Friday, April 28, 2017

A Quote From A Famous Young Writer

I scanned through a pinterest site of writing quotes and got stopped by this one. I read it, moved on, but then went back to it. Somehow, it spoke to me. We are all familiar with Anne Frank's tragic story of living in a hidden attic room with her family during WWII. Her father was the only one of her family to survive and, thanks to him, we have all been privileged to read this young girl's writing. 

Writing was her way of coping with the horrors of her time. Her quote made me think about those of us who write today. None of us is living the kind of horrific life Anne did, but we all do have our own battles we're fighting, worries, concerns and more. 

When I am at my computer tapping on the keyboard, I feel cocooned. I forget whatever else might be on my mind. I guess I could say it's my 'safe' place. When I write, I'm in another world, one of my own making. 

When I'm finished writing, I slip back into the real world and all it's cares come back, so I don't look at writing as a mini miracle--a way to get rid of whatever problem I might be dealing with. Not at all, but it does give me respite. I'm not handling major problems in my life but there are always concerns of some kind or other. When I'm writing, nothing else bothers me. I can even ignore the phone if it rings. That's why we have a message machine! 

We talk often of our writing journey but we also live in our own writing world. Whenever and wherever you write, consider invisible walls put around you. I know what some of you are thinking--how about all those interruptions when kids need something or a spouse needs immediate attention? Yep, that happens but you have to decide the importance of each instance. Is it enough to shatter those walls and make you leave your writing place? For those of you, who are past child-rearing age and have a spouse that recognizes your working times, be grateful. I have one writer friend who solved her husband interrupting by closing the door to her office after taping a sign on the outside of the door that said Writer Working. Yes, he got the hint and no longer bothered her except for something of extreme importance. 

I, for one, will be grateful for finding this quote from Anne Frank. One more way in which she influenced the world that came after her. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Beginnings That Pull You In


The quote from Jack London is just another way of telling writers to open with a bang to hook your reader. Once hooked, we need to reel our readers in a little at a time with surprises or big happenings along the way. 

We've all read stories, or books. that spend the entire first chapter describing a lovely day. Does it make you want to go on reading? Sometimes, I do want to keep reading to see if anything ever does happen? My mind is saying Get on with it. as I turn the pages. When an opening chapter, or few paragraphs in a short story, are not of real interest, I find myself scanning until I find something that makes me slow down and pay attention. 

Start with an accident, or a crime or a natural disaster and the reader has questions in mind that can only be answered by reading farther. Start with a fight, a flood, a fire or a roller coaster ride gone bad and your reader will turn pages to see where this is going. 

When a writer opens with a 'wreckage' as stated by London, he/she is promising the reader that there will be more grab me and keep me chapters as the book (or paragraphs in a short story) progresses. Don't start with something fascinating and gripping, then slack off into the mundane. You need to deliver what you've promised the reader in your opening. 

Nancy Kress, science fiction writer, wrote a book for writers titled Beginnings, Middles, and Ends. Each of these three sections of your story, or book, have great importance. You might try checking out her ideas on beginnings to see if she agrees with Jack London. This is not a new book but is still on Amazon and very likely in your local library. It's worth a look. I may check it out of my library and read it again. A second read of what I consider a good resource never hurts.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

One More Way To Celebrate National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month is coming to a close in only a few days. The quote above is from the1989 movie Dead Poet's Society starring Robin Williams as a teacher at a boys' prep school. His subject is poetry. Read a review here. There are several places where you can find the movie online. Use your favorite search engine if you would like to view the film for the first time, or perhaps see it once again. 

I think a teacher has a lot to do with our love or dislike of poetry. Note that I chose not to use the word hate, although there are probably plenty of high school students who might select that word over dislike. I must admit that I was not overly enthralled with poetry in high school. I didn't dislike it nor did I go ga-ga over it. There were some poems we read that I liked better than others. And yes, we did have to memorize some of them. I especially remember committing these poems to memory: 
  • Sea Fever by John Masefield
  • Portia's mercy speech in The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare
  • The Destruction of Sennacharib by Lord Byron
Thinking back, I memorized all three poems in Sophomore English. I do not remember the teacher's name but I can visualize her--a 60ish, strait-laced, severe hairstyle, no make-up, no-nonsense woman who rarely smiled. I must commend her for introducing me to poetry that stayed with me all these years. No, I could not recite each of them from memory now but I do remember the opening lines of each one. She apparently did something in her teaching of this poetry that spoke to me and, hopefully, to many other students. 

Another poem I remember from that class is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It's a very lengthy narrative poem but one verse has always stayed with me: 

Water, water, every where, 

And all the boards did shrink; 
Water, water, every where, 
Nor any drop to drink. 

Here's a way you can celebrate National Poetry Month--take a little time to look up some of the poems you read and maybe memorized in high school and college to find out if you can approach them from an adult perspective. What may have seemed just alright years ago could speak volumes to you today. Some of us have the attitude of who cares about those old poems and old poets? It's possible that these poems and poets have lasted through the years for good reason. 

