Monday, April 23, 2018

Lady In The Garden--What's Her Story?

free image from Vintage Victorian Images

I am careful to use only free images from online sites when I am writing my blog post. If you use a photo you found online or are using a search engine to find one, be sure to use 'free' in the keyword for your search. 

I'm later than usual in posting, so let's do a photo prompt exercise. I've been saving this picture because I liked it so much. Yes, I'm a romantic who loves historical fiction. While very lovely, the photo also gives us much to consider before writing.

Play the old "What if?" game. What if this happened while the lady was picking flowers? Or that happened? Will it be something wonderful? Or something to make us shudder? 

Look at her dress and parasol. What can you say about it that will describe it well? How about all that paraphernalia she most likely wore underneath? And what about her hairstyle? Easy to do each day? Did she need help? 

Ask yourself if she's happy or sad. Is she picking the flowers for a party or to add something special to her home. Is she waiting for someone or has someone just left? 

Sensory details? Smell might come to mind first when you see the mass of flowers. Is there sound in the garden? 

I've given you lots to consider while studying the picture. Now write a paragraph, two or a full story. Have fun and share if you'd like in the comments section. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Writers Need Help To Polish The Apple

Image result for free quote and image from writers

For those unaware, a beta reader is a non-professional who reads a novel before publication to give  the author feedback on various aspects of the book--plot, appeal, places where it drags, spelling and other mechanical errors. A novelist might choose several beta readers, send the manuscript, then sit back waiting for the responses and chewing fingernails while the betas read. They hope for cheers and Let's break out the champagne for this one kind of responses.

Critiquers are usually writers who are willing to give a fellow writer some constructive criticism and/or praise. Many writers, like me, join a writer's critique group to get help in polishing a piece of writing, to find out if it is worth pursuing, and more. I found out early on in my writing journey that while those 'atta girl' critiques inflate the ego a bit, the ones that rip your writing up one side and down the other are the critiques that are the most helpful. Sounds a bit masochistic, does it not? 

The main thing a writer must keep in mind is pointed out in our poster today. The criticism is not about you, the person. Instead, it is concerned with what you have written. Those words on the paper or screen that you hope will thrill others are exactly that--words. 

Some might argue that what we write is every bit 'us' the person. Even so, writers must learn that any criticism they receive, whether from those beta readers or professional writers who critique their work, is meant to help them grow as a writer. Both help by giving the writer another chance to revise and edit before submitting to a publisher. I would add a third word to 'revise and edit'--polish. 

Ever see photos of a child polishing an apple before handing it to the teacher? Sounds, of course, like a Norman Rockwell painting. That little girl or boy wants the apple to be special before giving it to the teacher. It's exactly how we should want to see our writing--polished and shining, as close to perfect as possible. 

Once we give our work to others to read and critique, we set ourselves up for more work. You know, deep down, that what you've written is not going to come back unmarked. But, isn't that what we should all want? To write and rewrite until we have a worthy piece of writing. One that shines like a polished apple!

apple, food, fruit

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Writers and New Beginnings

There's a bit of excitement when starting something new--a new job, a new relationship, a new book to read, a new house, a new year. It's wonderful to put your foot on a blank path with all kinds of possibilities ahead of you.

So it is for writers who get the urge to begin a new writing project. Quite often, I have thoughts about it for days, even weeks, before I actually sit down and put fingers to keyboard. Other times, I get inspired, drop other tasks and start pounding the keys to get that first draft written. The best thing is that when it's time to begin, I have no doubts. 

I also do not know if what I'm about to ensue will be of any worth or not. Some are and some are pure drivel. As the poster tells us, we should trust the magic of beginnings. That magic comes from being enthused, or even excited, about writing something new. It's probably a time that brings out the best 'writer' in us. 

When we have been working on a writing project, such as a full novel, for what can feel like an eternity, we're less apt to be as excited as we were at the onset. Thoughts like Will I ever finish? Why did I ever start this? If I'm bored with this, maybe readers will be, too. I'm so done with this! run through our minds. It's then that we should perhaps set the old aside and begin something new. It could give us the spark needed to go back to the other project with a bit more enthusiasm. 

Last evening, I started reading a book recommended to me by a friend. I turned the first pages to the page where the novel begins. It startled me a bit because there was one paragraph followed by a lone sentence. That handful of words were skillfully written, making me want to turn the page and get into the story. I felt excited about was to come after reading the hint in the concise opening page. 

