Friday, February 23, 2018

Hitting A Problem Area When You Write

Have you ever run into a real snag when writing a story, a chapter, a scene? Or an essay, a poem or a how-to article? Of course you have. It's a part of our writing journey. We hit potholes more often than we'd like. 

The bigger question is this--What do you do when you run into a problem that appears to be a wall so high you think there is no way to climb over it? There are choices that need to be made when this situation occurs. You can do any of the following:
  • sit down in the road and cry like a two year old who has been told NO or is too tired to go on
  • give up writing 
  • back up and think about the problem for a few minutes
  • give up after that few minutes because the answer did not suddenly appear
  • spend some real time thinking about the problem, make a list of possible ways out, then put it aside for a day or two 
  • ask for help from another writer (they sometimes see more clearly than the writer)
  • take a detour--eliminate the problem situation altogether
  • use a large dose of perseverance and keep working until you've found a workable solution
  • walk away from the problem; come back when you're not so frustrated
In my younger years, I enjoyed sewing and making clothes for my daughter. Reading and interpreting pattern directions sometimes brought problems. I'd try to do what it appeared to say but it didn't always work. With each successive try, I'd rip out the former stitches and do it again. I learned that it was better to walk away and come back later in the day, or even the next day. So often, what seemed so difficult suddenly appeared to be just a step by step process to success. It was a good lesson for me when I started writing. If it doesn't work at first, step away; come back later and the answer could be crystal clear. 

Giving up is easy and persevering can be tough. If you do persevere and work your way through a problem area in your writing, you'll come out the winner. Remember that perseverance and patience are buddies in your writing life. They walk the path with you, hand in hand. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Twice The Joy

Our doorbell rang yesterday afternoon. Ken answered and found a box that had been left on our porch. "It's for you." he said. "What did you order?" I didn't remember ordering anything and then it dawned on me. The box was full of Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

Sure enough, when we opened it, there were 20 copies of My Amazing Mom published by Chicken Soup for the Soul nestled together. I loved the pretty spring-like cover. Usually, authors of the stories in these anthologies receive 10 free copies and a check in payment. This is the first book in which I have two stories featured, counting them as #'s 19 and 20 for Chicken Soup books. It felt pretty exciting to have two stories accepted out of the huge numbers of submissions they receive, so color me Happy

The stories in this book honor both mothers and grandmothers. My story, A Bowl of Raspberries is about something that took place when I was 9 years old. My grandfather was dying of cancer and had asked to see me. He and Grandma had been separated for many years but she came to be his caregiver in those end weeks. All that happened and what I learned impressed me, even at that young age. My other story in the book is called Mirror Magic. This one's about me, my mom and a mirror. 

The book goes on sale March 20, 2018 but it can be pre-ordered for Kindle or Paperback readers now at Amazon.

I taught a workshop a few years ago titled Writing For Anthologies. Several in the class said they'd sent a story to Chicken Soup but never heard a thing. Strange as it may sound, the publisher and editors at this anthology do not send rejection letters because they don't want to be negative in any way. That sounds nice, but those of us who are waiting would rather get a rejection letter and know our status than never hear from them.I told the group that the best way to get your foot in the door at Chicken Soup is to keep submitting. Yes, I have been blessed to have 20 stories accepted but there were a whole lot more that didn't make it. The more stories you submit, the better your chances. 

Another point I made with these hopeful authors is very important. The anthology has very definite Guidelines to tell you what a story they want is and what it is not. I cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is to read those Guidelines every time you submit. Read your story again and do a checklist to see if it fits what this publisher wants. Here's the page that gives you the information. If you're looking for the page later, go to the website and scroll to the bottom of the Home Page. Click on Submit a Story and you'll find three sections to help you. One is the books they need stories for, then the Guidelines and finally, the Submission page.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Perception By Our Readers Is Not Always the Same

Image result for free image or clipart person surprised
Hmmm, did the writer really mean that?

 I subbed an essay to my critique group a few days ago on the topic of aging. There was some intended humor in the piece, especially in one section. The first two people who critiqued it saw the humor while the third one did not. Instead, she was terribly concerned about the words I'd used to describe people in their 80's and 90's. I was quoting someone else in that part because I thought it was lighthearted and worth a grin and it illustrated a point.

