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Monday, January 21, 2019

Writers--Venture Into New Territory

If you're a writer, you were once a beginner  If you kept with it and worked at learning the craft, you moved on to being an intermediate writer. Hopefully, you kept going and are a super writer today! 

I was interviewed by a newspaper reporter this morning and one of the things that emerged from our question and answer session was that I originally wanted to write for children. I did that for a few years and then I decided to venture into other areas of writing. I tried writing about writing, which I'm still doing today. I made a stab at adult short fiction and I wasn't very good at it. Then, I tried my hand at memoir and personal essays followed by poetry. It turned out that creative nonfiction--memoir and personal essay--was my strong suit. 

What if I hadn't moved out of the comfort of the first kind of writing I'd tried? I still enjoy writing short stories for middle-grade kids, but now I write more creative nonfiction than anything else. I've had more published in that category than any other along with articles on the craft of writing. 

I would have lost so much had I never tried a different category of writing. I probably wouldn't be writing this blog. Nor would I be teaching workshops on writing at my state authors convention. Nor would I be having as many acceptances after submitting. Probably not as many rejections either!

Many writers write only one kind of story or article. Or only poetry. I think they may be missing something big. We need to step forward and attempt other types of writing. Never written a memoir piece? Why not give it a try? After all, every one of us has memories that can give us the basis for a short memoir story. 

If you've always written nonfiction, what's to stop you from writing fiction? Lack of experience? Lack of self-confidence? Fear? You can overcome all of those. If you decide to try writing personal essays, read all you can about the form. Read examples of personal essays. Educate yourself to give you a springboard.

If you've never written poetry, who says you can't? Anyone can pen free verse. You don't have to be knowledgeable about meter and rhyme and other things.  A free verse poem comes from the heart. It's writing your feelings or describing something meaningful to you. There's no reason you can't give it a whirl. If you find you like writing poetry, start learning more about other forms and keep practicing.

Note that I said 'keep practicing.' When you try a new type of writing, it takes some practice to reach a point where you are satisfied with what you've written, where you feel it is of a quality that you can submit it for publication or for a contest, and that you feel satisfied. That goes for poetry, fiction, nonfiction, creative nonfiction--whatever category you want to try. Don't give up too soon unless you know that you really don't like that particular kind of writing. If you don't like it, quit. There's no rule that says you have to keep on, but you'll at least know you tried it.

Even if you're completely happy with the kind of writing that you do now, move into new territory. There is no guarantee you'll like it, but it's worth trying. It could be that you find a whole new part of your writing world like I did. We don't need to be pigeonholed into only one kind of writing. Someone once said Variety is the spice of life and it became a well-known adage still alive today, so there must be something to it. 

You were once a beginning writer; you can be a beginner in a different kind of writing, too.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Practice Writing Descriptions

 We often do photo prompt exercises and sometimes word prompts. This weekend might be a good time to practice another prompt. 

This one will help you practice writing description. What tools do we use when describing a person or place or even a thing? An adjective is probably one we think of first. Colors, textures, aromas--all of these figure into a description. Similes and metaphors help when we are trying to paint a word picture for our reader. Feelings can also be a factor.

Our description brings the reader into the story, essay, poem that you're writing. We give them the ability to look into another realm with the words we use to describe a situation, people, places and more. It would be beneficial for all of us to hone our descriptive ability in our writing.

Choose one or more in the following list. Write a descriptive paragraph. To make it more interesting, choose one and write two separate descriptive paragraphs using a different approach in each. If you like poetry, you might try writing a poem that describes any one of the items on the list. Do as many in the list as time allows. 

The List:
  • a summer day
  • a thunderstorm
  • a scum-covered pond
  • a football field
  • two boys fishing
  • a classroom
  • a cemetery
  • a carousel
  • an apple pie
  • a blizzard
  • a courtroom
  • a cruise ship
  • a mountain

Thursday, January 17, 2019

What If You Need To Cut Words?

Let's play What if...? What if you have a wonderful personal essay of around 1600 words. When you begin looking for a place to send it, you find that what you've written would be a perfect fit for a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. You are sure your essay will be a winner. You can almost see an image in your mind of what you've written in print in the book. But then you check the guidelines and note that the maximum number of words the editors will accept is 1200. 

Your heart falls right down to the soles of your feet. 1600 vs 1200! That means cutting 400 words. Not possible you think. You call a friend who has been published in that anthology several times. "How serious are they about word count?" you ask. You sink into a chair when your friend responds, "Very serious. I mean--they aren't kidding." 

What if you try to cut the extra 400 words? It would mean you can submit the essay feeling confident because you followed the guidelines. It might also mean a lot of work. What if you lose something big in the story by cutting 400 words? What if you don't want to tackle the job? Not an option? Then, it's time to get to work.

Go through the text and highlight places where you have used more than one adjective to describe a noun. Choose one and toss the other. Now, check for adverbs. Do you really need to say '...he said angrily?' Drop the adverbs wherever possible. 

