The Gift--A Writing Prompt


Which is THE one?

Let's try a photo prompt today. Usually, I choose a scene with a person or people in it. Many parts to study. With this one you'll need a little more imagination.

There are four gifts under a Christmas tree. Consider that one of them holds a very special gift. Write a short story, or even a few paragraphs about the four gifts and the one that is special. If; you enjoy writing poetry, try a narrative poem for the exercise.

Before you begin, ask yourself:

  1. Where does the story take place?
  2. Who will receive that one special gift?
  3. Why is that person getting a special gift?
  4. What did you have to go through to get the gift?
  5. Where did you go to get the gift?
  6. Did you have enough money or not?
  7. What is the person's reaction when he/she opens the gift?
  8. How does the giver feel when the gift has been received?
  9. What period of time is this taking place?
  10. What is the gift?
  11. The packages are wrapped in simple paper and twine with a sprig of greenery. Is this significant?
This photo prompt could take you to many places, stir up emotions, and help you write a Christmas story. It's a writing exercise but one that can go many different ways---humorous, sci-fi, horror, fantasy, romance--your choice.

Unfinished Pieces of Writing


Do you love to start new writing projects? Most writers do. In the beginning, we're inspired and eager to put our idea into words. 

Sometimes, however, we get bogged down in the middle or can't come up with what we hope is a good conclusion. So, what do we do? The easy way out is to stop, put the unfinished piece in a file, and move on to something new.

There are writers who like to begin but seldom finish. What happens? Is it boredom? Or an inability to persevere from beginning to end? Or fear of finishing and then being criticized? Or a lack of self-confidence? Any one of these can be the reason a project is left dangling like the heroine in a silent movie who is holding onto a rope over the side of a tall building. Don't let your story dangle. Rescue it.

Is it always wrong to place an unfinished piece of writing in a file and move on to something else? No. When you get stuck for whatever reason, it can be beneficial to put your writing aside. What you do want to do is go back to it in a reasonable amount of time and continue to work on the story, essay, or poem. You might be able to see more clearly how to solve a problem or what kind of ending will work best. 

Keep a file with unfinished work, and periodically check that file and see if you can find something in there to work on again. Having the file is worthwhile but letting it gather dust for a long time is fruitless. 

You might make a goal to work on one unfinished piece each month. Do that, and you've got twelve completed projects tht you can start submitting. 

Thoughts on First Drafts


When you started writing, did you try to write a full story all at one time? Once through and a few proofreading edits and you called it done? If you did, you were not alone. it takes some time for writers to figure out, or read and learn, that a first draft is merely Step 1 in the writing process. As Terry Prachett says, we are only telling ourselves the story in that first draft. It's not the end but a springboard to the final draft.

The quote using the image of shoveling sand into a box is one that brings a picture to us in an interesting way. That first draft is a whole lot of sand with which the writer will build castles by the time he/she reaches that delightful final draft. 

Perfection is never the aim when we write the first draft. We're trying to get our thoughts into words on paper or a computer screen. It's a transfer process moving from mind to something we can actually read. And yes, they are almost always far from perfect. Again, remember that is a first step, nothing more. 
The next steps involve proofreading, editing and revising, and finally, the finished product. So much goes into that final piece. 

Should you write the first draft of a short story or personal essay and move the process to the completed piece all in one day? Absolutely not. The first draft needs to simmer for days, even longer. It is then that you will be able to read it and see what needs to be done to polish those words into a submittable piece of writing. 

What about the first draft of a poem? Same thoughts, same process. Give it time to sit awhile and then do the editing. You'll see the places that need changing more easily. Try to do the editing immediately after writing the first draft, and you'll miss so many little things. Patience comes into play here.

Chicken Soup Needs Eldercare Stories


When I turned the page on my calendar this morning, I wondered how it could actually be the final month of this strange pandemic year of 2020. I pray 2021 will end up on a better note. Today's photo seemed appropriate for the beginning of December and to remind us to still take time to write. Maybe our 2020 December won't be as busy and hectic as usual, so perhaps there will be a bit of extra time. 

I received a notice yesterday from the editors of Chicken Soup for the Soul with a call for submissions to one of their titles now in the works. When they send out a special call for a single book, it tells me they are in need of more stories sent to them. Maybe they have received a lot already but are not the high quality they aim for. Or perhaps this title is a difficult one to write for. Whatever the case, this is an opportunity to get your foot in the door at this top-notch anthology

The book title is "Eldercare With Love." I'm pleased they put the word 'love' in the title because eldercare needs a lot of love along with patience and understanding. Kindness and compassion and a little humor are also necessities when offering eldercare, whether it be to a parent, grandparent,  or sibling. All those words that describe the needs of a person caring for another are fine, but they are not always easy to use on a 24/7 basis. 

The stories the editors are seeking must not be from professional caregivers. Instead, they have designated caregivers who are family members or a close friend, not a paid professional. 