That's the way I want to feel when I start writing a new story. I hope I never have that same old, same old attitude when an entirely new project with endless possibilities is mine to grasp and enjoy. How about you? What is the best part of beginning a new writing project? What magic do you find with each one? 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Writers Love Words. How About You?

I'm a word person. Have you ever heard anyone say that? If you ever spent some time with me, you'd most likely hear those 4 words slip right out of my mouth to whatever ear is nearby. Numbers and anything to do with them bore me. Mathematicians would cringe at hearing me say that, I'm sure. 

You'll never see me doing a sudoko puzzle. Crossword puzzles are a joy for me. There is one in our Kansas City paper every day that is relatively easy and I can complete it in about 10 minutes. I consider it exercising my mind but I also like the puzzles because it allows me to play with words.

Looking at the poster for today and putting it and more in question form, how would you answer the following?
  • Do you love the shape of stories? The opening lines, the building blocks that create the story, and a fitting ending--all of these things that shape a story.
  • Do you have an appreciation of creating sentences from words?
  •  Do you like the way words become phrases?
  • Is it a joy for you to create new worlds on each page?
  • Is writing satisfying for you?
  • Do you like the sounds of certain words?
  • Are you an avid reader?
If your answers were mostly positive, then consider yourself a writer. Not a scientific survey but still easy enough to see who is a word lover like me. 

The last question in the list above comes from the final part of the Annie Proulx, author, quote. I am in agreement with her statement that writing comes from reading and that we are students of the craft who can learn a great deal by reading what others have written. No, we don't want to copy other authors. We want our own voice in our writing but, even so, there is much to learn from reading the work of other writers. Be a sponge and soak up the lessons. 

As writers, I think we learn while reading for pleasure, even if it is subconsciously. I mentioned a few days ago that I had pointed out an opening line in the novel my Book Club had read. I was able to initiate a discussion about the importance of a first line or first paragraph in a story. I am the only one in the group who is a writer as well as a reader. One woman said she had never considered how important those opening lines/paragraphs were. She added that she'd be paying attention to them from now on. 

Write but also learn from the writing of others. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

If I Can Write Free Verse, You Can, Too!

Image result for free images poetry

What is that you say? You're not a poet? Have you ever tried to write a poem? Ever been inspired to do so? Have you ever seen a sunset so spectacular that you wanted to paint it? If only you knew how. I try free verse poetry when something I see moves me emotionally.

I wrote a lot of things before I ever attempted poetry. In high school, I remember reading a lot of poetry and memorizing it but we were never asked to write it. That was a shame. 

Prose writers should also try their hand at poetry. No one says it has to be a prize winner. Like any other kind of writing, you have to keep working at it. I'm the first to admit that I like to write Free Verse because there is no worrying about meter or rhyme. You can say whatever you like in whatever style that appeals to you. 

One night I couldn't get to sleep and I began watching the shadows of trees outside on the bedroom wall. I thought about my insomnia kind of night the next day and decided to write about it, not prose but a short poem. This was the result:


Night shadows shimmer
 across my bedroom wall;
tree branches bend to
the will of the wind,
reaching for the window.

Moonlight guides my steps
as I pad to the empty kitchen.
In the lunar-lit darkness,  
more shapes flicker and beckon   
on this well-known path.

A glass of milk to help
me drift into sleep
before too many thoughts
again wrap round my mind
while I watch silent shadows
dancing through this wakeful night.
                               --Nancy Julien Kopp

It's merely another way of saying "I couldn't sleep last night and I watched shadows on the wall before I got up and went to the kitchen for a glass of milk in hopes I could stop thinking and get to sleep." Isn't the poem a better way to say it? 

Once you begin writing free verse poems, you'll start looking at the word choices you've made. If you use things like alliteration--in poem above the first line is an example: shadows shimmer, then farther down branches bend and will of the wind and finally, silent shadows. As in prose writing, try for active verbs, no repeating of words, and visual images. 

Use something simple when you first try to write free verse. Let the first draft simmer a few days and go back to it. Read it to see where you might put more descriptive words, better verbs and other things to make the poem sound better. Read it aloud. As I read over the poem I've used as an example, I see places I might change.Lots of alliteration in first stanza and only one other place. Maybe I'd try for more.  Poets edit and revise just like prose writers do.

