Friday, February 16, 2018

Write With Emotion

Image result for free image writing with emotion

They may forget what you said and did, but they won't forget how you made them feel.
                                                                                                             --Maya Angelou

The quote above, attributed to renowned poet, Maya Angelou is one I've seen multiple times. It's a very good reminder to writers to write with emotion. Sounds good but how hard, or how easy, is it?

It begins with us. I think writers need to feel the emotion within before they can expect to reach readers and make them feel it, as well. If we write about a trauma in our life, and all we do is report it by stating the facts, the reader may feel a bit bad but they aren't going to have that lump in the throat, or tear in the eye, or pang in the heart that they might if the writer unleashes the emotion in him/herself. 

Sometimes, we writers build a wall around our emotional self, lock the gate and throw away the key. Or we tie ourself with the ropes of tell it but don't you dare feel it. Why? When we write with deep emotion, it can hurt. We've already been hurt so why would we want to do that all over again? Consider that reliving a traumatic situation can be a step in the healing process. No miracles, just a step. Crying can be a release and so can writing about a dark part of life.

Humor is not easy to write and make the reader giggle or smirk or smile broadly. Write it with the gleeful emotion you feel yourself and your reader will respond accordingly. How about fear? We may need to have experienced fear in some time of our life to be able to write with the true emotion. Think about how your body responded--heart racing, sweat on your brow, or unstoppable trembling. 

One part of writing with emotion is to show rather than tell. If you tell what happened, it's a report. Show it if you want your reader to feel it. So simple but so important!

I read an essay that was subbed in my online writing group the other day. By the time, I got halfway through, emotion rose in me and kept going til the end of the piece. The writer did a wonderful job in relaying her own feelings to me, the reader. And she did it without being sappy. Writing with too much emotion is just as bad as writing with none. There's a fine line between the two. 

There are whole books written on this topic. Google to find them so you can read about this topic in more depth. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Selecting Titles For Your Writing

Yesterday, I made a trip to the library to find some new books to read. I spent a long time at the New Fiction  section and then went on to the stacks, scanning titles as I passed by. When a title sounded interesting, I pulled out the book and read the frontispiece. Sometimes I was disappointed as the title didn't seem to fit the summary of the story. Three times I tucked the book into my book bag to bring home. The title and the book summary both interested me.

Titles are of great importance whether you write fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. The title is a preview of coming attractions, far more concise than the ones we see for movies in the theater. They can be gloriously short or wondrously long. A title can indicate humor or tragedy or leave you puzzled. 

A book I reviewed a couple weeks ago had a title that made me curious enough to pull it off the library shelf to see what it was actually about. Wouldn't you wonder about a book titled The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry? It gives us an ordinary name of a man who does something out of the ordinary--namely a pilgrimage. My mind instantly wanted to know what kind of pilgrimage this ordinary named man would go on. The title drew me and the book did not disappoint.

We know that first impressions are important when we're dealing with other people. A book, or story, title is also a first impression. It's the authors first chance to draw a reader. so he/she had better not pull something out of the air and plunk it at the top of what he/she has spent weeks, months or more writing. Choosing a title should not be taken lightly. 

What are some ways authors/writers select a title? Some use part of a quote that fits the writing project. Some use the name of the protagonist. Others will ask a question or state something that indicates the story inside the book covers is a mystery or a romance or science fiction.

When Margaret Mitchell finished her epic Civil War novel, she played around with several titles. Among them was Tote The Weary Load. Another was Milestones and still one more was Not in Our Stars. She settled on Gone With the Wind which indicates loss and turned out to be the perfect choice. She might have called it Scarlett but that only tells us who the main character is. 

Some writers like to use alliteration in the title, or something sing-song catchy, or humor. There are titles that are truly far out, selected by the writer in hopes of catching the attention of an editor. It might or it might not. 

One big thing you should not do when picking a title is to give it little thought, to paste on the first thing that comes to mind. You could be sorry if you do that. The poster quote by Albert Einstein above gives us some advice in how to pick our titles. Think about it, try several and then go away and do something else--whether swimming or filling the dishwasher--then come back and see if your thinking is better. 

There are writers who choose a title first while more, I think, make it the final bit. You can choose a working title and change it later. One of the things asked quite often by those in my writing group that submit their work for critique is about the title. I don't like the title. Can you help me find another? 

The main thing is to give the selection of a title the importance it deserves. It can make or break what you've written.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Childhood Valentine Memory

Image result for free image Valentine Box

 This is the only Valentine story I've ever written. It has been published many times since it appeared in a Dads and Daughters Chicken Soup book, even translated into some foreign languages.  The picture of me below is one when I was about two years older than when this story took place. That's my dad in the other photo. You, too, can take a simple memory from long ago and write a story.

This quote from Cynthia Ozick writer fits my story perfectly:

What we remember from childhood we remember forever--
permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen.

Love In A Box

By Nancy Julien Kopp

When I was a little girl, I found love in a box all because of a class assignment. On a Friday night I made an announcement at the dinner table. The words bubbled out in a torrent of excitement I could no longer contain. "My teacher said we have to bring a box for our valentines on Monday. But it has to be a special box all decorated."

