Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Writers Must Be Determined


Determination is one characteristic a writer needs if he/she wants to be successful. A few synonyms for determination are perseverance, firmness, resolute, unwavering and tenacity. 

Whew! Those are all pretty strong words, ones that can carry a writer to high places. 

Writers who submit often and receive multiple rejections might be so disappointed that they figure it's useless. They give up. It's understandable. No one likes to be smacked down over and over. 

It's the determined writer who is going to find success, even if it takes a long time. One writer whose determination served him well is John Grisham. He approached publishing house after publishing house with his novel The Firm before it was picked up. He didn't give up but kept sending queries and sample pages to editors. He's not alone. There are myriad novelists who have experienced the same kind of difficulties. The ones we know are those who kept pursuing publication even after multiple rejections.

What about the writers who don't write books but short pieces instead? They seek publication, too. They might receive rejections and take one of two paths. They'll either wilt like yesterday's flower and give up, or they'll develop an attitude of continuing to submit a piece, perhaps after some editing and revision, but never giving up. These are the writers who end up being published.

Do these writers get depressed, feel down in the dumps when a rejection floats their way? Of course they do, but the determined ones move on to the next market on the list and submit again. (market list? That's a hint for those who want to be published!z0

It's up to you to decide how much being published means to you. How determined you can be. How much effort you want to put into your writing life. I hope many of you will be like Mr. Turtle and keep moving toward your goal of publication. 

Monday, November 27, 2023

Snow Can Trigger Your Writing

 Writers often lament the fact that they don't know what to write about. Stuck for a new idea. Yet, story ideas are swirling around us all the time just like snowflakes drifting downward from above. Snow is a great topic. We had several inches here on Saturday. Our first snow of the winter.

Watching snow blanketing our world often moves us to write a poem. For some reason, we forget the cold, the wet, the shivers we have, and only the beauty of a snowstorm remains. Think of all the wonderful adjectives there are to describe this little piece of nature. Try writing a poem using snow as the topic.

Snow also brings many memories of childhood experiences. Times when we went sledding, ice skating, or shoveling the family driveway and sidewalks. Times when there were snowball fights and the building of snowmen. Did you run inside and grab a carrot from the fridge for the snowman's nose? Was it a struggle to walk to school in the aftermath of a big snow? Did your mom make you bundle up so much to play in the snow that you could hardly walk? Was there hot chocolate waiting for you after being outside in the freezing temps? Ponder on the many memories of snow when you were a child. Story ideas abound!

 How about writing about problems you had because of snow? Maybe your car slid off the road into a ditch. Or you slipped and fell on a snowy step. Perhaps you had a nicely shoveled walk but ended up in bed with a bad back for a week. Or your car broke down on a snowy night in a deserted area. Snowy times can bring troubled times, as well as delight. Write about it!

Write an article about the facets of snow for a children's magazine. Or a fiction story for kids that is a tale of a snowy day. 

When you think there is nothing to write about, think of a simple topic like snow. Write the word on a piece of paper, then draw lines from it with all the thoughts that come to mind from this simple word. 

Make a list of all the words you can think of that might describe snow or have something to do with that cold, white stuff that piles up in our yard and on the streets. Do a freewrite exercise using the word 'snow' as your starter. Write fast, no stopping, about the word for a full ten minutes and see what results. An idea for something to write about perhaps.

Snow--such a simple word but one that can take you many places in your writing world.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Become a Better Writer


Our poster quote for today could easily be applied to writers who submit and submit but don't seem to have much success. Or not as much as they once hoped. 

Writing, no matter whether it is fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, essays or factual articles, is a tough road to travel. For one thing, there is tremendous competition. It three writers submit a story to a magazine, the odds are fairly good, but if three hundred submit to that publication, the odds aren't so hot. 

Writers not only have to be good in this craft, they have to be better than most of the others. That means hard work. It means keeping up with what is going on in the writing world. It means continuing to read about writing. It means editing and revising over and over. It means coming up with an angle on a story that no one else has done before. 

When we do have some success, it means that we can only bask in the afterglow for a short time. Then, it's time to get back to becoming a better writer. That should be one of our most consistent goals--to become a better writer. 

I loved the unit on graphs during my junior high math class. If we created a graph now on the ups and downs in a writers life, it would be a sight to see. Peaks and valleys. Sharp turns that go on and on. 

Yes, a writer's life can be hard but also rewarding. There is no doubt that to be a writer on a continuous basis, you must be passionate about the craft. You must enjoy the act of writing. You must have goals set and work towards them. 