A lengthy list of possible topics has been included in the call for submissions. Read through it to trigger a thought or memory which might help you write a story for this book. Remember that it must be a true story and it should have a beginning, middle, and ending. They do not want an essay about your thoughts. A full story is what is requested. 

Go to this page and scroll down to the Eldercare title. Read carefully. And remember that your submission can be a poem that tells a story also.  The deadline is January 30, 2021, but the sooner you get the story sent, the better. Be sure to click over to the Guidelines page and study it carefully. Those guidelines are not suggestions--they are requirements for your story to be considered.

Ever Itch to Write?


the itch of literature came over me and nothing could cure it but the scratching of a pen. 

When I read this quote for the first time, I knew exactly what the writer meant. There are times when I feel the need to sit down and write. It doesn't have to be a story or essay or poem. Writing a personal letter to a friend can soothe that itch. Or writing in a journal. 

The best thing you can do when that urge to write comes to you is to follow what it is telling you. The gentleman who is quoted probably wrote with an old-fashioned quill pen, but we are fortunate to have the ability to write in several ways.

We can sit at our computer, tap away on our cellphone, or pick up a ballpoint pen, or even a lead pencil, and write immediately. Those who journal most likely keep it in a handy spot and can grab it at will and write whatever is in their mind or on their heart. Some journal on a computer. However you journal, it becomes a habit. If you decide to skip it for a day or two, I have a feeling that the itch to write in your journal comes over you.

Sometimes writers work on assignments or for a piece to submit to a contest or a magazine in hope of being published. It's what writers do. Still, there are times when we are moved to write something for ourselves. A line or two of a poem flits through your mind, and if you don't stop and write it down right away, it can disappear. Write even those two lines and then leave it alone until the 'itch' to write comes upon you.

When that itch to write happens, listen and respond. The more you push it aside, I fear the more of an itch you will have. Could it be your muse telling you to hustle to your favorite writing spot and get busy? It's better to listen to her rather than put up with the nagging she's sure to do.

Genuine Gratitude on This Thanksgiving


Has it become trite to list all you are grateful for each Thanksgiivng? Every November, we hear others tell us to be thankful, and we say we are, but to what depth does that gratitude go? Do we merely parrot the words every Thanksgiving, or is our gratitude genuine? 

Some families have each person at the Thanksgiving table offer one thing in life that they are thankful for. It's a tradition, and sometimes family members roll their eyes and think "Oh no, not again." Family members then state one thing for which they are grateful. Some will be carefully thought out whle others might be humorous and still others nothing but fluff. Even so, families who practice offering thanks at the table have created a lifelong memory. 

As for me, I'm grateful for more things in both my everyday life and my writing life than I can possibly list. 
In my everyday life, I am grateful for:
  • parents who gave me wholesome values
  • siblings whom I love--two of whom have passed away
  • children who have done well, have good marriages, and have given us grandchildren
  • four grandchildren whom I love dearly and who have made me proud
  • a strong marriage 
  • aunts, uncles, and cousins who have all been a special part of my life
  • never having gone hungry or without shelter
  • being a Christian
  • having a wide circle of friends
  • never having a serious health problem 
  • and so much more...
In my writing life, I am grateful for:
  • being able to write stories and more that entertain or help others
  • the ability to keep learning as a writer
  • the many writer friends I have made over the years
  • the joy of continuing to learn my craft
  • the satisfaction I get from writing
  • having become a published writer
  • writing a variety of stories, essays, poems, memoir, articles and stories for children rather than one category
  • living in a technological world that makes being a writer easier than ever before
  • the Kansas Authors Club where I have learned, taught, and made myriad friends over the years
  • and so much more...
I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and much to be grateful for. Perhaps you'll make your own lists. Some of us will be with family this Thanksgiving while others will spned the holiday alone with hope that next year, we can once again gather as families without the fear of catching the covid virus. 

NOTE:  I'm taking a little break. The next post will be on Monday, November 30th.

Writing for Kids and A Feast for Oscar


Yesterday's post covered writing for children. There is such a wide variety of avenues to travel when writing for children. Consider that the age range is from 0-18.

If you want to write books for children, take it slowly and work on stories for children's magazines or publications like the Weekly Reader that schools used up until 2012. The Scholastic News is still going and is weekly.  Build up your resume with short story publications. When you do start submitting a book to publishing houses, you can show that you have been successful in writing for children by listing those short pieces. 

Besides building a resume, you will learn a great deal from writing those shorter pieces. Doing the short ones will help ease your way into writing a full book. I've advised writers of memoir to try short memoir pieces before tackling a book-length memoir. 

Once again, use a search engine to find publications that will fit the age group you are writing for. The children's magazines are geared to age groups. I recently sold a story to Cadet Quest which is a Christian magazine for boys 9-14. Read the guidelines carefully to make sure it's a good fit for what you have written. Many of the children's magazines and ezines are geared to boys or girls, while others include both genders. 