I have enjoyed many contemporary poets but I still love those of old, as well. Ones that come to mind are Emily Dickinson, Sara Teasdale, Both Brownings, Robert Frost and many more. Who are your favorites? 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

3 Questions On Personal Essays

Reading An Essay

Every day, myriad people read a personal essay in a newspaper, magazine, or online. Some hear them via radio programs. The personal essay is of interest to readers because it usually touches on something they can relate to or it appeals to their emotions. It might bring tears or hearty laughter. 

In the personal essay the writer uses an true incident to bring a point, or perhaps a life lesson, to the readers. If there is nothing to be learned by the reader, then the writer has written an anecdote, nothing more. That universal truth, or golden nugget, the reader is left with tops the list of what a personal essay must have. 

If there is a large market for personal essays, there is also a lot of competition to move to the head of the line and get your essay published. What things do you need to make an editor sit up and take notice? 

New:  Editors see so many submissions that use the same topic or same theme that they all begin to run together like colors in a tie-dyed shirt. They want new material, a new slant on an old topic. Or maybe a whole new topic--one that hasn't been done so many times that no one wants to see it again. 

Relevant:  Does it have any meaning in today's world? Will it appeal to the 21st century reader? Is it something readers care about? Can readers relate to your topic and your key lesson?

Surprise:  Is there a surprise in your essay? Something that will make readers sit up straighter and pay closer attention. Or is your style of writing the surprise? A different writing style can be like fresh air in a stuffy room even if the topic has been addressed multiple times before.

When you finish writing, revising and editing your personal essay, ask yourself about the three elements above. If you come up with negatives on one or all, your chances of being published diminish. It should tell you that you need another revision. Don't we all hate to admit that we should do one more? Of course we do but we also know that it will be to our advantage. 

Is there more to writing a personal essay than these three points? You bet there is but that's a topic for another day. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

3 Traits To Help You Get Published

Last week, Annette Gendler told us about her publishing journey after she'd written her memoir, Jumping Over Shadows. What simply amazed me is the number of times she queried an agent or another publisher. It wasn't 10, or 20, which in itself seems like a lot. No, it was far more than those numbers. 

The poster above pretty well sums up Annette's path to achieving publication. She definitely believed in her book. She was patient. She didn't give up. Any one of those three traits would be worth having but she had all of them. There may have been days when she didn't, but she always retrieved them and moved on.

There are lots of writers who have manuscripts for one novel or several, for nonfiction books, for poetry anthologies which are sitting in files gathering dust. I know, I know--computer files don't get dusty but those finished projects do get old. If any of us wants to see our project as a published product, we need to acquire all three of the traits listed above. 

Believe:  You might tell me that you wouldn't have written the darned thing if you didn't believe in it. Partly true. The strength of your belief is key. You need to believe in your work down to the depths of your soul if you want others to believe in it, too. You also need to believe in yourself.

Patience:  Maybe that word should be written in caps to make sure we know the importance of it. I've joked more than once that God pushed me into writing to teach me patience. Patience was never one of my finer virtues but I know that I am far more patient now than before I tried to market my work. I learned the value of being patient enough to submit to places that didn't answer for months, if at all. I came to realize that the publishing journey can be a very slow one and that I had to lower my frustration level and up the patience part. 

Giving Up:  This is a biggie. It's so much easier to give up than to persist. Not giving up goes back to that believing in yourself part. It also requires some of that patience part. Give up and the whole project is over. Give up and you may regret it forever. 

You'll need all three of these traits if you hope to be successful in getting your project published. In Annette's article, she tells us that it wasn't easy when she was asked to rewrite her book. When we think we're done, we don't want to start all over. She did as asked, after some soul searching, and the door to having her book published opened. 

The big question to ask yourself is: How much do I want this to happen? and How much work am I willing to put in? Maybe another question to ask is How much do I believe in the project?  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Annette Gendler Shares Her Publishing Journey

April 4, 2017 | By 

“You do your best work after your biggest disasters.”

