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Friday, January 29, 2010

A Good Exercise For Writing Memoir Stories

A very good writing exercise begins with two simple words. I remember...  Those two words can open a floodgate of memories. Begin with I rmember and freewrite for as long as you like. You may come up with only a paragraph or pages worth of memories. Don't stop to work out outlines or progression--use this as a freewriting exercise and see what you come up with. Most likely you'll find material that can be turned into several essays later on.

I tried the exercise one day and found myself writing and writing, all triggered by those two little words. My effort is below. Give the exercise a try and see what memories your mind brings forth. Memoir continues to be a popular genre for both professional and amateur writers.

I remember....
By Nancy Julien Kopp

I remember so much of my childhood days. Incidents, events, people, and places return to me over and over, sometimes in my dreams. I so often am the age I am now, but the dream is set in someplace of long ago—a place where I might have been as a child. My childhood home figures prominently in my dreams and memories.

I grew up in a 3rd floor apartment. Six of us crowded into a 2 bedroom apartment which also had a small kitchen, pantry, dining room (which is where I slept) and a living room with a small sunroom extension on it and one bathroom with a clawfoot tub, no shower. We also had an outdoor balcony, very small and scary when you leaned over the railing and looked way down below. We never had a chair or table on the balcony like people would today. It was a place we were seldom allowed to go, reserved for those Kodak moments.

We climbed the three flights of stairs to our door carrying so many things. Laundry baskets, grocery bags, the live Christmas tree we had each December. Whatever we needed or wanted was toted up those three flights. The enclosed front stairs were carpeted, and as we climbed, we could smell dinner. Sometimes it was dinner cooking and sometimes it was a lingering odor from yesterday's dinner. We had to pass four other apartment doors to reach our floor, and the dinner smells from all four mingled. I often tried to single out the aromas to see who had eaten what that day. The back steps were outdoors and wooden. Up a big double set to the first floor, then split off to a single width set on either side, then onto another double set, and another single width set on either side leading to our floor. One more double set of steps and we landed on our back porch. There were four apartment doors on that big porch. And above the railing on our side ran a clothesline on a pulley. My mother often did hand-washing and hung the clothes to dry on that line. When there was an infant in the family, diapers fluttered in the wind every day of the week, drying quickly on summer days, and freezing to a cardboard stiffness in the winter.

I never knew what it was to be alone during my growing-up years. With three younger brothers and living in a small apartment, privacy came down to my allotted ten minutes in the bathroom each morning. The only place I can remember having solitude is when I walked to the library, which was at least once every week. Down the three flights of stairs with a load of books in my arms and away I went, past the conservatory in the next block, past the city park, and across the double set of railroad tracks. One was for freight trains, the other for Chicago Transit Authority "els" Once over the tracks, I turned onto a cinder path that ran behind the train station platform. I loved that cinder path. It made me feel as though I’d entered another world. The feel of concrete under my feet was the norm, but crunching along the cinder path brought me to another realm. The back of the train platform was to one side of me and a field of tall weeds bordered the other side of the path. Today, I would probably think it was no place for a child to be walking alone, but I did it myriad times over those years and never had a mishap. Maybe an angel walked with me.

The cinder path ended all too soon to suit me, and I skipped along the remaining block and a half until I reached my home away from home--the public library. While I made the walk to and from the library, my thoughts ran to so many things. I had time to think, to plan, to dream. I cherished that private time as much as the wonderful books I carried with me.

I remember so many good things my mother cooked and baked for us. Food was something to be enjoyed in our home, not just to eat to stay alive. Money was scarce, and Mother skimped on many things, but food was of primary importance, and we ate quite well. Steak appeared on our table only occasionally. And we knew if we had steak one night, the next night was something like tuna casserole, or a pound of hamburger stretched in any way possible, and some never even thought of before. My mother baked a lot, and she passed the love of baking on to me. She had learned from her own mother who had a neighborhood bakery for many years.

Memories feed an old soul. Memories entertain the younger generations. Memories are priceless.