Go back to the beginning and look for overly long sentences. Ask yourself how you can condense what you've said into a shorter sentence. Sometimes reversing the order of a sentence will allow you to cut some of the words. 

There are many unnecessary words that we unconsciously use when we write. Words like really, very, just, rather, certainly don't add to what you're saying. They only add fluff. The sentence is usually stronger without them. 

You can hyphenate some words and also use contractions instead of two words. Say I'd instead of I would. Try he'll instead of he will.

You can turn some nouns into verbs. Say I decided instead of I came to the decision. In this example, you have used two words instead of five. Do that in many places and you can cut a lot of words.

Watch for redundancy. We can make a point, then tend to repeat the same point in other words in the next paragraph. Cut one of the sentences. It might even be a paragraph. It's a common mistake--repeating the same idea in different words. As writers, we don't always give our readers enough credit for 'getting it' the first time we make the point. 

Next, go through the text again and ask yourself if there are sections that can be taken out that wouldn't affect the story itself. More often than not, you can find whole paragraphs that are not crucial. You might like them but when cutting, be ruthless. 

Stephen King's advice for cutting words is worth reading and heeding. He said: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings.”

What if you follow all this advice for cutting 400 words from your personal essay? It just might allow you to cut those 400 words. I know because I've done it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Defining Writers

A Family of Readers

This family reads books together. Probably each one is reading something written by a different author. Every member of the family has similar traits, yet is also unique in many ways. It's the same with the authors whose books they are reading. It's possible that one of the people in this family is a writer. He/she doesn't have a label on their forehead defining them, however. 

Ever asked yourself who writers are? If you're a writer, do you consider yourself the same as other writers or do you feel like you're outside looking in? Who are the writers?

At the top of the ladder, we find the professional and successful authors whose names we recognize in a nanosecond. They work at writing on a full-time basis and fit their personal life around their work time.

There are writers who also work full-time writing for magazines and newspapers and other media. They manage to work their personal life around the time they spend writing. 

Next, we might list part-time writers who spend only a portion of their day writing but they are serious about what they do for that part-time job. They write with the aim of being published. Some of them are successful while others struggle.

What about hobbyist writers? They might also hope for publication but they're alright if it doesn't happen. They aren't depending on what they sell to pay the rent. These writers pursue the craft because they love to write. There are some who share their passion with friends and family and others who do it quietly, keeping it to themselves.

Another group of writers is comprised of people who want to write but don't want to share with anyone. They write in journals which they never show to anyone else. They write short stories, perhaps even a novel which no one will ever read. This kind of writer is satisfied with writing only for themselves. And that's quite alright.

I've grouped the kinds of writers but who are these people? They are people you sit next to in a movie theater. They are folks you follow down a grocery aisle--both selecting products off the shelf. They are mothers and fathers picking up children from daycare of school. They're an aunt or uncle, maybe even your mother or father. They are someone you sit next to in church every Sunday. They might hold a position in your city government. They could be the butcher who cuts meat for you or your mailman. People from all walks of life can be writers as well as hold other jobs. They are 'just plain folks' in many cases. 

Go to church next Sunday and pay a little closer attention to the sermon. The priest or pastor wrote that sermon and does it week in and week out but do you think of him/her as a writer? Probably not. When you go to a program that a club or church or school puts on, someone wrote it. When you read the newspaper or a magazine, many people wrote the contents. We read blogs but do we consider the people who write them on a monthly, weekly or daily basis as real writers? If you write, you are a writer whether your words reach the public through publication or the spoken word or not at all.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Book Review--A Different Kind of Memoir

After a workshop on blogging that I conducted at our Kansas Authors Convention last fall, a woman approached me and asked if she might give me her book. "I'd like to have your opinion after you read it," she said. Being a lover of books, I accepted happily but told her I had a stack of books to read first. 

When I finally got to Wingin' It Beyond The Veil, I wished that I had read it before the others as it proved to be such a delight. Joan Breit has written a memoir which, in itself, is not unusual. Others have done that. The presentation is what will be remembered as well as the words she penned. Most memoirs read like a book, chapter by chapter with some photos added somewhere. Ms Breit's book offers a series of vignettes that give us a slice of her life at a time. Between the vignettes, she has included scripture verses, poetry (both her own and others) and photos. I found all that is included to be delightful and I thoroughly enjoyed piecing her life together via the individual vignettes. The author has a way with words, both prose and poetry. I'd top it off by saying she has led an interesting life.

The front cover is lovely with its pastel colors, muted view of a veil and butterfly along with interesting and appealing script in the tile.

The back cover of the book states the author's own words that summarize her book so well that I'm going to quote it below:

This book is about veils, the veil between convent life and that of the lay person, the veil between the Divine and human worlds, visible and invisible worlds, the veil of daily life of seeing and not seeing. It is about roads and the 'one less traveled by.' It is about where I began and how I became a writer on the Kansas plains, and who I am at this time of my life. It is about life's experiences and finding the many faces of love. It is about not knowing where my path leads, but, like a butterfly, wingin' it with imagination and intuition lighting my way. It is about living daily in the magic of the present moment of family, friends, and all creation's nature spirits in trees, birds, quiet Kansas creeks, ditches, gardens, house plants, cats, and where the duality of humanity's veils becomes One. 