In honor of National Poetry Month, try to write a free verse poem. Who knows? You might like the form and keep on writing. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Poets--Check This Call For Submissions

Japan, Landscape, Spring, Plant, Cherry, Flowers
Cherry Blossoms

Some of you may have seen my post on facebook about a poem of mine published on Poetry Super Highway website this past Saturday. The editors put out a call for submissions with a very short time span to deaPoetry Super dline which was only a week away. It happened that a poem I'd written three years ago was sitting quietly in my Documents file. 

I have mentioned in this blog more than once that those pieces you've written and had not been able to find a home for might be the perfect fit for a call for submissions someday. I'd written the poem after an extremely moving visit to a small village in the Czech Republic while on a tour of eastern Germany and Prague. As we entered the Czech Republic, our tour guide told us we'd have time to make a stop at Terezin, a small village that had been an internment camp for Jews during WWII. I felt such a presence of something as we arrived. The tour guide had told us some background and personal stories. She suggested we get off the bus and take photos, perhaps walk to the cemetery. Everyone went but me. I could not leave the bus, still feeling the ghosts of those who had been held here so long ago. 

The Poetry Super Highway was looking for poems for their issue marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. They selected 71 poems from around the world that dealt with this topic. You can read them here. The list of poets is first, followed by the 71 poems. Mine is titled "The Ghosts of Terezin." Then have a look around the Poetry Super Highway.

When I browsed the website, I noticed the editors featured a Poet of the Week in each issue. The person selected has a photo, bio and some of his/her poetry featured. There is no pay but the exposure is worth something. You can find a detailed page of Submission Guidelines.  Look through your files and select a few of your best poems to submit. 

Don't be afraid to submit your poems. The worst that can happen is that your work will not be accepted and you won't be the Poet of the Week. But there is always the chance that you will get that wonderful email telling you the good news that your poetry will be featured. Note that they do give a time frame of possibly six months. 

Send poems already written or write something new to submit. The photo of the cherry blossoms on today's post might be inspiration for you. I used them because we have had another cold, totally unlike April week-end with temps below freezing at night and barely above during the day. Even had a little snow Saturday night. Spring in this part of Kansas is usually quite lovely. This year, we get teased with a few nice days, then zapped with wintry stuff again. Some other states are digging out form big snowstorms this past few days so I should not complain but I'm longing for greener grass, leaves on trees and glorious spring flowers. Somebody should write a poem about that!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Write Now!

Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows that I frequently raise the banner high to urge writers and non-writers to make and save a written record of their family stories. Telling them around the dining room table is entertaining but not lasting. 

Take a good look at the woman whose shadow shows in the photo above. She's visiting a grave in a cemetery somewhere in the world. Who is the person she visits? Was there a family bond? Does she have stories to tell about this person. Has she written them somewhere? Or are they bundled nicely in her heart tied with a red ribbon where only she knows them?

What if the person she visits is a beloved family member? What if she knows myriad stories about the person? Stories that help paint a picture of his/her personality? Of deeds done in kindness? Or what if the person was a convicted felon? These stories need to be saved for the family, as well.

When the woman, whose shadow we see, passes through life and is in her own grave, the stories she knows about her family members will most likely be buried with her. Future generations of her family will be cheated, even though they will not know what they are missing. 

Write your family stories about the good times and the bad to create a family history for those that are future members of your family and others already here. 

When I see news stories about people who had been adopted at an early age and never knew their birth family but suddenly find one another, I think about the family stories the adopted children had missed. Yes, they have their own set of family stories during all the growing up years with the people whom they love and consider their Mom and Dad. In some respects, adopted people are pretty fortunate as they have two sets of family stories. A dear friend had been adopted as an infant. She found a brother late in her life. When they met, they had so much to tell one another about both adopted families and what they'd learned about their birth parents. Two siblings with three sets of family stories. 

The best way to begin a Family Stories project is to write one. Note that I said 'one' because it's easier than a dozen at a time. Write one, save it, then write another one later. Build the Family Stories Book with a story, then another, and then another. 

One of my husband's aunts had a lot of insight. She made a photo album of pictures of my husband's extended family. I'm sure she spent many hours gathering and sorting and labeling. When the album was finished, she didn't give it to my husband. Instead, she wanted our oldest grandchild to have it. That grandchild is now 22 and has a history of her grandfather's family. This same aunt told me many family stories and I have written some of them for her. 

You can do the same for your family members. The week-end is here, so why not write the first one now?