Yes, I remember so many things from those childhood years on Garfield Street in Oak Park, Illinois. They helped make me the person I am today, and they've made me appreciate all that I have as an adult, not least of all, the joy of having occasional private moments.__._,_.___



__,_._,___

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Seeing In The Fog

In the Fog




One morning last March, I pulled aside the heavy draperies of our motel room window, hoping to see sunshine. Instead, I found a misty rain and light fog. “Fog again!” I said to my husband who stood before the mirror shaving.

We’d driven in fog the morning before when we set out from home to travel southeast, in hopes of finding a pocket of warmth during this winter month. As we crossed the hills of south central and southeast Kansas, we ran the gamut from a little fog to heavy curtains of it, blocking the view of the tallgrass prairie we normally enjoyed when driving this route.

I searched the road ahead for tail lights of any vehicles and the headlights of those approaching. At times, one would rise up from the fog, seeming to appear in only an instant. I watched the side roads, worrying that a truck or car would pull out in front of us before they realized we were there. Ken kept watch as he drove, and I offered one more set of eyes to help him. Fog frightens me almost as much as icy roads.

What upsets me the most on a foggy day is the number of people who drive through it with no lights on. “What kind of idiot drives in fog without any lights on?” I’ve repeated this statement on many an occasion, never receiving any illuminating answer, other than some smart remark from my husband.

We left the motel on this second morning of our trip, feeling relieved that the fog appeared to be very light. Euphoria lasted only a mile or two, as the arms of heavy fog wrapped around us and held on tightly, as though a lover who would never let go.

Sometimes we move through years of our lives fighting fog, never being able to see clearly to our goals. Writers need to set goals for themselves and move steadily through the light to attain them. Don't set huge goals. Start with the small things and work up to the bigger ones later. Move slowly through whatever fog is obliterating your way to reaching your goals and work on them a little at a time.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

You Have A Choice

Barbara Bush wrote something in her autobiography that I’ve never forgotten. The gist of it was that we have a choice when we wake up each morning. We can like what happens that day, or we can choose to let it make us sad or morbid. She chose to like her day every day. I think I’ll sign up for her team.

Writers can become depressed pretty easily. When you work hard on a story, book, or essay and then spend weeks waiting to hear from an editor only to be rejected, it's rough. You can't be Mary Sunshine when all your work, time, and hopes are suddenly dashed with only a few words from a person sitting at a computer perhaps thousands of miles away.

The concept that we can choose to like what happens each day rather than letting it get us down may not be as difficult as you might think at first glance. Should you like the rejection? Of course not. But you can learn from the rejection and that is something you can like. And there are lots of other things in a writer's life to be liked each day, too.

So, today's message is to make an effort to put a positive spin on everything. It's not going to work 100% of the time, but you can be successful a good share of the time.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's OK To Brag When...

We brag a lot in my online critique group. That sounds like a bad thing, doesn't it? But we consider it good. When someone has her writing published, she sends an e-mail to the group with "OT:  Brag" in the subject line. OT stands for Off Topic, and the Brag alerts us that the e-mail is going to contain good news.

The message that a submissin to an editor has been accepted or that a piece the author has worked on for a long time has been published is cause for rejoicing among the rest of us, and we often send a cyber pat on the back. The person doing the bragging has shared a piece of good news, and the rest of us feel the joy.

We also share in her pleasure because we are familiar with the writing since most of us have read it and several have critiqued it to help the author make it a marketable entity.

That brag serves another purpose, too. It is a source of encouragment for the rest of the writers in the group. It gives us a She did it, so can I attitude.

Years ago, several in the group were reluctant to send the brag notices, felt like they were, well--bragging. But there's a distinct difference in strutting your stuff and lording over the others and this type of sharing  good news. It's OK to brag as long as the purpose is to share your success story and to encourage others.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Step On The Road To Publishing

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.~Henry Ford

Quotes from noted people help me find ideas for the blog. While the quote above may pertain to Henry Ford's own life and his auto world, these wise words can be adapted to the writing life, too.

Substitute the word 'rejection' for 'failure' and perhaps substitute 'creatively' for 'intelligently.' Now, the sentence will read Rejection is simply the opportunity to begin again more creatively.

