Strive To Be A Better Writer


Today's poster says what I have written here over and over again, maybe in different words but meaning the same. I truly believe there is never a point where we stop learning. As writers, we can continue to grow no matter how many years we have been pursuing this craft. 

Of course, beginners have lots of room to grow and become better writers, but the old pros can do so, as well. Have you ever heard that your first book is just a practice gig and should never see the light of day? It's been said many a time, but don't tell that to the writers who publish their very first novel. They've done it, but it's quite possible that their second and third book will be better than the first. 

Can we learn better grammar as we continue to write? Better word usage? How to cut unnecessary words? Clarity Emotion? and more? Of course, we can. Knowledge is never a full cup. There is always room for a bit more.

What do you need to do to continue to grow as a writer?

  • Read about writing
  • Read other writers' work
  • Attend conferences and workshops on writing
  • Write on a daily basis
  • Increase vocabulary
  • Submit and get feedback from editors (hopefully)
  • Join a critique group
Don't be a writer who finds one way to write and stays with it. Spread your wings and move on to various forms of writing. If you have never tried a personal essay, give it a whirl. Never written a poem? Try it! Maybe you've never attempted fiction. Why not experiment? 

Keep learning. Keep growing as a writer. Ask yourself if you are the same writer today that you were when you first pursued the craft. I hope you will say "No, I am a better writer today, and I hope to be even better tomorrow."

Slashing Your Written Words

 Saturday, I attended a zoom meeting that featured a woman who teaches English and Literature at Emporia State University in Emporia, KS. Her presentation was on Flash Fiction. The final part was an exercise to write this type of story with guidelines given by her, part by part. It was an interesting and enjoyable exercise. 

Of course, once finished, what we had was a very rough first draft. I liked mine well enough to continue working on it later.

What is one of the first things that must be done? Deleting, or cutting, words. When we write a first draft in a hurry, somehow all rules of writing fly away, and we commit beginner errors. What words will I need to cut?

  • Unnecessary words--those that add nothing to the story or the sentence
  • Repeated words--easy to do when writing that first draft
  • Repeated ideas--sometimes we find ourselves repeating in different paragraphs an idea we are trying to get across. We want our reader to 'get it' so we tend to repeat to make sure. It is not necessary to do this. We must give our readers some credit. 
  • Cut adjectives that are not needed--too many clutter the piece, one is fine, more than that not
  • Cut adverbs--show by action rather than adding an adverb to modify your verbs
  • Remove excess 'the' and 'that'--rewrite sentences without them and they can still stand alone
  • Trim wordy phrases--be concise
  • Active voice usually uses fewer words than passive
  • Eliminate conjunctions--write two sentences instead of one long one joined with a conjunction
  • Get to the point--stop overexplaining
  • Pare your descriptions--use fewer words but good ones
Many of us write to submit with a definite word count. 1000 words? If the guidelines give that number, you had better stick to it. Go over, and all your hard work will swirl down the drain. It would behoove to learn how to cut words.

When you have to shorten your first draft, look at it as a challenge. You might be surprised how easy it is to cut 200 words, or even 50, from what you wrote on the first try. I have always found that cutting words helps me finish with a stronger piece. 

I'm looking forward to working on the draft I wrote over the weekend. There may be additions, but I know there will certainly subtractions. 

Do You Want to Write a Book?


Our poster today is a book tree. Wouldn't be fun to have one in your backyard, waterproofed, of course? Rather than reading books, let's look at those who want to write one? 

Does writing a book inspire you, frighten you, make your knees weak, or get you excited? I would venture to say that most writers start with the idea, or dream, of writing a book. It's an ultimate goal to be reached by various paths and roadblocks. 

Should you attempt writing a book for your first writing project? Many do, but few are successful at selling their initial book to a publishing company. Some self-publish, then run into problems on the marketing end. Self-publishers are like a one-man band. They must do it all! It could be a learn-as-you-go program. Mistakes will be made, some of which can be corrected, some perhaps not. 

I've noted many people on a memoir writing site who say they have a story to tell but have no writing experience. They plunge in head-first and write their book. Is this a wrong approach? Not necessarily. If that story is burning within you, and you feel the need, go ahead. Will it be perfect? Probably not. Can you find help to revise and edit? Of course. A lot also depends on your intent in writing the book. Is it for yourself, family and friends, or to publish for the world to claim? 

Being the writer I am, my suggestion would be to learn something about writing first. Then write some short pieces of memoir to test the waters. Work your way up to writing a full book. Write short pieces that are not a memoir. Perhaps some family stories or a personal essay, a children's story, or even some poetry. Try your luck submitting to publishers or contests. Wade into the writing waters before you swim to the deep part. 

