Wednesday, December 7, 2016

10 Things On My Writing World List For Santa

It's definitely time to make your Santa Wish List. I have been trying to get my two youngest grandchildren to send theirs to me for weeks and weeks. No luck. Unusual as they generally have a very lengthy list to email Grandma. I guess that means they get sox and underwear this year. It definitely does help when I have list of things to choose from. That way, they get what they want and I'm not duplicating something they already have.

I have a Santa Wish List in my writing world. I bet you do, too. 

Nancy's Writing World Wish List

1. publication of my middle grade novel

2. being able to write clearly so readers aren't questioning this or that

3. to write with enough emotion, but not too much

4. to have more readers sign on as Followers on my blog

5. to have an enriched vocabulary

6. to be able to attend my writing group's conference next spring

7. to remember to use sensory details in all my writing

8. to reach those who want to be better writers through my blog posts

9. a muse that stays with me instead of flitting here and there when I need her most

10. to have my work published in quality publications

When looking over my list, I noticed that I asked for some things that depend on me, not on Santa. I have the ability to bring several to fruition. I am in control of numbers 2, 3, 5, and 7. I might need to depend on Santa for the others. 

You can help me with number 4. If each reader asked one more writer to sign on as a Follower on the blog, I would be delighted. I have far more readers than Followers. For some reason, people are reluctant to sign up as a Follower. It obligates you to nothing but it does make the blogger feel good.

How about you? What kind of Writing World list would you make for Santa? What are your fondest dreams in your writing world? Now's the time to ask for a few gifts in that category. Like me, you may find that many of them are ones that you can gift yourself with some deep thought and hard work. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Grammar--A Boring Necessity


Grammar--A Boring Necessity

Poor Yoda.... English grammar, difficult it is...:

This is a post written several years ago, but it's still pertinent today. I am adding one more paragraph at the bottom (in red) about a grammar situation, yes, situation that irks me. 

Grammar! We plow through it in grade school and high school. We're expected to know it well by the time we hit our college campus, and as writers, we are held to the highest expectations in using proper grammar. But as much as we'd like to be viewed as perfect, few of us can accept the award for 100% correct grammar in every piece we write. 

That said, I'd like to see writers reach the A level if not the A+ the majority of the time. I didn't mind studying grammar in school. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. My love of words was formed early in my life. I knew kids who absolutely detested the grammar part of English classes. I liked learning the rules and using them. Maybe it's because I'm an organized person and it allowed me to keep things as should be.

Now, many decades later, I get truly irritated when I see poor grammar in public places like written words on a TV screen, or an advertisement, or a story/essay/article written and published with glaring grammatical errors. 

I've seen the misuse of your and you're over and over again. It's beyond me that people do not readily see that  you're is a contraction of you are  and your shows possession, such as your mother, your sweater, your passion. It seems so simple, and yet it is mixed-up by an amazing number of people. 

Affect and effect are two more words that are often misused. The easiest way to remember the correct way is that affect is a verb and effect is a noun. So, Age affects the ability to think clearly. and The effects of age can slow us down considerably.

Many confuse they're and their. Again, they're is a contraction of they are while their is a possessive. I heard they're going to the concert tonight to see their daughter perform.

Grammar sometimes seems boring, but I deem it one of life's boring necessities. Pay attention to the little things like this when you write.

It has become quite common among our younger generations to abuse one particular grammar rule. When using a compound subject including a pronoun, it is correct to say: 
    John and I hurried through the gate to find our seats before the game started.
Today, we more often hear a sentence like this instead:
     Me and John hurried through the gate to find our seats before the game started.
I hear it over and over again from young people and even, not-so-young, people. Remember two things:
1. Never begin a sentence like this with the pronoun 'me', or most other pronouns. 
2.  Never use 'me' instead of 'I' in the subject part of the sentence. 

Once we begin to use poor grammar, it becomes a habit. It's a habit that is difficult to break. The other night, a network news anchor used the "Me and _____ want to wish you a happy holiday season."  What are university English professors doing to correct this poor grammar habit? 

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Christmas Memory

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I'm going to share a few of my Christmas themed stories off and on this month. This one was published in a special anthology about holidays of all kinds. It's a memory from my growing-up years of something that was special to me then and still is these many decades later. Some of you will be able to relate to this, I'm sure. If you have a similar memory, why not write about it for your Family Memories Book?

Magical Windows of Christmas

At least once during the Christmas seasons of my 1940’s childhood, my mother and I rode the elevated train from suburban Oak Park to downtown Chicago, exiting at the Marshall Field’s station. Pigeons strutted on the wooden platform and railings, flapping soft gray wings now and then, drawing my attention, but Mother pulled me toward a long flight of steps to the street, leaving the pigeons far above us.

We headed to a special, magical place, the big department store’s Christmas windows. Often, the wind and cold air stung our cheeks. Sometimes snowflakes floated lazily over us, but it didn’t matter. A crowd formed close to the windows of Marshall Field’s, and Mother and I wiggled into the center, moving closer and closer to the front until we stood before Christmas Window #1.