Every writer deals with rejections on work that has been done with blood, sweat and tears. Well, maybe not quite that bad, but they know they've worked hard, and then the piece comes bouncing back from an editor with one of those dreaded form letters. It says something like "doesn't fit into our editorial needs" or "we have recently published a similar article' or "we are sorry, but we cannot use this." What now?

You have two choices. You can get angry, dump the entire submission from your files, never to be looked upon again by you or any other editor. Or you can step back and look at the article/story/essay with an objective eye. Ask yourself why the editor didn't grab onto this gem immediately. And answer honestly! When you read it, does it grab you quickly? Does it make you want to continue reading? Does it flow well? Does the ending leave you feeling satisfied, or with a question answered? If you answer no to any of these questions, it's time to do some revising and become a little more creative.

Many times, I've read some of my writing of several years ago and I can see so clearly what it needed. Why I didn't see it when I wrote it is a wonder. But it's a common occurrence. It's another reason to let your work sit awhile before sending it to an editor. Wait several days and read it again, then ask yourself what you might do to zip it up a bit, make it sing rather than sink.

Rejection is not an end. Rejection is a step in the long road to publication. It's an opportunity to revise and create a better article/story/essay. Move on to the next step. It's all part of that perseverance and patience that I harp on a lot.

Friday, January 22, 2010

More on Writers' Conferences

I've written more than once urging writers to attend a conference either locally or afar. And today I'm going to encourage all writers, no matter what level, no matter whether publsihed or not, to consider finding a conference to attend. The article below is one published a year or so ago. It will give you my perspective on this subject. Enjoy!

Have You Ever Tried A Writers’ Conference?


Those who are serious about being a writer should consider attending a writers’ conference. It’s a place to learn more about the craft of writing and to network with other writers. These meetings are open to anyone who is willing to pay the fee. A few are even free. There is no ‘good writer, published writer’ qualification in most of these conferences. They are for all who are interested, no matter whether beginner or pro.

Some are one day and others last a full week. Enter keywords like Writers’ Conference into a search engine and see what you come up with. Refine the search by limiting it to your own geographical area which would keep cost down. Many community colleges, junior colleges and universities sponsor writing workshops, seminars, or conferences. State author conventions offer workshops and often being published is not a prerequisiteto becoming a member and/or attendee. But all those who post stories at OurEcho.com are published writers. Your work is in print for the world to see, so you are a published writer. Like most everything in this world, there are conferences that cost little or nothing and ones that sound like the price of a vacation to Italy. Do a little research and choose one you can handle.

I’ve recently attended a retreat/conference that my online writers critique group sponsored. I’ve known many of the women in the group for years but had never met them in person. Plans for the event went on for close to a year, and we all had to commit early on as a down payment was necessary to hold the meeting site. This one required airfare, lodging and food cost. A regional park near Washington, D.C. proved the most affordable and also offered a lovely wooded area with furnished cabins on the banks of the Potomac River.

Twenty-five women from around the globe traveled to the conference site. Most were from around the USA, a few from Canada, one from Shanghai, one from Belgium, and yet another from Italy. Several in the group gave presentations on various aspects of writing, and we had three outside professionals speak to us, as well. One was a freelance writer who publishes in top magazines around the world. The owner of a literary agency spoke, and then she sat back and listened as one of our members gave a pitch on a nonfiction book she’s written. The agent liked what she heard and invited the writer to send a written proposal and the first three chapters. The third professional speaker opened the door to the world of poetry. She left many of us eager to try our hand at more poems.

Over lunches and dinners, all prepared by a marvelous cook from Mississippi, who also happened to be a Microsoft specialist and one of our presenters, we networked, compared stories of publishing nightmares and successes, and encouraged one another in whatever way we could. Besides all that, we just plain had fun.

I came home so inspired and eager to write all the things I’d thought about as I heard one speaker after another. The bond we had created over the years in our online group was cemented for good after our face to face meeting.

