Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Golden Nugget in a Personal Essay







Life has a way of making us sit up and take notice. Things we experience often turn out to be good lessons. If we want to share what happened and what we learned, the perfect venue is the personal essay. 

The personal essay concerns something that happened to you. It might be highlighting most any kind of experience--humorous. tragic, interesting, timely and more. You can write pages about what occurred, use imagery, lovely phrases, action verbs, show rather than tell, and more. That's all quite important. But you need one more thing to make your personal essay worth a reader's time.

The golden nugget in a personal essay is illustrating a universal truth or what you, the writer, learned. Sometimes, it's spelled out perfectly. Other times, it is only inferred, but in such a way that your message is clear. 

What is a 'universal truth'? One definition is 'messages or codes of behavior that tell us what it means to be human'.

When you write a personal essay, you're saying "Here's what happened to me and what I learned." 

Today's quote is the perfect springboard for those who want to write a personal essay. Maybe you should hold onto what happened that hurt you long enough to write about it. Writing about your experience can do two things. It helps you understand and can be a step toward healing after a traumatic experience. You might also be of help to other people by relating your experience. 

The personal essay is a perfect way to find insight in ourselves and to offer that golden nugget to others. 

Monday, May 13, 2024

Writers--Take Your Time!


 One of the toughest lessons to learn when you first start writing is to take you time. You're eager. You're inspired. You're excited about this new adventure. Thats when you are in danger of hurrying through a writing project. That goes for experienced writers, too. 

You've written your first book and are ready to find an agent. Isn't that how it's done? Look at lists and choose a top dog. With one book under your belt, are you ready for the big time? The vast majority of new writers are not. 

Nellie Newbie hasn't got time to do writing exercises. She's on to bigger and better things. Those piddly exercises are a waste of time. Aren't they? 

Norbert Newbie doesn't want to write short stories. Nope. He is going to dive right in and write a novel. His buddy, Norman Newbie is bypassing the short stuff, too. He's going to write his memoir. People are going to love it, he says. 

Even experienced writers don't always take the amount of time on a writing project that will make it well-written and publishable. Some get inspired, hurry through, spend little time on revision and editing, then ship it off to an editor. They're miffed when it gets rejected. 

Let's look at these situations, one by one. 

YOUR FIRST BOOK:  It's exciting to have a book finished and be ready to find an agent to represent you and sell your book. For a lot of money, you hope. Most first novels are not outstanding. They're a learning experience for the writer. That's not to say they won't someday be published. It's better to start with small presses or an agent that is reputable but not in the top tier. Your odds are going to be better if you go that route. Authors who are household names didn't sell their first book through a top agent or publishing house on the first try. Perseverance comes in play here. You need to be willing to shop that book in many places.

WRITING EXERCISES: Nellie Newbie doesn't want to waste time doing writing exercises. She should give them a try as they can add to what she already knows about writing. She knows she can 'tell' a good story, but maybe a few writing exercises will help here learn to 'show' that story, which makes it more likely to be published. There are different kinds of exercises, and they all can help you to be a better writer. Even experienced writers can benefit from doing a warm-up exercise before they begin on the day's work.

WRITE SHORT STUFF FIRST: Most writers want to write a book, and they set out to do so on their first writing project. Instead, write short pieces first. Fiction, whether flash or longer, personal essays, critical essays, articles, short memoir and more. They're easier to get published, not a piece of cake, but easier than a first novel. Get several published in magazines, ezines, websites etc, and you have something to show an agent or book publisher. Some authors can expand a short story into a full-length novel. 

TAKE YOUR TIME: When inspiration hits, and you are eager to begin writing, you might want to go too fast. You could skip some vital steps. A newbie writer finishes a short piece and thinks it's ready to send out into the publishing world. They can't be bothered to let it sit for a while, or to edit and revise at least a couple times. Norbert and Norman Newbie need to slow down. If they don't, they're in for some disappointment. 

Today's poster highlights one of my key words for writers. Persistence. Along with that goes Determination and Patience. Things don't happen fast in the writing world. That's one of the first lessons we must learn. 