The book can be ordered through Watermark Books in Wichita, KS. Find the information here.

I loaned the book to a friend. When she returned it, I asked for her thoughts. She felt much the same as I had. She loved the presentation as well as the memoir itself.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Focus Words For Writers

We hear a lot lately about having a focus word that is all yours for the current year. It appears to me to be a better alternative to January resolutions. One word to carry with you for a full year. One word to hold onto. One word to use as your guide for the year.

The poster today has a word that would be a good focus word--grateful. We writers could use that in our writing journey. There are many things we can be grateful for and also some to which we'd find it difficult to attach that word. Even so, since this was the word you chose, you are going to try to find the positive side. 

How about strong as your focus word? If you pledge to be strong in whatever situation comes up, you should come out on top. 

Maybe you'd like to choose honesty so that you can be honest in every part of your writing life, most of all to yourself. We sometimes show a quality to others but cheat ourselves. If this is your focus word for 2019, start with yourself.

Happy would be an uplifting focus word. If you choose to be happy this year, you'll make an extra effort to find happiness in whatever happens. That's not always easy to do when we encounter a major disappointment in our writing life. There should be a tiny corner of happiness in those situations even if you have to search diligently to find it.

Someone might select fruitful as their word for this year. Wouldn't that spur you to more productivity in what you write? 

How about using inspired? If that's your word, you might look harder for the inspiration needed to grow as a writer. 

Along the same line, motivation could be a helpful focus word. If you're concentrating on that word, you are going to look harder for things to keep your writing life going strong. 

2018 was a difficult year in my personal life so I have selected joy as my focus word in my writing life this year. I hope to find joy in whatever way I can as a writer and blogger and in my other life, too. Choosing that word will make me look for the joy in places I might not have done so in the past.

Will your focus word make life perfect? Of course not, but it could make it better.

Here is a list of focus words you might consider for 2019, ones above and a few others. Pick one as your own. 
  • grateful
  • strong
  • honesty
  • happy
  • fruitful
  • inspired
  • motivated
  • joy
  • productive
  • mature
  • giving
  • helpful
  • trusting

You might make a sign with 'your word' on it. Place it somewhere near your writing area as a daily reminder to practice it, look for it, or use it.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Guest Blogger Shares A Powerful Tool For Writers

Vickie Guillot

Vickie Guillot, our Guest Blogger, knows a lot about journaling for writers. Today, she is sharing some of that knowledge with us.

Journaling is a powerful tool to help you in the process of creating your poem, story or book. Statistics say if we hear something, we can recall 10 to 20 percent of the information, if we write it, we can double the information we recall, if we re-examine what we write we can double it again.
Journaling helps us to draw information out of our heads, put it before our eyes where we can group it, add to it, re-examine it and change it. Journaling will help bridge what is inside you with what is outside of you. It helps you to see your thinking, your patterns and your desires.
Let’s say you want to write a memoir. Let’s do an exercise that I will call “Own Your Life Journal”. An “Own Your Life Journal” will help you:
heal the past
soothe troubled memories
heal relationships
dignify all events in your life
reveal and track patterns and cycles of your life
capture family stories
capture your life story
balance and harmonize
I recently read an amazing memoir called Educated by Tara Westover that did all the above. Westover’s rich prose makes her story about finding herself amidst the pressures her family put on her to obey their nonconformist beliefs and her assertion to be educated an unforgettable and encouraging story. Her story was both startling and yet an ordinary development in most families. I read throughout her book that she kept a journal and referred to that journal when writing her thesis for her Ph.D. The book is a #1 New York Times bestseller. If you have not read it you are missing a beautiful piece of work.

Let’s jump right into a journaling exercise. There are no rules to journaling (except to be consistent).
BLINK. Take a deep breath and write today’s date. Take another deep breath and think about the development of your life thus far.

THINK. Be clear about the story you want to tell. Pick one major event or person from your life. If clarity is not there, wait on it and continue to find your breath. I am going to ask you a question and you will write your answer in your journal. (You can ask yourself a question when doing this exercise on your own) Don’t write what you think is politically correct, or what you think someone would want to hear. This writing is for you. How did the event or person affect your life?

INK for five minutes. Write a bit faster than normal. Don’t worry about spelling, how it sounds, or how it looks. Set your phone stopwatch on 5 minutes and do not stop writing until it goes off. If you’re stuck just make something up or keep writing to the question. Keep writing to tell your truth as fast as you can,

LINK. Now, here is the power in journaling. Read what you wrote. Examine it and write two sentences on what you wrote. You are on your way to using journaling as a tool to open your creativity. Your journal can become a friend available to listen and always remembers what you said.

BIO: Journaling is a passion project that Vickie Guillot loves sharing with others. She has used journaling for her own self-healing.  She is a journaling facilitator and a lifetime member of Higher Awareness. Check her website (linked below) for more information on journaling.

Vickie Guillot
Writing Matters