Read all you can about writing; narrow it down to the type of book you want to write. When I first started writing, I thought I wanted to write for middle-grade kids, so I read every book about children's books that I could find in my local library and bookstores. I moved on to writing personal essays and family stories, so I started reading books about this kind of writing. I read books about writing fiction, too, as I still wanted to dabble in both children's and adult fiction at some point. I read books that were meant to inspire me as a writer. Some did. 

The publishing world has seen many changes over the years. The biggest is in self-publishing. There are pros and cons to self-publishing. If anyone can do it, then we know the quality of the books will range from godawful to superb. As said previously, being a self-published writer, you are the one doing it all, but probably reaching out for help at some point. You will have the upfront money to pay with hopes of coming out ahead if your book sells enough copies. It's a huge commitment, and those who pursue it should be passionate and confident about writing. I have known a few people who started their own small publishing company where they published their own book.

I have written one book, but it's never been published. I doubt it ever will. Even so, I feel like I met a goal set many years ago. There is still time for me to pursue publication on my middle-grade novel. One day, I might work a little harder towards that achievement. Or I might leave it that I wrote the novel, and I was happy with it and leave it at that. 

Some things to consider if you want to write a book:
  • How many other books are there like yours?
  • Have you any writing experience?
  • Are you willing to write short before attempting a book?
  • Do you plan to self-publish or submit to publishing houses?
  • Are you proficient in grammar, spelling, and word usage?
  • Do you understand things like plot vs theme?
  • Can you write with emotion?
  • Can you use the five senses in your writing?
  • Can you make smooth transitions from paragraph to paragraph and chapter to chapter?
  • Is your writing clear and concise?
  • Do you feel driven to write this book?
  • Can you live with criticism from readers? This is a big one for new writers.
There is much to consider when you decide to write a book. Step back and look at it from every angle. If you're still feeling the passion to write it, give it a try, but I hope you'll work at learning about writing along the way. 

Beginnings--Important for Writers and Readers


Beginning, onset, start--it doesn't matter what you name it, the first part of any writing project looms large in importance. 

The start of a new story, poem, or essay is you, the writer, saying you are willing to begin again and carry on until the story is complete. It's you saying you have the confidence to do this. It's you saying you want to bring something new to your readers. 

For the reader, the beginning is also of interest. It is the opening into something new, the chance to be drawn in by what the writer has offered, the opportunity to escape from the mundane chores we all face on a daily basis. Readers peruse the beginning hoping for a good read. 

It's the beginning that the writer must concentrate on for it is the golden chance to draw the reader in so that he/she will want to continue. We've all read famous openings to classic books. Did those authors get lucky, or did they plan those opening lines with great care? We'll never know whether they did or not. The best part is that what they wrote worked to pull the reader in.

What should you include in an opening? Action is always a good way to start. Why not begin a mystery with a murder or the discovery of a body? You can set the scene in the next paragraphs, but make something happen right away. In a romance, action between the two people to open, then backstory later or move on with what is happening. An adventure story for kids? Start with the boy or girl in a perilous situation. The reader can learn more about them later. Open with a splash!

An opening should make you curious to know what will happen next. It should pull you into the story and, hopefully, keep you there.

One of the books I often recommend for newer writers to read is called "Beginnings, Middles, and Ends (Elements of Fiction Writiing)" by Nancy Kress, a science fiction author. It's been around for a long time, been revised, and is still popular. 

It takes far more courage from the writer to begin a new writing porject than it does for a reader. The reader picks up the story, reads a few pages, and decides to go on or dump it. The writer has a great deal more to invest here. The writer must decide if that opening is worthwhile, move on to the next part or redo the beginning. 

Nevertheless, beginnings are of importance for both writer and reader. As an exercise today, go to your files of unfinished stories, essays, or poems. read the beginning paragraphs. Were you drawn in? Did they excite you? Did you want to continue? Can you see what changes might be made? Do you want to continue working on this piece? I hope you'll find some inspiration in this exercise. 

Remember this:  The beginning of a new writing project is like opening a door into a new world. You, the writer, can walk through it and take your reader with you.

Inspiration to Write After a Pandemic Year


Our quote today from the author, Jack London, doesn't mince any words. He says that we cannot sit around and wait to be inspired to write. It's up to us to get up, get out and about, get a grip on finding inspiration to write.