Pay attention to the trends in children's publishing. There was a time when mood picture books were very popular, then they phased out. Publishers tend to follow the trends, so you may want to keep that in mind.

Since Thanksgiving is only two days away, I'm going to close today with my Thanksgiving story for kids that was published a few years ago in a magazine. The idea came from an experience I had at about age 10. When you read the story, you'll see the reason for the cereal box shown with today's post. 

A Feast For Oscar 

“Turkey!” shouted three boys in the back row of Miss Edwards’ fourth-grade class.

“What else?” our teacher asked.

Melissa Martin waved her hand. “How abour sweet potatoes and cranberries?” 

We were listing foods people usually eat for Thanksgiving. Thinking of all those good things made my mouth water and my stomach growl like a hungry lion. I raised my hand and waved it back and forth so Miss Edwards would call on me.

“Yes Tim,” she said.

I added my Thanksgiving favorite. “How about stuffing for the turkey?”

Nearly everyone in our class named something—everyone except for Oscar Livingood.

Miss Edwards strolled between the rows of desks. “Oscar, what will you have for this special dinner?” she asked.

Oscar ducked his head and mumbled words that sounded like, Cereal, I guess.”

The class roared with laughter. I laughed long and hard at what Oscar had said. Oscar was a real comic.

Miss Edwards held up her hand for quiet, then asked Oscar, “Are you sure?”

Oscar kept his eyes on the desktop. “Pretty sure. That’s what we have most nights.”

Miss Edwards patted Oscar on the head and returned to the front of the room.

We waited. What would she say now?

“Take out your English books and turn to page 67.” 

That was it. She never mentioned Oscar’s strange remark. Instead, she erased the long list of foods on the chalkboard and the subject of Thanksgiving dinner was dropped.

I walked home from school alone that day. I couldn’t stop thinking about Oscar. The guy had a funny name and it sounded life he ate funny, too. Maybe he wasn’t trying to amuse us, maybe he was serious.

I ran into the house letting the screen door slam behind me. I cringed and waited for Mom to yell “Don’t slam that door!” but she didn’t say a word. She was at the kitchen table writing.

I grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter and peered over her shoulder. “Hey Mom, what are you doing?”

She smiled but kept on writing. “I’m making a grocery list for Thanksgiving. There are so many extra things to buy when you create a super-duper, fantastic feast like we’ll have next week. Your Gran is coming and so is Uncle Pete.”

I said, “Get lots of good stuff. I’m saving up to eat enough for two people.” Mom’s list included all my favorites—turkey, cranberries, pumpkin, potatoes and sweet potatoes. On and on it went. “Yum, I can’t wait for Thanksgiving.”

“We have a lot to be thankful for.” Mom said. “Not everyone can afford to buy all these extrea things for a holiday dinner.”

Her comment made me think of Oscar, and I didn’t like the picture forming in my mind. Would Oscar and his mom sit at their table with nothing but two bowls of cereal? I shook my head a little to clear the picture away and went upstairs to start on my homework.

The next day I watched Oscar Livingood. He needed a haircut, and his clothes looked pretty worn and raggedy. Most days, Oscar faded into the background because he didn’t have much to say. Maybe that’s why I never paid much attention to him before. Now, all I could think of was the bowl of cereal he’d eat for Thanksgiving dinner.

On Monday morning, Miss Edwards announced that the class would make up a basket of food for a needy family for a class project. By the day before Thanksgiving, cans and boxes rested in the basket our teacher had provided. Even Oscar slipped a can of soup in with the rest. Miss Edwards would add a turkey at the last minute.

We held a drawing to determine who would go with the teacher to deliver the basket. I drew one of the lucky tickets, and so did Oscar. After school, we climbed into Miss Edwards’ van.  She stopped at the market to pick up the turkey and we were off to visit the family whose name had been given to us. They knew we were coming, but even so, their faces lit up with happiness when they opened the door. The mother and father thanked us over and over, and three little kids fingered the overflowing basket.

On the way home, I said to Oscar, “It’s good to help people who really need help, isn’t it?

Oscar grinned and pushed his long hair off his forehead. “They’ll remember this Thanksgiving for a long time. They’ll know somebody cared.”

Suddenly, the bowl of cereal popped into my head again. “Oscar, who are you going to be with tomorrow?”

“Just my mom.”

That night I tossed and turned in my bed while I dreamed about giant boxes of cereal marching in a parade. When I woke up, I knew what my plan for the day would be. First, I’d talk to Mom and Dad and tell them about Oscar and his mother. Next, I would walk down to Oscar’s house and invite them to join us at our dinner table. I wanted him to know somebody cared about him, too. Oscar was not going to eat cereal on Thanksgiving Day.


The Gift--A Writing Prompt

  Which is THE one? Let's try a photo prompt today. Usually, I choose a scene with a person or people in it. Many parts to study. With t...