I was quite surprised that she had not seen the humor. It's made me consider the fact that not all readers take what they read in the same way. Perhaps because the entire essay was not one of rollicking humor, she didn't find any of it amusing. Or just did not expect it. 

What if the essay does get published and half the readers are feeling sorry for me and the other half are smiling with me at the absurdity of part of the essay? As a writer, I have no real control over the way a reader sees what I've written. Should we put in parentheses (laugh here)? Of course not. That would be like the old vaudeville shows and early tv shows where signs were put up to alert the audience to applaud or laugh. Fakey! 

The only thing we, as writers, can do is to read the piece over before submitting it and try to see what we've written from different perceptions. Even then, we might not be able to do much about it, other than be aware that not everyone reads with the same background experience, morals, humor and more. And maybe to be ready for some criticism.

What about editors? It's quite possible that an editor who is a very serious person might miss intended humor. Another might catch it immediately. Again, it is the difference in people. You know which editor is more likely to accept the piece. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Use Sensory Details In Writing Exercise

Image result for Free photo of ice storm
The Ice Storm

We heard thunder, lightning, rain and hail in the night. When I got up this morning, our street and driveway were covered in hailstones with ice underneath. Two days ago I went shopping in a light spring jacket. Welcome to Kansas in the winter! 

Those of us who live in the northern half of our country have probably all experienced an ice storm at one time or another. We had one several years ago in mid-December that left us without power for almost 5 days. Not fun!

For a writing exercise today, study the picture above and the one below. Think about the five senses--What do you see? What can you hear? Is there a smell? How about taste? How does it feel to touch the ice? Adding sensory details increases interest for the reader, brings them into the scene. 

Now, choose to write one of the following:

1.  a descriptive paragraph

2.  a poem

3.  a fiction story

4.  a free write using the word ice as your inspiration

5.  a true memory

Image result for Free photo of ice storm

Monday, February 19, 2018

Family Stories--Tell 'Em But Write 'Em, Too

Image result for free clipart of family

Image result for free clipart of family

This week's post on Kathy Pooler's blog--Memoir Writers Journey--is about using letters and journals when you write memoirs. It's worth a few minutes of your time to read it because it is pertinent information when writing your family stories, too. 

Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis know that I frequently urge people to write their family stories. I don't mean only those of us who are 'real writers' as some would say, but also the non writer who wants to keep the stories in their extended family alive. That should include myriad numbers of you.

The clip art image we have today is a perfect example of the family who gathers around the table for a holiday or a family event like a christening or graduation celebration. People pass food, heap far too much on their plate, saving room for dessert and coffee. Conversation eventually turns to a "Remember when...?" topic. The family stories get told again and again. We learn so much about our parents, grandparents, great-aunts and cousins. It's wonderful! If you're at one of these dinners, don't just listen. Ask questions and get the full story. I'm guessing several family members will have things to add to the story.

But of course, there are times when those stories are of dark periods in a family history, when something sad or tragic happened. Even the stories that tell about a division in the family over a disagreement. How long was it before one side spoke to the other again? Or did they ever? 

It's not only the good and funny times we should record in our stories. The sad times need to be recorded, too. Tell them around the table but write the stories, as well. If someone in the family doesn't do it, they will get lost as one generation passes on and more are added. Your great-grandchildren deserve to know about their ancestors, living or gone. 

Many of us think about writing those stories but never quite get to the point of sitting down and actually putting word after word. A male friend told me multiple times that he was writing his family story. He knew I was a writer and asked each time if I'd edit it for him. I always replied in the affirmative. I never saw one word he'd written. He said he's written a little bit but before he could go on, he ended up in a nursing home, had a massive stroke months later and died. He had the desire to get those stories written but it didn't happen. A lesson for all of us. 

As for me, I've written so many stories that involve people in my family but I still have many to write. I have to thank Chicken Soup calls for submissions as many of the stories I've sent them were triggered by the book theme. One on forgiveness brought a family experience to mind that I wrote about which ended up being accepted. Even if it had not, I still had a full story for my Family Stories book. 

Don't only think about writing those stories. Set a goal to write one a week. That's reasonable, or even one a month. You're more likely to let it slide if it is monthly rather than weekly. Give it a try. Your family will thank you. If you're the senior in the family, talk to a younger member who you think might carry on the task of keeping the family stories. Make sure you're not the last one to write all the events of your family.

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.