now have. Somehow, on phone calls, texts and emails, the miles disappear. When we have the rare opportunity to spend time together at a wedding, or as now, a funeral, the "Remember when...." stories emerge one after another.

Several years ago, I made a book of Family Stories for each of my three brothers. I had thought about it for a long time but had not taken the time to accomplish the project. I'm sure many of you have had the good intentions and not quite made it happen. Please do it sooner rather than later.

It's now that those family stories will have even more meaning for Paul's family. Those oft-told family stories paint a picture of each family member. His grandchild and future great-grandchildren will be able to hold on to those stories. They'll understand what his life was like growing up in a large family that lived in a small apartment. They'll learn about Paul's parents and grandparents and his siblings. His granddaughter has known him all her life and has had the great privilege of living only minutes away from him and her grandmother. Having the Family Stories book will allow her future children to know who their great-grandfather was, learn about  his roots and more.

Regular readers here know that I am constantly urging people, both writers and non-writers, to get those family stories written and assembled somewhere. It's a partial history of family. When babies are born, mothers often receive, or purchase, a Baby Book to record memories, dates of injections, diseases and special events in the child's life. They reach a certain age and mom stops keeping that record. Those family stories can carry it on to the ends of life.

Don't retell only the funny, heart-warming things that happened in the family. Add the tragedies, the times when anger took center stage, or when you weren't very proud of a family member. The good and the bad swirl together to create the whole family story.

Write one story at a time, not a great many at once. Make up the book and keep adding a story each time you write one. They add up faster than you think. Do it for yourself and for your living family and for future family members, too. Do it soon.

Memories of my brother, Paul, are running through my mind like a video. It's dawned on me that I still have a lot more family stories to write. He wanted the Cubs to win one World Series before he left this earth. He got that wish and, oh, how happy it made him. There's a story about Paul, when he was a kid, and my dad knocking heads over the Cubs and the Chicago White Sox. Paul liked the Cubs but he cheered on the Sox just to make Dad mad and then....well, a story to be written.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Pros and Cons of Entering Writing Contests

Image result for free banner for contest

Writers are often urged to enter contests. Somebody has to win so why not you? Take a chance along with a thousand or more other writers. What are the odds you'll win? Should you try? Or not? 

There are things to consider when you enter your work in a writing contest. Here are just a few:
  • If  I enter my story in the contest that will not announce winners for 6 months, then I cannot submit it for publication. Do I want to tie up my work for that long?
  • How do I know the type of writers that enter this contest? Can I actuall compete with them?
  • Is there a fee to enter?
  • How much is the fee? Is it exorbitant? 
  • If I enter 5 contests and pay an entry fee for each but win nothing, where am I? 
  • Do I know if the contest is legit?
  • Have I checked for validity of the group behind the contest?
  • Does the contest pay winners? Or just publish the winning entries?
  • If they only publish, not pay, winners, why am I paying a fee to enter?
  • How high a fee should I  be willing to pay? 
  • How many contests per year should I enter? The free ones? The ones with entry fees?
  • Should I enter smaller contests first and progress to the bigger ones? 
  • Should I skip the small potatoes contests and aim for the big one with the big prizes? 
/There are also good reasons to enter your work in a contest. Consider these:
  • If I place, it's a good thing to be able to tell an editor later when I submit the same story for publication
  • It's good practice for submitting to editors later
  • You might actually win first, second, third or an Honorable Mention
  •  Enter the no fee contests and you have lost nothing, but they usually have lower amounts for prizes. 
  • You can't win if you don't enter
  • Winning a writing contest looks mighty nice in your bio
  • It's fun to take a chance and see how your work stands up to others (We sometimes forget that writing should have some fun in it)
As for no-fee or fee to enter, that is something each person needs to determine. I have entered both types of contests, have placed in some, and got nothing in many. If you do enter your work in a contest, be sure to read the guidelines and know for sure that your piece fits. Best of luck to all who give it a whirl.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Stormy Writing Exercise

Image result for free storm pictures

 We've all been through various storms. There are thunderstorms, snowstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes and wind storms. They give us a golden opportunity write with vivid visual images and to use sensory details to the fullest. 

We also have metaphorical storms throughout our lives. Today, as an exercise, write about one of those storms that you 'weathered' through. 
  • Include sensory details.
  • Show your feelings rather than telling what they were.
  • Use active verbs
  • Start with a good hook
An exercise like this can often lead to an essay, story, or poem that is worth submitting for publication. We never know what treasure will be found in the recesses of our minds. 

Use the picture above to trigger your memories of your own personal storm.