There, before us was a wonderland that brought oohs and ahs from the crowd. “Look, Mommy!” could be heard off and on as well when excited children pointed out the obvious to their mothers.

Marshall Fields initiated the Christmas window display in 1897. During November, the windows were covered with brown paper and not unveiled until the day after Thanksgiving. For weeks, designers and their staff worked long hours to create a story told in eleven successive windows, using a fairy tale or child’s book theme. Animation came in later years, and the designs grew more and more lifelike.  Piles of snow and frost-covered trees looked real enough to touch. A tray of gingerbread men near an oven so perfect, I could almost smell the spicy aroma. A scroll or some other unique prop told part of the story, and the rest came with our imagination.

The earlier windows were toy displays, a marketing scheme that drew thousands of shoppers. Later, in the mid-40’s, the story windows began, and Uncle Mistletoe and Aunt Holly were introduced.

We moved from window to window enjoying the continuing tale. Stories like Snow White and Pinocchio came to life behind the giant windows. They were probably more exciting in the days prior to television, for we had nothing like this anywhere but the movie theaters. By the time we’d walked the entire route, our feet were tingling with the cold, and we headed into the store to warm up.

What better place to thaw out than in the line that ended with a short sit on Santa’s lap. By the time, we reached Santa, we’d shed gloves and hats and unbuttoned our heavy coats. I told Santa my dearest wishes, never doubting that he’d remember and bring at least one of the items I’d requested.
When the 1950’s rolled around, I made the trip downtown to Marshall Field’s with my girlfriends. Even then, my excitement stayed at a high pitch. I noticed more details, and my friends and I giggled and chatted, and pointed things out to one another. With rosy cheeks and numbing toes by the time we’d gotten to the end, we headed into the store. Not to see Santa but to savor a cup of hot chocolate and then spend some time wandering through the massive place looking for Christmas gifts for our family members. We might finish the day with a Frango Mint, the candy made famous by Marshall Field’s.

Today, Field’s is no more. The sign in front now says Macy’s. It was a sad day for me when that happened. A piece of my childhood crumbled, never to be the same. But the memory of the Christmas windows and my visits to Santa remain even many decades later. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Sometimes Inspiration Finds Writers, Not The Other Way Around

 This morning, when I opened the blinds in our bedroom, I was startled to see dense fog and icy crystals on the grass. I continued opening the rest of the blinds and went into the living room to read the morning paper. Bad move!  I should have written a poem instead. The fog and the heavy dew were perfect subjects for a winter poem. Sometimes story ideas surround us but we are blind to them. In this case, I definitely did not use my writer's eye as I viewed the early morning scene. 

Jack London's quote says we sometimes have to go after inspiration with a club. In this case, someone should have used a club on me to awaken me to the great possibility spread out before me. Yes, I could work on the poem now, trying to bring back what I saw but I don't think it would be nearly as good as one that was written at the moment of inspiration. 

When inspiration hits, act on it as quickly as you can. Many writers do so. They're the ones who have lots of everyday chores left undone because they answered the call of their craft instead of cleaning fingermarks or doggie nose prints off the sliding glass doors. If you're serious about your writing life, that's quite alright. The fingerprints will be there waiting for you tomorrow but the inspiration may have flown out the window. Like all things, there's a fine line between what is alright and what is overkill so we do need to be wary of that. 

It seems to be that when you are busiest, inspiration pops up out of nowhere. This holiday season is a perfect example. So many times during a Christmas concert or seeing a special window display or attending a children's program, I am inspired to write a story or a poem. It's when that notebook we should all keep with us comes in handy. If you can even write the bones during that inspirational moment, it's a big help. Wait until you get home to do it and the magic moment may be gone. The emotion you feel when true inspiration hits fades quickly when time intervenes. Yes, you can write it later but I don't think it will be quite the same unless you have the ability to recreate the scene in your mind with all details involved. 

I remember an old movie of long, long ago when a man in a cocktail lounge in New York City wrote the lyrics to a song on a paper napkin. The song became one of the greatest hits (of course!). What if he had waited a day or two to act on his idea? Might have been a more mediocre song that was soon forgotten. The act upon it now message was not lost on me. I don't remember the name of the movie or the person it was about but I do remember that scene vividly. 

You may have many instances where inspiration hits you instead of you chasing it with that big club. When it happens, grab it with both hands and start writing. Sometimes, inspiration finds writers, not the other way around.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

If I Had A Magic Wand,...

My wish for all you writers who read this blog is to find at least three acceptances from editors in your stocking. Or maybe your inbox of your email account. If I could wave a magic wand and make it happen for you, I would. 

Sadly, I have no magic wand and no powers that would make it change your writing life for you. You are the one who has control of your writing life. No one but you alone. Sometimes, it feels a little lonesome being the one in charge, doesn't it? It might be a comfort to have someone guide you finding a home for your writing.

You can make the chances of your work being accepted much greater by doing simple things. Submit! Send your work to an editor! Query a publisher! Study the markets until you're sick of looking at them! None of your work will ever be published unless you do these things. 