How many cutesy articles have you read about waiting for your muse to inspire you to write? That little person who sits on our shoulder and nudges us, beats us up at times, or totally deserts us. Nice to have someone else to blame our problems on, but we can't let the poor muse take all the blame. Yep, it's another one of those 'it's up to you' things.

I've noted myriad writers during the pandemic year we've been experiencing saying that inspiration to write seems to have fled. It's not hard to understand that during times of great stress, our creative side tends to close down. We can certainly say we were all feeling that with the many unknowns of the covid-19 disease at the onset, the changing of directions, the loss of life that pervaded our country.

It's been a year plus, and vaccines are being given to large groups of people. Life is beginning to be a little more normal. Still a way s to go, but there is hope ahead. With the slow return to a more normal kind of life, perhaps our inspiration to write will emerge once again. 

I found myself writing only what was necessary, namely my blog and keeping up with my commitment to my online writing group. It wasn't because I didn't have the time. The senior community where we live was locked down for months at a time. Time was not the problem. 

What can you do to get started writing again, or write more than you have this past year? Find a few suggestions below:
  • Start by making a list of short-term goals. Not a great many, just a few
  • Look in your files to find drafts that can be completed
  • Check calls for submissions to find something to spark your creativity
  • Get out of the house--then observe all that is around you for story ideas
  • Read a book or articles on writing to get back on track
  • Attend a writer's group meeting--I always find inspiration there
  • Have coffee with a writing friend and discuss the inspiration angle
  • Go through old picture albums to find inspiration to write family stories
  • Ditch the negative attitude; look for the positives in life
We've all been through a difficult year. I'm feeling like I need to put it behind me and move on. How about you? The road ahead is all ours, and what we do with it is up to us. I plan to write a great deal more this year, and I hope you will, too.

April is National Poetry Month


April is National Poetry Month. It is hoped that bringing this form of writing to the forefront will encourage both the reading and writing of poetry among students and adults. 

All too often, we hear comments like 'poetry? not my thing' or 'I hated memorizing poetry in school.' or 'I never could understand poetry.' On the other side are readers who make comments like 'I love the beauty of words strung together in a poem.' or 'Poetry soothes my soul.' or 'The beauty of a poem stays with me.'

Just as in prose, poems are not all lumped into one category. They come in an infinite variety. We start out with nursery rhymes that are the sing-song kind of poems children love. Grade school students are exposed to poetry in readers and children's magazines. High School students read poetry within their English classes, and if they have the right kind of teacher, may grow to enjoy it. If all they do is memorize and have the teacher interpret the poem for them as a totally different entity than what they thought they read, it's going to be a black mark against this art form for those students. 

There are wide choices in the kinds of poems we read. They range from humorous to tragic to love poems to ones about nature to short haiku or other Japanese forms. There are rhyming poems and those that do not follow a specific rhyme or rhythm. You have a whole world of poetry to choose from in your reading. There are even prose poems--ones written in paragraph form.

Many poets today publish a book of their poems, usually rather short in length and often based on a particular theme, or just a collection of poems they have written over the years. I often purchase ones published by poets I know, and I have never been disappointed. 

Writing poetry is something anyone can try. You do not have to have studied it in college or a master's program. Anyone can put words together in poetic form. I have never had any formal training in writing poetry, but I gave it a try and found I liked writing poems. Are they magnificent? No. Do they satisfy me? Yes. Have any ever been published or won a contest? Yes. Do I write complicated forms of poetry? No. 

Several members of my online writing group are poets. I have enjoyed the poems they submit for critique, and I have learned a lot by reading the critiques other writers have made. And I have critiqued many of them myself. 

We do more than enjoy reading poetry. We learn as well.

During this national celebration month, give some thought to reading and/or writing poetry. Here is one by one of my favorite poets--Emily Dickinson,

Celebrate Your Library This Week--and Forever


This is National Library Week, and the poster is the official one from the American Library Association. I am happy to share it with my readers. 

I think there are two distinct groups of people regarding libraries--those that use them all the time and the ones who never have. Maybe a small group of people who have used the library on a now and then basis. 

For me, the library has been a second home from the time I received my very first library card many, many years ago. I'm a fast reader, so I would be spending a lot of money on books that I can read for free from my local library. I grew up in a family that did not have extra dollars for books, which is why my mother introduced me to the treasure trove at our local library. Only one of many things for which I should have thanked her. 

In turn, I took my own children to the library when they were toddlers, and I've encouraged my grandchildren to use their libraries and to become readers. 

Perhaps we take the gift of a library for granted. It's there for us, has been there, and we assume it always will be. I hope and pray that we will always have access to this wonderful institution. 