Saturday, May 11, 2024

Missing Our Mothers

 


Mom at 19


Those whose mothers are still living will honor them on Sunday. But for those of us who have lost our mothers, the day is bittersweet. I wrote a story about missing my mother on that second Sunday in May a couple of years after she had passed away.. I sent it to Chicken Soup for the Soul and they liked it well enough to publish it in a book on moms. So, for those who have lost their mother, whether this year, or many years ago, here is the story. I hope it will give some ease to hurting hearts. 

Missing My Mother on Mother’s Day

(The title in the book was changed to With Us In Spirit. A better title, I think)

I stopped at a Hallmark shop the other day to buy Mother’s Day cards for my daughter and daughter-in-law. The aisle where the cards for this special day rested was a long one. There were Mother’s Day cards appropriate to send to everyone from your cleaning lady to your best friend. The colors were soft and spring-like, fitting for the month of May. I moved up and down the aisle looking for cards that worked for Karen and Amy, and suddenly without any warning, an ache started deep inside. It swelled and moved upward, hit my heart and pushed a tear from my eye.

The one card I really wanted to buy was one for my own mother, but she passed away more than two years ago. I could buy the card, write a special note, sign it with love, then seal and stamp it. But where would I send it? Heaven has no post office. A curtain of sadness dropped down and covered me like a shroud for a moment or two. My hand reached out to a card that I knew she’d love. It was lavender and purple, her favorite colors. I read the verse and smiled. This was the one I’d buy her if I could only send it to her. I slipped it back in the rack, picked it up and read it again, then replaced it.

I’m a mother and a grandmother of four, but I still miss my mom. I miss our long talks. She had little formal education, but she possessed a marvelous instinct and insight into human behavior. I learned so much listening to her observations. I miss the stories she told about her childhood in a coal mining town. She made me appreciate the differences in people’s lives. I miss the wonderful pies and cakes she made. I miss her terrific sense of humor and hearty laughter. I miss her hugs.

But as I look around my home, I see her in many places. I see her warm smile in photos carefully arranged in several different rooms. I see her every time I sift through my recipe box and finger the many cards with her handwriting, all so precious now.  I see her when I use my rolling pin, once hers, now mine. Whenever I use it, I’m reminded of the day she taught me how to put just the right pressure on a pie crust with the heavy wooden rolling pin. I see her when I show visitors to our guest room, for the bed is covered with a quilt she made by hand.

On Mother’s Day I will be with my daughter and her family at a Mother’s Day Brunch. To spend the day with a child I love and her husband and children will give me great pleasure. It wouldn’t surprise me if we sense another presence that day, for my mother will be with us in spirit, spreading her love once more.


© 2007                                        Mom at age 83




Sunday, May 5, 2024

Editing Polishes Your Writing

 


I've often made the comment that the writing is easy while marketing your book is the tough part. Well, that was said with several grains of truth, but let it never be said that writing is easy. Anyone who has tried it will attest to that. I'm a person who likes to get a project done and then move on to the next one. I could do that when making a quilt or sewing a dress for a little daughter but not so with my writing projects. Those must be revisited many times before I can call them finished. Don't forget to let the project simmer a few days or more before you do the editing. That's key to the process.

Newer writers might wonder if editing their work means only checking for typos, punctuation, misspelled words and proper capitalization. While all those things should be looked at, there are others to be added to the list.

1. REPETITION:  This is bigger than you think. When I critique in my online writers group, one of the things that jump out in someone else's story is repeating words or ideas. If you use the same word in two consecutive sentences or, gasp, even three, you risk boring your reader. It may sound foolish but it's true. Same with ideas that are repeated even though you may use different words. Most readers will pick up on the fact that you're telling them the same thing twice. Writing book authors will tell you not to do it, they'll say you must respect your reader's intelligence.

2. SENTENCE LENGTH:  When you look at your first draft, pay attention to how long or short your sentences are. Too many lengthy ones make the reader wear out and maybe even give up reading. Alternate short sentences with long ones, and I don't mean exactly every other one. Do consider tossing in a short sentence between a couple of long ones. Occasionally, a writer will use several very short sentences together for emphasis, and that's fine. There are exceptions to every rule or method. Think about those many short sentences in early reading books. As an adult, they'd irritate you if all the sentences were only a few words each.