If somebody hugs you and gifts you with chocolate and six million dollars, all the better. Just don't forget that you're a writer and must keep on writing. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Thanksgiving Memories

 My computer problems are finally solved. I have been without this trusty laptop for almost three weeks due to various snafus. But today, my IT guy here at Meadowlark brought it back to me with a new hard drive and a whole new look. I'm going to have to spend some time figuring out the how and why of this seemingly new laptop. Posting on my phone was too difficult, too time consuming. So, I apologize for the lack of posts these past weeks. 

Thanksgiving is only two days away, and I've been thinking about Thanksgiving celebrations of my childhood and those when my own children were young. It's a perfect topic to write a family story or a slice of life piece about what this annual feasting day was like for your family. 

I grew up in a Chicago suburb in the 40s and 50s, and life was a bit different. Slower paced perhaps but we weren't aware of it then. Looking back at the Thanksgivings of my growing-up years, I have a warm feeling.

My father's two sisters and families lived not too far from us, and my mother and the aunts took turns hosting Thanksgiving. The six adults and 9 children of various ages gathered together on what was often a dreary day outdoors, typical of the Chicago area, but full of sunshine around the holiday table inside. 

We lived in a two bedroom, third floor apartment with a decent sized dining room, but a miniscule kitchen that had a formica table. Somehow, my mother prepared the large dinner in that tiny kitchen, and there was room for everyone to sit at one of the tables. The aunts brought side dishes sometimes, but often Mother created the entire dinner. We had turkey, of course, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, a vegetable of some kind, a delightful salad called Seafoam made with canned pears, lime jello, cream cheese, and whipped cream. A holiday staple for our family. Dessert was, of course, pumpkin pie with a dollop of real whipped cream on top. Mother also made dinner rolls of one kind or another. Parker House was the one she made the most often. 

After dinner, the men lounged in the living room, the kids were sent outside to play, cold or not, and the women did all the dishes by hand. No dishwasher. When my cousin, Carol, and I reached early teens, we were drafted to the clean-up committee. I remember the laughter and chatter as we dried the silverware, while the women took care of the china plates. How we all fit in that little kitchen is a wonder to me today. How my mother created such wonderful holiday meals in it seems almost a miracle. 

We didn't expound on the meaning of the holiday as we gathered, but we all knew what it was about. All of the cousins had learned about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving feast in school from kindergarten through sixth grade. Maybe each person around those two tables were silently grateful for food and family and a time to be together. 

Thanksgivings at my Aunt Adeline's became memorable, too. She and Uncle Tom and their four children lived in a large, old home with a big farmhouse kind of kitchen. This aunt was a wonderful cook, known for the best gravy ever. We didn't have the Seafoam Salad at her house, but the rest of the menu was the same. They had a big yard, where we kids were sent after the big dinner, while the adults at the table drinking coffee and picking at what was left. 

Thanksgiving in those years meant family and food which is pretty much like it is today, but the food prep and clean-up is more streamlined. Still, women in the kitchen and the men around the tv is pretty much the same. During the 40s, the men gathered around the big console radios we all had instead. 

Consider writing about your Thanksgiving memories for your children and grandchildren. Count your blessings as you prepare for this holiday, hopefully with family or friends. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Small Interruption

 Sorry for the delay. Computer issues. Back as soon as they are fixed. Meanwhile, keep on writing!

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Writers, Toss Out Mr. Doubt

I just now read a piece by an academic who has published many articles. She had decided to try writing a personal essay while attending a writing group class in Italy. She was so new to this kind of writing that she was truly shaken by it. Heeding the encouragement of the members of the class, she wrote the essay, found a top magazine that she wanted to submit to, and pushed Send. 

Like many of us, once she'd pushed that Send button, she got a little nervous. 'What have I done?' was her first thought. 

The writer was experienced in writing in her academic field, but writing about a personal experience was quite different. If scared her. It's a feeling many of us have shared. Sometimes, Mr. Doubt moves into our writing area, pulls up a chair, and commences to bug us. The sad thing is we often let him stay. 

It's important that a writer believes in him/herself. If not, how can they expect others to believe in their work? Others like editors, and then Readers. 

Consider the woman I wrote about above. Yes, she was writing in a different genre, but if she had the ability to have many academic articles published, she was capable of moving to a different style of writing. She needed to have had a heart to heart talk with herself.

This is what she might have told herself. "You're not a brand new writer. You've done this writing gig a great many times, and you've had success in publishing many articles in your field. You know the method, you know the tools of the craft, you know the submission process. If you can do all that, you can write in a different genre and be successful." 

The key would be for her to believe what she's saying. To believe in herself. To believe that she can find some success in a different field. The fact that she's already a published writer should be a big factor in the way she thinks of herself as a writer. 