I highly recommend that each and every one of you look for a writers’ conference of some kind. If you attend one, I think you’ll want a second helping. So start looking in your area or farther away. It’s up to you to reach for this particular star. Start a fund, save your loose change, put it on your Christmas list so you’ll be ready when conference time rolls around.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Say Thank You

I read an article in a newsletter for childrens' writers this morning titled "What I've Learned Along My Path To Publication." ( http://www.institutechildrenslit.com/rx/ws03/whatlearned.shtml ) The long title almost put me off, but I read the tips this published writer listed. There was only one that jumped out at me as something new to me, something I'd not considered before.

Suzan Wiener, author of the article, recommends sending a thank you note to any editor who publishes your work. Her theory is that the editor will more likely remember those who do so and, later on, if she has two equally good submissions on the same subject, she's more likely to select the one from the author who had taken the time to send a thank you. She says that besides being a courteous thing to do, editors like to work with friendly writers.

Any note of this type you send to an editor should be brief and to the point, although friendly and informal. Editors are busy people, and they don't have time to read a two page outpour of your eternal gratitude or a gushing admiration of their publication. They'll spot the phoniness in a flash. Don't say anything you don't mean.

I've written some thank you notes to editors but certainly not to all who have published my work. After the awakening moment I had when reading Ms. Wiener's article, I will try to do a better job in sending my thanks to editors.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Good Intentions

Here's a poem I wrote a number of years ago. Every now and then, I read it to remind myself to not let life's little distractions sideline my writing time.

Good Intentions


I shall write today,
I very often say…
But first, I must
rid the house of dust,
then a quick sweep
of all the floors I keep.

I shall write today,
I very often say…
But, there’s the phone
calling for me alone.
Next, a cup of coffee
before I’m truly free.

I shall write today,
I very often say…
Here comes my friend
before I can write again.
Her visit takes awhile,
but brings a happy smile.

I shall write today,
I very often say…
Make dinner, feed the cat,
and then, more after that.
Soon, it’s time for bed.
I’ll write tomorrow instead!

--Nancy Julien Kopp

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Can You Take That First Step?

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.~Martin Luther King

This is the week our nation celebrates Martin Luther King's birthday, and among the many stories written about him, I discovered the quote above. Simple but to the point.

It's one that can be applied to the writing world. Every writer had to take that all-important first step. Some moved on in baby steps, while others galloped forward with giant strides. Some never published, and some garnered fame and fortune from the words that flowed from head to paper or computer screen.

Lots of people say they'd like to write, but they only think about it, never put the desire into practice. In this case, the faith mentioned in the quote has to come first. Have faith in yourself and take that first step into the writing world. The door is always open, but it's your choice to walk through it and find what lies on the other side.

Do you want to stand outside the door and look in, or do you want to take that first step in becoming a writer? And for those who are already writers--do you remember taking that first step?

Monday, January 18, 2010

One More Writer I Admire


Dick Dunlap is another writer I admire. I met him in a Writers Group in Rockford, IL in the early 90's. Each writer read something to the group, and then the piece was discussed, praised, given suggestions--a full verbal critique.

Dick didn't like to read his own work aloud, for whatever reason, so he often asked me to read whatever he had for that night's meeting. I enjoyed doing that little favor for him more than I'm sure he ever realized. His wit, outright humor, and ability to touch the heart all came through his stories. I knew I was in for a treat when I read the papers he passed across a table to me. 

In an essay I had published sometime ago that featured writers who began to write after the age of fifty, I included this interesting man. The section I wrote about how he started writing is below:


Dick says that anything he wrote in high school was overlooked because of poor spelling and bad handwriting. In spite of that, he won second prize in a Woman's Club essay contest in his teen years. It was the first time he received recognition for his writing, and the excitement was never forgotten. Dick avoided writing through the majority of his life, being ashamed of its appearance. When over sixty, he submitted a poem to a newspaper. A Writer's Guild member contacted him, and he took a big step by attending meetings. Soon, he bought a word processor and signed up for a writing course for Seniors. He created a fictitious family called "The Nevers", writing story upon story about the folks who make up this bumbling family. Dick says, "I like what I write. I laugh, I get a tear in my eye, I live my plots."