3. CLARITY: When I write a story, especially a memoir piece, I know exactly what the situation was, I know the backstory, I know the setting. Readers do not know these things so you must be certain you write in such a way that all those things are clear. As you journey through the editing process, ask yourself if things are as clear as they should be. This is one thing that having another person go through the manuscript is invaluable. Anything not clear will jump out at them immediately. A good case for editing on your own, then asking someone else to do another edit.

4. UNNECESSARY WORDS:  Once upon a time, I was dubbed the Queen of Unnecessary words. I awarded myself this honor (or dishonor) early in my writing world. In the first online critique group I belonged to, using too many unnecessary words was the item marked most by those who critted my work. The moderator of the group did not use the finesse others did when pointing it out. She acted like a mother who had been disobeyed and read me the riot act more than once. It was good for me as the importance of not using words like just, very, that is, why, who is, which was and others (depending on where they land in your sentence) appeared very clear. By getting rid of these redundant or superfluous words, your remaining sentence will be much stronger. We use a lot of those unnecessary words when we speak to one another, but in our writing we need to be more concise.

5. PASSIVE VERBS: Watch carefully for overuse of passive verbs--those that show no action--words like was, is, are. They're used by a lazy writer. Make it a habit to find active verbs, words that show us what someone is doing. Jump, run, batted, smashed, darted are words that bring the reader an instant mental picture. They are also far more interesting. I once pointed out in a critique that the writer had used a passive verb in every sentence in a lengthy paragraph. Boring! Practice using active verbs and it becomes a habit. You'll find that passive verbs are 'telling' while active verbs 'show'.

These are only some of the things to look for when you do an edit. Plot changes deserve another special editing process. Doing the ones I've listed will strengthen your writing, will make it more interesting to the reader, and make it more likely to be published.  

Writing is a step-by-step process. If anyone ever told you it happens easily, don't believe them. Capture the publishing prize by working through the process until you deem the work ready to market.


Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Book Review: Addressing Widowhood


Christina Hamlett has been a Guest Blogger here numerous times. An accomplished novelist, playwright, interviewer, former actress--the list goes on. Now, she has added one more description after her name. Widow! Ms. Hamlett lost her beloved husband of 25 years Easter Sunday of 2023. 

She learned a great deal in the months after her husband's death and has written a book to share her experiences, thoughts, and tips for other widows. The title is 'Everything I Know About Widowhood I Learned From Jessica Fletcher'.

Ms. Hamlett's husband's illness lasted only a few short months, but they had time to discuss many things that she would need to know once she was alone. Finances, burial or cremation, and more. A difficult task for many, but important.

This is not a typical, somber book about becoming a widow. Ms. Hamlett writes with warmth and humor while giving some excellent guidelines for married women who suddenly find themselves alone. 

The title of the book, of course, refers to the 'Murder She Wrote' series starring Angela Lansbury that ran for many years. The author admired Ms. Lansbury's character, Jessica Fletcher, and writes that there was much to learn about being a widow by watching the widowed sleuth in the popular series. 

One chapter gives a Must-Do Checklist which is important, but Ms. Hamlett also gives advice about what you should aim for as a widow. Things like living life to the fullest, finding a purpose in life (big or small), taking care of yourself, and embracing the things you love. She also cautions about things you should not do.

There is a lot of her personal story which readers will find of interest. Stories about her courtship and marriage, a humorous section on the man she dubbed 'The Cremation Guy', and possible new relationships. 

The final section of the book is a list of other books that might be helpful to widows. 

As a Help for Widows book, I'd give this one 5 stars. I also think it would be of interest to those women still married but who might possibly find themselves in the widow category someday. 

The book is an ebook as well as paperback. Look for it at your favorite bookseller or online. 

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Gourmet Touches--Titles and Quotes

 


If you invite someone to dinner, you’re apt to add some special touches to the food and table d├ęcor. As a hostess, you try to make a dinner party special for your guests. Stories and articles deserve to be dressed up, too.

Let’s take a look at two items that add gourmet touches to a story—titles and quotes.

Titles

The title of a story, article, or book draws the reader’s attention. It gives the reader a reason to read. Have you ever gone to the fiction section of the library or a bookstore and scanned titles? A few cause you to stop and pull the volume from the shelf. Something in the words on the book's spine called out to you. Ever wonder why?