Do you think only of borrowing books at a library? They offer so many other services:
  • hardback and paperback books
  • e-books
  • entertainment videos
  • computer and printer access
  • skill-building opportunities
  • community involvement
  • event space
  • academic and research support
  • free images of artwork
  • children's programming
  • newspapers and magazines
This is not a complete list by any means. The larger the library, the more they can offer. 

I have posted a personal essay about my library experience here before, and I am going to do so again today for those who have not read it before. I think many will be able to relate to what I've written. If you haven't thanked a librarian,, perhaps now is the time to do so. During the pandemic year, many libraries closed completely for walk-in service, and then slowly opened for quick browsing. What a thrill it was for me the first time I had the opportunity to do so. 

My Second Home
by Nancy Julien Kopp

In addition to my regular residence, I have a second home. My mother
introduced this special dwelling to me when I was only six years old.  She held my hand, and we walked several blocks in the warm autumn sunshine, stopping only when we approached a square brick building. Graced by trees and shrubs and a patio-like courtyard, it had a certain elegance and air of importance that I recognized, even at so young an age.

We entered the building and stepped into a cool, quiet atmosphere. The first thing to meet the eye was a large, wrap-around desk that extended across the entryway. A stout woman stood behind the desk, gray hair severely drawn back and caught in a small bun. No make-up adorned her face, and there wasn't a smile there either. I moved instinctively closer to my mother, my hand nestled in hers, until I looked up into the woman's eyes. What I saw made me smile at her. Blue eyes, the shade of cornflowers, sparkled with a smile of their own, softening her otherwise stern appearance. Soon, the smile in her eyes spread to her wide mouth.
"We've come to get a library card," my mother announced. The woman had the application card ready in a flash and passed it over to me to sign my name. I proudly printed it for her and slid the card back across the desk. Not only could I sign my name, but I could also read, as well. Dick and Jane and their dog, Spot had shown me the way.

"Alright, Nancy," the woman said as she read from the form, "come with me."

She came around the desk and offered her hand, saying, “I am Miss Maze.” I grasped the hand this corseted woman in the black dress offered. My expectations were great, and I was not to be disappointed, for this kind woman led me to the Children's Department and patiently showed me all the books that stood on shelves like soldiers at attention. She spoke with wonder and awe as she explained the kinds of books that rested before us, making me eager to read every one.

It was a land of enchantment, a ticket to exotic places.  My mother and Miss Maze introduced me that day to the fascinating world of books and libraries, and thus began a love affair that continues to this day. I became a voracious reader and still am.

I was the child whose nose was always in a book. When old enough, I walked to the library alone at least weekly, sometimes more than that. I strolled past the conservatory that was home to a tropical rainforest, then on by a city park, across the railroad tracks and down a cinder path that ran behind the train platform. By the time I reached that cinder path, my pace increased, even though I carried a stack of books. I was in a hurry to reach the riches awaiting me at the library.

The grade school I attended had a separate library, which we could use when we reached fourth grade. I visited it regularly but also continued going to the public library. I felt at home in both places and felt much the same when I moved on to the Oak Park High School library, then one on my college campus.  The libraries provided the necessary information for all the papers I wrote during those years, as well as hours and hours of entertainment, as I read book upon book. The building I had frequented near my home during my growing up years was renamed when my old friend, the librarian, died.  The South Branch became the Adele Maze Branch Library, and every time I saw the plaque bearing her name, I thought of those cornflower blue, smiling eyes, and her kindness to me and other children through the years.  How I wish I could thank her for what she gave to so many.

During the years since I left my home community, I have made a habit of making a visit to the library one of the top priorities whenever moving to a new place. Within the first week, I have fled the packing boxes and sought out what has become a second home to me. Over 54 years of marriage, we have lived in five different towns, and, in all of them, the library has been a sanctuary and a haven.

Now, when I open the big glass door to my local library and walk through the atrium to the book-lined shelves, I feel just like I did when Miss Maze took my hand and led me to the children's books. I am happy and contented, as though loving arms have surrounded me with a great big hug. Best of all, I still feel exciting anticipation of the unknown treasure waiting for me amongst the volumes that line the shelves in my second home.
I am so grateful that I had a mother who led me to one of the greatest treasures in my life, the public library. That same gratefulness includes Adele Maze, the librarian who helped form my love of books and the buildings that hold them.
 (C)  Published in Flashlight Memories Anthology

Strive To Be A Better Writer

  Today's poster says what I have written here over and over again, maybe in different words but meaning the same. I truly believe there...