Tim Robbins, as quoted in The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Finding neither a publisher, nor an agent, for my memoir after three years of looking does not constitute my life’s biggest disaster, but in terms of my writing it did. There’s no creative project into which I have poured more time and energy.
I had the good fortune of serving as the 2014/15 writer-in-residence at the Hemingway Birthplace Home, and I spent a good part of that year querying agents and publishers. I stuck to the old adage that persistence is everything. Overall, I sent 70 query letters and/or proposals, which doesn’t include the 43 I had sent over the previous two years, after I finished my manuscript. Each time I pressed the Send button, hope rose again. Each email carried the possibility of success. I kept telling myself, “If I don’t try, I won’t succeed.”
There were lots of nibbles, requests for the manuscript or the book proposal, but none went anywhere. With each rejection my heart sank a little lower, and my composure got more frazzled. When I reached the end of my list of agents, I plowed through databases of similar books to find publishers who take un-agented work (of which, thankfully, there are plenty). One day, as I was finding similar books that got published while mine wasn’t finding a home, I got so mad that I texted my husband. My fury and frustration must have been evident in that text because he replied, “Maybe you need a break?”
So I took a break. I left my attic studio in the Hemingway House, walked to the French bistro down the street and had a glass of Chardonnay with lunch. Upon my return, I worked on other writing.
Soon thereafter an email from an editor came in, suggesting a rewrite and offering to look at my manuscript again after that. This made me even madder. I didn’t want to rewrite my memoir based on someone’s advice who had no skin in the game. A rewrite would be a lot of work, and I wasn’t even sure I could do it.
Then I had dinner with a good writing friend who yelled at me, “What do you mean you don’t want to do a rewrite? This is a terrific second chance! I wish some editor had given me such consideration. You better get to it!”
I really didn’t want to. I was scared.
“Change–changing the work and how we work–is the unpleasant task of dealing with that which we have been denying. It is probably the biggest test in the creative process, demanding not only an admission that you’ve made a mistake but that you know how to fix it.”
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit, p. 218
“The unpleasant task”–that’s what I was dealing with! That’s why I had been dragging my feet. I hadn’t wanted to admit that this version of the manuscript had failed.
Thanks to my friend, by the time I was reading The Creative Habit, I was deep into attempting the rewrite. Up until then, however, I had seen my problem in terms of rejection. I had hunted around for advice on how to deal with rejection, how to keep up the fight in the face of it when really rejection had turned into failure.
When does rejection turn into failure? I wish I knew! I wish I could say, “It’s after sending out 70 unsuccessful queries,” or “when a second chance comes around.” Part of the challenge of the creative process is that you’re always operating in this foggy no-man’s-land. Other writers and artists can only give you advice, share where they have been, but it’s you who has to decide what to do about the work.
I am happy to report that I am glad I attempted the rewrite. The time to do it presented itself when my son attended summer school. We live an hour’s drive from his school, so coming home while he was in class for four hours wasn’t practical. Instead, I joined the Writers Workspace, a communal office for writers a 15-minute-drive from his school, and considered his six weeks of summer school my time to work on the rewrite. Turns out the rewrite was easier than I thought it would be. I shouldn’t have doubted myself so much. By week six I was proof-reading, and I was confident I had a better book.
Alas, the second chance did not pan out in the end. I had been dreading that, but at least I gave the second chance a chance.
In the meantime, I am well on my way to publication with She Writes Press. Looking back on four years of arduously pursuing traditional publication, I am wondering whether going with a press where I have more say in the process would have been the right way all along, but I had to fail in order to see that.

Originally published at Women Writers, Women's Books

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Give This New Memoir A Try

Jumping Over Shadows: A Memoir by [Gendler, Annette]

Some of you may remember Annette Gendler who has been a Guest Blogger more than once for me. She lives in Chicago, my old hometown where she plays many roles. She is wife, mother, teacher of memoir writing, and author. Right now, she is a very busy author promoting her first book, Jumping Over Shadows, a memoir that details her romance and marriage to a man of a faith different from the one her family followed in her growing-up years.
Annette Gendler's Profile Photo, Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor and closeup
Annette Gendler

That's a difficult situation for most but particularly so in Annette's case as it occurred in Germany in the 1980's, when memories of WWII were still fresh in the minds of the Jewish people who lived there as well as the German Christians. The reader is pulled into the life of these two young people who fall in love with the odds against them. In her family, it feels like history repeating itself as Annette's great-aunt married a Jewish man in 1938 which caused difficulties for all of the family during those war years.

The book moves back and forth between the 1980's and the 1930-40's with fascinating pieces of the author's family history. The parallels of the two situations keep the reader's attention. We want to know how Annette's story will turn out. Will she be more fortunate than her great-aunt? 

The author knew her own story, of course, but learned much of the family history from journals that her grandfather wrote as well as searching records in Germany and visiting cemeteries to search through more records. 

Annette and Harry kept their relationship a secret for three years. Finally, they had to reveal their feelings and hopes for marriage to both families. Can her German Christian family accept the man she loves? Can Harry’s family give their blessing? Can she, and will she, convert to Judaism? How easy or how difficult would that be?

The author's fine writing brings this story to life. The end of one chapter makes the reader want to go right on reading. Many family photos make a fine addition. This is a well-written memoir that I would recommend even if the author was not a personal friend. 

I had the joy of spending a little time with Annette at my online writing group conference a couple of weeks ago. She gave a presentation one morning titled Turning Family History Into Compelling Stories. That is exactly what she accomplished with her own family history for her story is most compelling. 

Order the book at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Annette Gendler is the author of Jumping Over Shadows, the memoir of a German-Jewish love that overcame the burdens of the past. Her writing and photography have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Tablet Magazine, Bella Grace and Artful Blogging. She served as the 2014–2015 writer-in-residence at the Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois, and has been teaching memoir writing at StoryStudio Chicago since 2006. She lives in Chicago with her husband and three children.