When you meet someone new, they make an impression of some kind. Sometimes it’s positive, and other times not. The title of a book or story also makes a first impression, and it either creates further interest or moves us to pass on by. So, it’s important to find a title that is creative or catchy in some respect. That doesn’t necessarily mean it should be outlandish. Some writers think an outlandish title will catch an editor’s eye, and it may. It might also make the editor pass it by in a hurry.

When Margaret Mitchell finished her epic Civil War novel, she played around with several titles. Among them were Tote The Weary Load, Milestones, and Not In Our Stars. Her final selection, Gone With The Wind, turned out to be perfect. In four little words, Ms. Mitchell let you know that her story dealt with loss and starting over.

The title can be taken from the meaning of the story, a comment made within the text, or a strong image the story projects. A proper name can serve as a title, too. If the book or story is a success, the name will live forever. Don’t we all know and love a boy and a book named Huckleberry Finn? The unusual first name piques interest.

A title should intrigue the reader, but it must also use the same tone as the story. After all, the title is an introduction or a preview of what is to come. If you write a story dealing with a tragic accident and death, you wouldn’t use a title laced with humor. On the other hand, when you write a humorous story, you want to reflect that, as well.

Some writers add the title last, and others begin with a working title. After the story is complete, the writer plays around with titles until the most satisfying one emerges. It’s the frosting on the cake, the dressing on the salad. It finishes the story.

Quotes 

Quotes are used within the text to support an argument or to illustrate a point being made. Articles that offer advice or are controversial will benefit from quotations. Showing the words of an expert in the field further enhances the argument being put forth.

A quotation is a reference to an authority and should be used when accuracy is essential. That authority should be named. Quoting someone, without giving them credit, verges on stealing their words. Beginning writers sometimes are not aware of this.

Quotes should be kept to a minimum. Quoting long, rambling paragraphs does not serve any real purpose other than adding to your word count.

There are two types of quotations—direct and indirect. A direct quotation uses the exact words, and an indirect quotation paraphrases the thought expressed by someone. Both should make reference to the person who originally made the statement. Take a look at the example below which shows a statement made by mystery author, Agatha Christie.

A. Direct Quote:  Agatha Christie says, “The best time for planning a book is while 

you’re doing the dishes.”

B. Indirect Quote:  Agatha Christie thinks a writer can plan new books while doing 

     mundane tasks like doing the dishes.

When using a quote, set it off by placing quotation marks at the beginning and end of the statement quoted. The final punctuation mark, whether a period, question mark, or exclamation mark, is placed inside the final set of quotation marks. (See sample above)

In closing, I would like to quote an English author, William Makepeace Thackery, who wrote: “There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes.”

 If you hope to pursue a successful place in the writing world, add these gourmet touches to your own thoughts as you write.

 


Sunday, April 21, 2024

Meet Ken Goetz, Writer and Blogger

 



Ken Goetz and his granddaughter

I think you'll find today's post of interest. I've interviewed a fellow blogger whom I would like to introduce to you. His name is Ken Goetz, (also known as Dr. Kenneth Goetz) and he's quite an interesting fellow. After reading the interview, I hope you'll check out his blog.  www.https://writerken.com/.

Nancy:  What was your career path before you became a writer?

Ken:  My path was bizarrely complicated, yet each zigzag along the way seemed logical at the time. (It
would take long pages to describe the circumstances responsible for each twist in my path, some
of them admittedly embarrassing, so I’ll just list some key stages along the way):

Pre-law student in small South Dakota college
Weather observer with U.S. Air Force in Germany
Pre-journalism student, then pre-medical student and economics major, University of Wisconsin
Medical student (two years) and graduate student, University of Wisconsin (earned PhD)
Faculty member (+ part-time med student), University of Kansas Medical Center (earned MD)
Medical intern, Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City
Head, Division of Experimental Medicine, Saint Luke’s Hospital (20 years)
Visiting Professor, University of Kuopio, Finland
Visiting Professor, University of Munich, Germany
Visiting Scientist, Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Cologne, Germany
Retired Guy who writes

Nancy:  When did you start writing?

Ken: I became serious about writing while taking news writing courses at Wisconsin. Following that academic year, I worked two summers for a small daily newspaper, the first as a local reporter, the second as state editor.