So, what happened to the essay she sent to a top magazine? Within an hour, she received a reply and acceptance. Most likely because her topic was of great interest with what is going on in the Middle East right now. What if she had not hit Send? What if her belief in herself failed totally? Happily, she overcame her doubt and hit that important button to zip her essay to the editor. Most likely, she'll be sending Mr. Doubt right out the door, slamming it shut after him. 

Today's poster quoting Theodore Roosevelt fits quite well here. "Believe you can, and you're halfway there." Remember to accentuate the positives in your writing life, and keep moving on. 


Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Pinocchio Factor

Since yesterday's post featured characterization in fiction, I thought you might like to see a repeat of another post that gives more specifics about showing and emotion in characters. 

An intriguing plot that piques the reader's interest and holds it throughout the story might be at the top of a list of goals for writing good fiction. As important as plot looms in creating memorable fiction, however, characters that show emotion and carry out the plot may surpass it in importance. No matter how good the story line, stiff and unfeeling characters will deflate a story faster than a pin pops a balloon.

In the classic tale, Pinocchio, a woodcarver named Geppetto creates a puppet boy made of wood. Geppetto's fondest wish is to turn his inanimate creation into a live boy who can love and cry and be a son to him. Pinocchio's adventures and misadventures fill the pages of this beloved children's story. We're writers, not woodcarvers. We don't want to create lifeless characters that might drag a story into oblivion.

We've all read work with characters that move the reader from Point A to Point B, but if they are wooden and show little or no emotion, we lose interest quickly. Emotion drives us, identifies us, and creates feelings of one kind or another for the characters in a story.

Readers want to see emotions in the characters they read about. Let them feel the anger, fear, or sadness in a character. More important than a physical description is to show what that character feels within. Show is the keyword here. 

Consider the following two passages:

A. Jennifer felt angry.

B. Jennifer stormed into the kitchen, picked up a bowl of gravy and threw it against the wall. Body shaking, she clenched her hands into fists and searched wildly for another missile to hurl.

Passage A is short and sweet and tells the reader what the emotion is, while B shows the emotion through Jennifer's actions. The reader can relate to and feel the emotion in B. Depending on the situation in which Jennifer vents her anger, the reader may be angry and empathize with her, or the reader might be in total disagreement and feel no sympathy at all for her. The important thing is that Passage B not only shows emotion in the character, it creates emotion in the reader.

Have you ever read a novel where lengthy physical descriptions of the characters filled page after page? At the end, all you have is the outer layer of the character. You still don't know what they are like emotionally. Let the reader be moved by the character's jealousy, deep love, or sorrow. Naming the emotion the character experiences isn't enough. The writer must make the reader feel what the character feels.

In Lois Lowry's Newberry Award novel, Number The Stars, a girl living in Nazi-occupied Denmark during WWII runs into two German soldiers on her way home from school. Ms. Lowry did not say "Annemarie was frightened by the soldiers." Instead, she wrote the following passage:

Annemarie stared up. There were two of them. That meant two helmets, two sets of cold eyes glaring at her, and four tall shiny boots planted firmly on the sidewalk, blocking her path to home. And it meant two rifles, gripped in the hands of the soldiers.

When a reader comes to this passage, her heart might beat a little faster. She’ll feel the same fear that Annemarie must be experiencing by seeing the soldiers through her child eyes.

In her book, Skylark, Patricia MacLachlan created characters that let us know their feelings through their actions. Consider this passage in which Anna describes a reunion with her father, whom she and Caleb have not seen in many months:

"Papa!" Caleb ran into Papa's arms, and Papa held him close. Papa picked me up, too, and my hat fell off, and I buried my face in his neck.

Instead of Anna saying "I was happy to see Papa," Ms. McLachlan shows us that joy in all three characters with a simple description.

In Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi brings Geppetto the woodcarver to life through his words and actions. When Geppetto carves his wooden puppet, strange things begin to happen, and we see his fear and frustration in the following passage:

In a few minutes it had become an immense nose that seemed to never end. Poor Geppetto tired himself out with cutting it off. The mouth was not even completed when it began to laugh and deride him. "Stop laughing I say," he roared in a threatening tone.

In real life, we often hold back our emotions. When writing, we must learn to do exactly the opposite. If you want to create memorable characters that inspire deep feelings in the reader, release the passion in you and allow the emotion to rise to the top. It's the perfect place to give your own emotions the outlet you might not have in your everyday existence. Make your characters laugh and cry, shout and stomp.

Pinocchio spent an entire book trying to become a real boy. You can create a real person in a paragraph with the right words. Let yourself go. Who knows? It could be a lot of fun! 





Writers Must Be Determined

  Determination is one characteristic a writer needs if he/she wants to be successful. A few synonyms for determination are perseverance, fi...