Dick worked in the family printing business until 1968 and then spent another twenty years at a large company in Rockford before retiring. He moved on to selling real estate until the fnal retirement twelve years ago. During the past fifteen years, he's written short stories and essays in his leisure time. He's seldom pursued publication of his work through the usual channels. Instead, he has self-published a book of his hilarious stories about the Nevers family, a group of bumblers who see life in a little different light than most of us. He's also self-published a book about his military experience in the Marshall Islands Pacific. The title is "Eniwetok Remembered 1952-53" His memories there include being witness to the testing of the first hydrogen bomb. I found this memoir interesting reading and feel others would, also.

Dick continues to hone his craft by taking an occasional writing class. One he told me about was set in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin. It must have been a great place to become inspired to write.

I admire Dick's versatility. He writes wonderful humorous fiction, and unless you've attempted it, you don't realize how difficult it is to write humor that doesn't fall flat or becomes overly done. He hits just the right happy medium. He can also turn out a beautiful and serious essay, or even one that leaves the reader with a lump in the throat and a tear in the eye. One I particularly like can be read at http://www.ourecho.com/story-355-Winter-Walk.shtml He won an award for this one at http://www.ourecho.com/. Many more of his stories and essays can be found at Our Echo. If you read A Winter Walk, click on the Other Stories at the top of the page next to Written By.

Besides all the above, Dick Dunlap is a kind and thoughtful person, and I am pleased to call him 'friend.'

Friday, January 15, 2010

Those Who Write Stories From Tragedies

I've been watching the TV journalists bring us story after story from Haiti. Tragedy breeds stories--some of them heartrending, some triumphant, and some unbelievable. But the stories are there and uncovered by the journalists who hurriedly packed a bag, hopped on a plane and arrived on the scene of the aftermath of the horrendous earthquake.

These reporter/writers search out the stories to bring to the watching public. They don't sit at a desk and write like many authors. They're on the scene, listen for tips from people in the area, then move in to find the story and tell it in a mere handful of words. These 'writers' don't get the admiration they deserve. They bring stories to us under the most difficult conditions. They move in during or after hurricanes, floods, airline disasters, major earthquakes and forest fires.

Think of the war correspondents who report the many human interest stories in war-torn countries. They do their job while also risking their own lives. They gamble and more than a few have lost. Surviving family members at home may not ever understand what drove their loved one to journey into harm's way to do a job. Perhaps only one of the other journalists in the same war zone can understand what drives a person to do this.

They do the world a great service by making others aware of the personal side of some of these tragic events. Because no matter what type of tragedy it may be, everyday human beings are affected. Humanitarian aid increases when people witness these stories while watching their TV or reading a newspaper. The personal stories of victims moves the heart and increases the dollar amounts given.

I salute these journalists, and I hope you will, too.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Catching Fireflies

Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable. ~Francis Bacon

Sir Francis Bacon is not of our generation, or even our parents or grandparents. Born in the 16th century, he bcame a celebrated statesman, essayist and philosopher. His quote above still rings of truth in the 21st century we live in.

It reminded me of catching fireflies with my cousin as a child. When dusk fell on summer nights, round and round the yard we'd go, empty mayonnaise or peanut butter jar in hand. We watched for the twinkling light of the firefly and then pounced. If we were lucky enough to catch one, into the jar it went. The hole-poked lid holding the tiny firefly captive. Once we had several of the little critters in the jar, we sat on the porch steps and watched the lights in the jar as they turned on and off. A fascinating sight to both of us. Before we were called inside for the night, we opened the jars and watched the tiny insects fly into the darkness.

Thoughts for a writer are much like the fireflies. We have to catch them while we can. When a thought arrives, write it down somewhere. Quickly! If you don't, you run the risk of losing the thought completely. Try to think of it two days later when you're ready to write about it, and maybe only a portion will come back to you. Or worse--none at all.

And as Sir Francis Bacon said, it's those thoughts that come to us unsought for that become the true treasure. We can sit and think and think and never come up with the kind of thought that floats through our minds as we walk the countryside or watch a sports event or gather around a dining table with family.