Nancy:  What inspired you to become a writer?

Ken:  I wish I could give a concrete reason. Maybe it was because I recognized quite early that the
ability to convert my thoughts and ideas into written words that accurately described what was
going on in my head, although difficult to achieve, would be a tremendous asset in whatever
profession I chose.

Nancy:  You've written a memoir. What inspired you to delve into a big project like that?

Ken:  I was 13, with three younger siblings, when our mother died. Our father was killed in a car crash a few years later. My younger sister and brother have no memories of our mother and only few of our father. I wrote my childhood memoir to give them a clearer picture of our parents and of earlier family stresses.

Soon afterward, Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes burst upon the scene. I saw similarities between his memoir and my story, so I began searching for a publisher. Chicago Review Press and the University of Iowa press expressed interest, but ultimately both declined to publish it. So, I self-published the book as Bending the Twig. It sold a few thousand copies, generated excellent reviews, and, most impressive to me, generated hundreds of laudatory letters.

More recently, I came to realize that I had left significant information out of that memoir, so I recently revised and expanded the manuscript, increasing the word count from 58,000 to 78,000, and changing its working title. The revised manuscript is now under review by a major New York literary agency. No feedback as yet.

Nancy:  What else have you written?

Ken:  As a working physician-scientist, most of my output was published in scientific journals, with
nearly all of my papers written in typically dull, passive voice, the standard of academia. (But
occasionally, just for fun, I would throw in a zinger to break the mold.) Along the way, I wrote a
couple of popular pieces, one for the Kansas City Star about a doctor who voluntarily took a
lethal dose of the South American arrow poison, curare, and survived. That article was picked
up by the Associated Press and reprinted in major newspapers around the country. Last year, a
light personal essay of mine appeared in The Christian Science Monitor.

I also wrote a novel, The Colors of Medicine. That book was inspired by echoes from my
rebellious first year of medical school. While writing the novel, I felt some glee, even catharsis,
as I forced my protagonist to wade his way through the battered trail I had blazed in Madison.
The novel also was self-published and sold only a few hundred copies. Feedback indicated that
my characters were strong, even memorable, but my plot took a few uneven twists.

Nancy:  You have a blog. What prompted that?

Ken:  I don’t think I’ve told you this, but your blog was the inspiration for mine. When I discovered
Writer Granny's World, I was astonished by the quality and volume of your posts. I knew my
output would not begin to approach yours, but I thought maybe a grandfather could post a small
amount of what a grandmother was putting online so effectively. So, I did a bit of sleuthing about
how to set up a blog, and I jumped right in. Your readers can find my blog at www.https://writerken.com/.

Nancy: What kind of posts do you publish on your blog?

Ken: Unlike many other bloggers, I don’t focus on a single topic, so those who follow my blog never
know what to expect next. I see my posts as being somewhat akin to a weekly newspaper column,
one in which the columnist pens a piece on whatever interests him at the moment. Nothing is off
limits. Perhaps not surprisingly, I write about classic medical research, especially if I think the subject
is of general interest. For example, I’ve reported on the first man to catheterize the human heart
(a doctor who shoved a makeshift catheter into his own heart almost a hundred years ago). I’ve
also posted the story I mentioned above, the one about the man who voluntarily took a lethal
dose of South American arrow poison, and lived. Beyond that, health in general is another
common subject, especially when the topics lead to suggestions for maintaining our wellbeing.
At times I venture into more controversial opinion pieces, such as my take on the origin of
Covid-19, the costs of higher education, and Washington politics, the latter written from the
viewpoint of a Jack Kennedy Democrat, my solid personal anchor that has not wobbled since the
1960s. But, during that time the political spectrum has shifted decidedly leftward, so, with no
movement of my own, I now find myself surprisingly aligned a bit to the right of today’s political
middle. I also occasionally dip into literature, sports, travel, and whatnot. 

Finally, Nancy, I sincerely thank you for taking time to interview me and introduce me to your readers. Your blog has inspired me, and so many others.

Nancy:  It's been a pleasure to learn more about you. I've found your blog posts full of variety and most interesting. 














The Golden Nugget in a Personal Essay

Life has a way of  making us sit up and take notice. Things we experience often turn out to be good lessons. If we want to share what happen...