If you're a writer, you know that this is what you must do. But knowing it and doing it can be two different worlds. Consider these points:
  • Concentrate on your strongest areas of writing
  • Send work to editors you've worked with in the past (doesn't hurt to remind them that you were published at their publication)
  • Cruise the writing world newsletters for contests to enter
  • Read newsletters that include calls for submission
  • Study the art of writing a query letter before you actually send one
  • Read market listings in writer magazines, newsletters, or online by using a search engine
  • Follow writer guidelines to the letter for a better chance of acceptance
  • Be aware that time sensitive work must be sent months ahead
  • Make it a goal to send X number of submissions each month--you choose the number
  • Have submissions out every month of the year, not just now and then
Instead of waving a magic wand, I'll hope that this month is a spectacular finish to your writing year. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Musings On Life in November and December

Can it really be the final day of November? Didn't I just turn the page on all my calendars from October to November? Wasn't I looking forward to a trip in early November and another one over Thanksgiving? Yes, it really is the final day of this eleventh month of the year, and my trips and the holiday are behind me. 

Traveling seems to make a month go by even faster than usual. But I find that, the older I get, the faster time goes. It's a not so subtle hint to get me moving on projects I've been putting off. The To-Do list gets pretty long when we turn our calendar to December. Add to that the writing I'm doing mentally only and the list grows like Santa's beard since last winter.

There are 31 days in December. They are yours to do with as you like. Keep in mind that it is you who decides what takes priority on each and every day. You are the one who can get up grumbling about all you have to do or get up ready to tackle the chores, one by one and maybe sneak in a few minutes of writing time.

Are you an organized writer or a procrastinator? Or maybe a bit of both, depending on the time? I can claim ownership to each side myself. Sometimes I'm so organized I glow with pride. Then I start putting things off and I don't like that one bit. I turn into Grumpy Gertie but have no one to blame but myself. 

More musings on November--Even with the busy month I had, I found time to keep up with the blog and my requirements for my online writing group. I found joy in the traveling we did and seeing the people who matter to us whom we visited on both trips. I will remember November 2016 because of that.

November will also be a month to remember in my writing life as I had four stories published this month. Two online, one in an anthology and another in a large circulation magazine. Color me happy about that. 

And now, I'm eager to turn the calendar page tomorrow to greet December. I look forward to the many greeting cards that will appear in our mailbox. So many come from people whom we hear from only once a year. I have several social occasions on the calendar already and will probably be adding a few more. I'm one of those people who love Christmas and all that goes with it--yes, even the many chores. I often get inspired to write during this magical time of year and I answer the call and at least write a first draft. Then set it aside for editing in quieter January. 

How about you? What will you wave farewell to in November? What lies ahead for you in December? Like all things, let's take it one day at a time. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

When There Is Little Time To Write...

Sometimes I move into the fast lane of life zig-zagging from one thing to another. Holiday time is in full swing right now and that means added responsibilities to the usual ones. Whatever holiday you celebrate, it comes with extra duties if we want to make the holiday memorable for our families, friends, and yes, ourselves. 

Christmas is very meaningful to me and a holiday I truly love to celebrate in many ways. It allows me to show my love for family and friends with the decorating, cards, gifts, and baked goods that make my kitchen smell so good. I usually dive in headfirst and savor as much of it as I can. 

One big problem with that is what happens to my writing life. I do manage to keep up with my five days a week blog posts and the requirements of my online writing group. I don't seem to have time  to concentrate on my other writing projects at this time of year. Is that a major problem?

Yes, I'm afraid it is. Today's poster explains my feelings well. ...until not writing makes you anxious. Maybe it's the sign of being a true writer--wanting to write when you cannot spare the time. It seems that when I have the least time to write is when the greatest number of ideas pop into my head crying to be dealt with. What's a writer to do?

For one thing, be sure to jot those ideas down somewhere. Outline the bones of whatever it is you have thought about writing. If you don't, you know very well what happens. The whole idea can fly right into the atmosphere never to be seen again. A mind is a wonderful thing but it can hold just so much. 

Steal a few minutes to write, even on the busiest days. For me, doing so has a calming effect. If I'm writing, I don't think about that difficult present to buy for my husband, or the food I need to bring to a potluck dinner, or the greeting cards that need my attention. The trick is to not get carried away and spend hours writing during these busy times. Minutes--give yourself minutes. Consider it a gift to yourself.

If inspiration strikes like a bolt of lightning and you feel compelled to run to your computer and start writing, do it. I learned long ago that Christmas, or any other holiday that is being celebrated, will arrive no matter what I have done or left undone. It's often the little things which are skipped that no one but you knows about. So, go ahead and write if you really feel the urge and don't mention those bits and pieces of the holiday magic that you can address next year. 

If you write for a living, there is no question that you must continue writing, holiday or not. But, if you're a hobbyist writer, and you steal time in a busy season to write, do not feel guilty. I will repeat that--do not feel guilty. 

When I have a spell of not writing, I do feel anxious because that's who I am--a writer. Writing, for me, is like breathing. It's necessary to continue my life. I know that many, many of you feel the same. Only another writer can totally understand that so don't even try to explain it to a nonwriter. They'll just shake their head and sigh and feel sorry for you. But you and I know that writing is not only necessary for us but ever so satisfying.