Catch the thought in your mental firefly jar, write it down, and let it out the next time you are ready to write.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More On Conferences

Yesterday, I talked about attending writers' conferences. I got to thinking about it later in the day, and I wondered how many people look at lists of conferences and pass over the smaller meetings. The thought might be that if it's small, it can't possibly be good. I think that may very well be wrong.

The committee members that put together a small conference knows they have to be good enough (or better) to compete with the huge meetings that use large cities as their site, bring in prize-winning authors to speak, and offer top-rated food and entertainment, luxury hotel accomodations and more. All the things that a large conference offers come with a hefty price tag. You don't land big name speakers without paying them a large sum. Nor do you offer top entertainment and food at a bargain-basement cost.

The small conferences have costs, as well, but they can usually keep it to a reasonable amount. My community has had a Mystery Writers Conference for the last several years, and one of the high cost items is our location. We are two hours from a major airport, so those arriving by plane would need to rent a car to drive here. Extra cost. But it might be worth it as the registration costs and hotel room price would be considerably lower than a conference in Boston, New York or Chicago.

Another benefit of the smaller conference is the personal touch. A mystery writer such as Nancy Pickard, award winning author, speaks to a workshop group of perhaps thirty people instead of 300. The speech is more informal, there are questions and answers interspersed with her talk, and the thirty people in the room feel as though they have gotten to know Ms Pickard as a friend, not an author standing on a pedestal for all to admire.

In a smaller conference, many attendees feel more comfortable, are more willing to introduce themselves over cocktails or dinner. Walk into one of the huge cocktail parties at the big conferences, and you're lucky to meet half a dozen people if you're on your own. It's easier to mingle in a smaller group.

I'm definitely a proponent of small conferences. The one I'm going to in April is very small--only about 25 women, but I know it will be outstanding and that I'll come home filled with inspiration and ready to write.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Consider A Conference

My online writing group is holding its third conference this spring. I've attended one of them, although I had planned on going to both the earlier meetings. Ended up having a flight cancelled for two days and never got there, but that's a whole other story.

My purpose today is to encourage all writers, published or not, professional or amateur, to attend a writing conference of some kind. There are many to select from and in all parts of our country and around the world, if you're really adventurous.

Most of the conferences I've attended have been relatively small but they've had excellent and noted speakers. We can all learn something new, and even if you learn only one new thing, it's worth the time and dollars to go. But more than likely, you'll learn many more than one new thing about the writing craft.

Another benefit is the opportunity to meet and network with people who have the same interest as you. And this is not just a side benefit in my estimation. It's of great importance. There are times when you gain more from this aspect than listening to the speakers.

Many of the conferences have workshops along with the speakers, and that can also be very helpful. It's a hands-on approach.

Google 'writers conferences' or other similar keywords to find conferences that appeal to you, are possible for you to get to, and can afford. Don't pass over small, local groups as some of them can be excellent.

I can promise that you'll return home inspired to write, write, write.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The End of Christmas 2009

We finally have closure. Christmas 2009 can be put to bed. Yes, we made it to our daughter's home this week-end. After cancelling on both the 25th and 26th because of bad weather, and then cancelling on New Year's Day because of an accident Ken had, we held our breath over Plan D. We'd drive over Saturday and return on Sunday afternoon.

Plan D worked like a charm. Even Saturday morning I feared something would happen to delay us yet again. But no phone call came saying one of the kids was sick. No unexpected snowstorm roared down upon us, and there was no car trouble. Instead, we packed the car with gifts and goodies and off we went on dry roads on a sunny but mighty cold morning.

It may have been nearly the middle of January, but it felt like Christmas. Watchng little children open gifts is one of the best parts of that holiday for me, and so I reveled in seeing Jordan and Cole open and exclaim over the things Grandma and Poppy had brought them. The tree was no longer up, the nativity set not in sight, but all those things seemed to be there, nevertheless. We finished the day with dinner at a family run German restaurant in a small town a few miles away from our kids' community.

Sunday morning we all went to church, followed by a lunch of all the extra food we'd brought home from the restaurant on Saturday evening. Hugs and kisses and thank yous all around, and we headed into Kansas City for a quick stop at three stores, then on home.