Mother said, "We'll see," and she continued eating.

I wilted faster than a flower with no water. What did "We'll see" mean? I had to have that box, or there would be no valentines for me. My second grade Valentine's Day would be a disaster. Maybe they didn't love me enough to help me with my project.

All day Saturday I waited, and I worried, but there was no mention of a valentine box. Sunday arrived, and my concern increased, but I knew an inquiry about the box might trigger anger and loud voices. I kept an anxious eye on both my parents all day. In 1947, children only asked once. More than that invited punitive measures; at least in my house it did.

Late Sunday afternoon, my father called me into the tiny kitchen of our apartment. The table was covered with an assortment of white crepe paper, red construction paper, and bits and pieces of lace and ribbon from my mother's sewing basket. An empty shoebox rested on top of the paper. Relief flooded through me when Daddy said, "Let's get started on your project."

In the next hour, my father transformed the empty shoebox into a valentine box I would never forget. Crepe paper covered the ugly cardboard. My father fashioned a ruffled piece of the pliable paper and glued it around the middle. He cut a slot in the lid and covered it with more of the white paper. Next came red hearts attached in what I considered all the right places. He hummed a tune while he worked, and I kneeled on my chair witnessing the magical conversion of the shoebox and handing him the glue when he needed it. When he finished, my father's eyes sparkled, and a smile stretched across his thin face. "What do you think of that?"

My answer was a hug and a "Thank you, Daddy."

But inside, joy danced all the way to my heart. It was the first time that my father devoted so much time to me. His world consisted of working hard to support his family, adoring my mother, disciplining my brother and me, and listening to every sports event broadcast on the radio. Suddenly, a new door opened in my life. My father loved me.

Monday morning, my mother found a brown grocery sack to protect the beautiful box while I carried it to school. I barely felt the bitter cold of the February day as I held the precious treasure close to me. I would let no harm come to my beautiful valentine box.

My teacher cleared a space on a long, wide windowsill where the decorated boxes would stay until Valentine's Day. I studied each one as it was placed on the sill, and none compared with mine. Every time I peeked at my valentine box, I felt my father's love. My pride knew no bounds. There were moments when the box actually glowed in a spotlight all its own. No doubt the only one who witnessed that glow was me.

Every day some of my classmates brought valentine cards to school and slipped them into the slots of the special boxes. The holiday party arrived, and we brought our boxes to our desks to open the valentines. Frosted heart cookies, red punch, valentines and giggles filled our classroom. Chaos reigned until dismissal time arrived.

I carried my valentine box home proudly. It wasn't hidden in a grocery sack but held out for the world to admire. I showed it to the policeman who guided us across a busy city street. He patted me on the head and exclaimed over the box. I made sure everyone along the way took note of my valentine box. My father had made it for me, and the love that filled the box meant more to me than all the valentines nestled inside.

From that time on, I never doubted my father's feelings for me. The valentine box became a symbol of his love that lasted through decades of other Valentine Days. He gave me other gifts through the years, but none ever compared with the tender love I felt within the confines of the old, empty shoebox.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Do Writers Ever Use Too Many Words?

Image result for free Quotes and image for Valentines Day

This poster is in keeping with our Valentine theme the first part of this week. It made me smile a little to think about a kiss stopping our words. That might work for some people but will it for writers? 

Do words ever become superfluous for a writer? They do when we write rambling sentences. They do when we write repetitively. They do when we write a sentence that has nothing to do with the topic of the story or essay or poem. Do those things actually happen? You bet they do!

I once knew a writer who wrote the longest and most rambling sentences ever. It seems he could not help himself. People in the critique group we were in mentioned this problem over and over. He'd say thank you for pointing this out to me. Then, he'd write a new story and do exactly the same thing. For him, it was the only way he either could, or wanted, to write. The problem with this kind of sentence is that you might lose your reader smack dab in the middle of one of those lengthy sentences.

What about repeating the same thought in one paragraph but using different words? Why do writers do that? It's because they aren't sure of what to say next, so they repeat something they've already told us but think they can hide it by using different words. Or, it's because they are afraid the reader will not 'get it.' As writers, we sometimes do not give our readers enough credit. They'll 'get it' more often than not so it's not necessary to repeat.

What about inserting a sentence or paragraph that has nothing to do with the topic? There are things that trigger our thoughts to a different path. That doesn't mean we should include it in what we are writing. Those 'extra thoughts' are meant for us to ponder. Don't add them if they are off the track. It's another good way to lose your reader. 

Even on Valentine's Day, use your words carefully, and don't be afraid to let a kiss interrupt your words now and then. That kiss is bound to inspire some lovely words afterward. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Valentine Poem For Writers

It's almost Valentine's Day, so why not have a red heart and a poem to head my post today? We have all seen numerous poems that begin with these first two lines but the last two are ones I'd not read as the ending to this long-known childhood poem. 