As we drove through the snow-covered Flint Hills, I thought about our prolonged Christmas celebration this year. One that began with an early Christmas with our son's family in Dallas and finished up with this week-end's late celebration. Somehow, it doesn't matter when you celebrate this specail holiday. The important thing is that you do give it special signifigance and do so with those whom you love most.

And now I can move on with this new year of 2010. I can get busy with some writing projects that have been stacking up in my mind, and this morning I can go to the dentist and get some dental work done that I've been dreading. A new year, a new week, and maybe a new me who can go to the dentist without cowering. Note I said maybe.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Reflecting on Age and Time

Isaac Asimov:

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.

The quote above illustrates some of what I've been feeling ever since hitting my seventh decade last year. Another writer friend and I have commiserated about suddenly feeling like we needed to write a little faster, send our work out more often, keep one step ahead of the twenty-something writers.

Once a person hits seventy, whether a writer or not, there comes a time of reflection. It's a time to look back at what your life has been, what has been accomplished, or perhaps what has not. And one needs also to set some goals for the years ahead. I felt as if I'd turned a corner, and the street ahead appeared so much shorter than the one I'd already traversed.

There was a time when some seventy year old women sat down in their rocking chair, folded their hands and waited for illness or death to approach them. They had the attitude that the meaningful part of life was over, and I'd be willing to bet that for them, it was over. Several days ago,  my blog post discussed a book I'd read about growing older gracefully. The most important thought left when I finished the book was that my life is exactly what I make it. It's my choice.

And because I love my writing life, I choose to continue it as long as I have the ability to think and to write something coherent. I'm grateful that I live in a time when seniors are not cast aside, that they can live full lives and be a benefit to others in some way, as well.

I have ideas for so many stories and essays tripping over one another in my mind. Like Mr.Asimov's quote, I think I need to learn to type a little faster.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Selling Two Things--Your Manuscript and Yourself

All writers want to see their work published. A manuscript is not going to put itself in a snail mail envelope and dance merrily out the door, down the driveway and jump into the mailbox. A manuscript is not going to magically copy itself into an e-mail and hit Send.

You, the writer, have to make that effort. You need to study markets and select the ones that your work might fit with. And then, you have to do the hard part. You must actually send your work to an editor. You risk rejection but you also might be successful. You’ll never know unless you send your work to an editor.

But along with that manuscript, you need to sell yourself to editors and to the reading public. It’s not easy to constantly promote yourself, especially if you don’t have a balloon-like ego. Quiet, introverted writers find it difficult to sing their own praises, but it’s almost a necessity if you want to make it in the writing world.

When you have something published, don’t hesitate to send it to all your friends and family. They, in turn, will probably share it with others they know, especially if it’s a good story or article. I had a hard time doing so in the early days of my writing life, but I’ve learned that it is a benefit to me and liked by many of those recipients. I try to add an out for them but saying they should hit the delete button if they have no interest. Guilt-free for any who don’t want to read my work.

Join some online writing groups and submit your work to ezines. They often reach thousands of people. Do it often enough, and readers begin to recognize your name.

If you have an opportunity to speak to a small group at your church or a civic organization, accept it. Nerve-wracking at first, but it gets easier each time and more people in your community will label you a writer whenever they see you.

C. Hope Clark has written a book called The Shy Writer. It’s a help to those who like the seclusion of writing but quake at the thought of talking to others about it. Take a look at the explanation and excerpts from Ms Clark’s book at http://www.booklocker.com/books/1746.html

Writing is sometimes the easy part. Selling your work and selling yourself takes time, effort, and a bit of an inflated ego. Go for it!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Less Is More

Less can sometimes be more. A scientist or mathematician might dispute that statement, but in the writing world, it's truth.

Beginning writers know that description is important to a story. They understand that emotion is high on the list of necessary items in a good story. So, they sprinkle adjectives and adverbs throughout the story like rose petals thrown by a flower girl at a wedding. They often end up with a flowery, sickeningly sweet, overdone piece of writing.