There's a lot of truth to what it tells us. You and I should be writing. I'm guessing we should be writing more than we manage most of the time. We have established the fact that, the more you write, the better writer you will become. It's that old practice makes perfect adage. 

So, why don't we write more than we do? Life! Yep, it tends to get in our way all too often but it's usually because we allow it to happen. It's up to us to set priorities. If you're serious about writing, that subject should be either at the top, or close to. 

Why do we let life put up roadblocks on our writing path? Sometimes, it's a handy excuse. Sometimes, we don't write out of fear that we won't come up with a winner. Sometimes, it' s because it's not easy. And sometimes, it's because our passion for writing has diminished. Therefore, letting life piling up on us is a perfect excuse. 

No one ever said every piece you write will be a winner. Nobody ever told you that writing was easy. There hasn't been anyone who robbed you of your passion for writing. We can't blame others.

All of the excuses we make are of our own making. All of the hard work we put in is what we create, too. It's just that simple. We are the masters of our life. We can let it slide off a cliff into an abyss or we can hold the reins and guide it to the destination we have strived to reach in the past. One word can describe what we need--self-discipline.

Repeat the following a few times, then follow directions: 

Roses are red
Violets are blue
You should be writing
And I should be, too

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Lines A Writer Should Check Carefully

Image result for free image of linesImage result for free image of lines
Image result for free image of lines         

Are you wondering what in the world these images are all about? They're nothing but different kinds of lines. It was the best way I could think of to introduce today's topic which is Writer Guidelines.

I am reminded again and again how important they are and how easy it is to skip right over a very important part. That's especially true if the guidelines page is lengthy. We tend to read, or scan it, instead of reading slowly and carefully. I have some thoughts on both very short guidelines and very long ones.

Short Guidelines:  Writers who read these can absorb the information pretty well. The problem is that they seldom cover some of the questions the writer has about the publication. Things like: reprints, word count, theme, email in body of message or with an attachment, use of photos, use of side bars, and more.

Lengthy Guidelines:  The good thing is that there should be no question unanswered. The editors have spelled out exactly what they want and what they don't. But, writers get tired of reading paragraph upon paragraph and end up scanning much of what has been written. There can be so many guidelines that the writer misses some that are important. Writers sometimes decide the editors must be so picky that it isn't worth submitting to this publication.

If you have questions after reading those shorter guidelines, go ahead and email the editor and ask. I can't begin to count the number of times I've written to ask if they take reprints. To me, this should be spelled out in every guideline. It saves both writer and editor wasted time. In nearly every case, I have received a reply.

If the guidelines are book size (slight exaggeration!), read them, then go back and read paragraph by paragraph, jot down the main points that you must adhere to. This will help you decide if your submission is right for the publication or not.

There are writers who  ignore guidelines completely. If you are one, you do yourself nor the publication a favor. Again, this is time wasted for writer and editor.

I learned long ago to use a search engine like google or bing to find writer guidelines for a certain type of piece I'd written. And yes, it does take time to select several and read them. The benefit is that you are more likely to sub to a publication that is open to what you've written.

Will reading guidelines ensure your submission will be accepted? No, it will not. It will make the odds greater in your favor, however.

I've been using the word 'read' but when you have lengthy guidelines, you'll do better if you 'read' and then 'study' them.

One publication I've sold several stories to has the longest guidelines I've ever seen. They even include sample stories to illustrate what they want. I've also noted a few that limit the guidelines to Send us your best work. Isn't that a given?

Give some thought to perusing the guidelines carefully the next time you are ready to submit.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Being Grateful For Many Parts of My Writing Journey

It's not Thanksgiving, but today I do have a grateful heart. No, I didn't get good news from an editor nor did I finish writing a book. Even so, I am deeply grateful for all that my writing journey has brought.

I've been on this journey for about 25 years now. Consider this my 25th Writing Anniversary. No flowers or champagne. My celebration will all be inward as I think about what has happened in that quarter of a century.

  • I have grown immensely as a writer
  • I have learned terms I never knew before
  • I learned how to market my writing through trial and error
  • I obtained my writer's voice
  • I have been published many times
  • I have enjoyed writing workshops and conferences'
  • I have led writing workshops
  • I have done writing related public speaking
  • I have appeared on a TV show regarding my Chicken Soup stories 
  • I have won a few awards for my writing
  • I have joined critique groups of various kinds
  • I have been in one online critique group for over 15 years
  • I have made countless friends because I started writing
  • I have been helped by many of those friends
  • I have helped many of them, too.
  • I have written a blog 5 days a week for over 9 years
  • I have learned to use my writer's eye when I read for pleasure
  • I now see story ideas everywhere I go
  • I started writing children's fiction but have branched into several other categories
  • I have been rewarded in many other ways
  • I am proud to be a writer
As for this blog, I appreciate every reader, everyone who leaves a comment and all who have signed up as a Follower. It gives me a thrill when I open the blog and note that one more person has signed on as a Follower. 

Take some time today to consider your own list of what has happened to you on your writing journey and what you are grateful for in your writing life. Keep the list to read again whenever you get discouraged about your writing journey. It happens to all of us now and then. The list can be a good boost.