Take a look at that last sentence I wrote. I used (purposely) three adjectives to describe 'piece of writing.'  It does emphasize but it is also not really necessary. I could have said, They end with an overdone piece of writing. Note that I also left out the adverbs often and up. You, the Reader, got the idea in the second sentence as well as in the first where so much was added.

More examples:  (The bad ones might be found in beginning writers' work and/or in romance novels)

Bad:  Sheila raised her large, oval-shaped, sea-blue eyes toward the gray, stormy, threatening sky.
Better: Sheila gazed at the stormy sky.
The color or shape of her eyes have nothing to do with the approaching storm. And the three adjectives used to describe the sky are quite synonymous. One word to describe it is sufficient.

Bad:  Her sad, broken, and grieving heart broke as she watched the dark, curvaceous, doe-eyed gypsy woman sidle up suggestingly to her former handsome, blond, muscled husband.
Better: Her heart broke as the voluptuous gypsy woman sidled up to her former husband.
More than likely, the reader already knows that the "her" in this sentence is sad and broken-hearted, and they have learned earlier that the husband is a hunk. No need to constantly repeat the same information.

Editors repeatedly advise writers to tighten their writing. Get rid of those many unnecessary adjectives and adverbs and you'll have a stronger story or essay. Less is more

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Good Read

My Book Club is reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett for our February meeting. It's been a long time since I've read a book that I have trouble putting down, but this is one. Kathryn Stockett has written a first novel that hit the bestseller list which in itself is a rare happening.

She has written a story about the South in the '60's using the viewpoint of three women. One is white and the other two are black women who work as maids or 'the help' as they were known. It was a period when the Civil Rights movement was in full swing but the benefits were slow to come. Skeeter, the 23 year old white woman, wants to write a book showing how the women in Jackson, MS who are 'the help' view their mistresses, their jobs, their world. She enlists the aid of Aibileen and Minnie, black women who worked for Skeeter's friends. Both women are in mortal fear at the prospect, but they want the world to know the truth. We learn of the lives of all three women as we follow their everyday routines.

Katahryn Stockett has captured three distinctly different personalities, writing with humor, heart-touching scenes, and a clear look at the times. It's a good story enhanced by excellent writing skills. Some authors can craft a fine story but it goes nowhere due to amateur or poor writing skills. And just the opposite can happen, as well. Someone who writes prose that sings can put a lot of sentences together that sound pretty but don't give the reader much of a story. To be able to do both brings magic to the reader.

I'm only partway through the book, but it won't be long before I finish. It's sitting on an end table and calls out to me each time I pass it. I normally reserve evenings for reading time, but I might just have to sit down with a cup of tea this afternoon and see what Minnie is up to next.

I feel certain our Book Club will have a rousing discussion next month when The Help is our topic.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Followers and Comments

Today feels like the real beginning of the new year. The holidays are over, and we're all moving back into a more normal routine again. It feels rather good after a full month of fun and games along with that bit of holiday stress we all experience along the way.

Two topics to cover here today: Followers and Comments

Followers of a blog are people who have clicked on the little Follower widget. They can choose to follow publicly or privately. Bloggers are encouraged when they see the list of Followers, but there are far many others who read the blog regularly but never sign on as a Follower. That, of course, is their choice. Or some may do it not realizing they can become a follower or are not sure if it will obligate them to something. It obligates you to nothing. It's still your choice as to whether to read a posting or not. But the blog writer would love to know what her/his readership is. There may be dozens or hundreds more reading than those who are Followers. Signing on as a Follower is a kindness to the blogger. Many have mentioned to me that they read Writer Granny's World regularly, but I have no way of knowing that if it isn't mentioned.

Comments section follow each posting. It gives the reader an opportunity to agree or disagree with what has been posted, add a personal illustration from their own experience, or compliment (maybe criticize) the writer. It can be a bit daunting the first time you attempt to make a comment. You need to use an account like Google or sign on as anonymous. There are several choices in the dropdown menu. Then you might have to copy some words for the security situation and finally click on Post Comment. Some people just won't take the time to do all that, even though it is only a matter of seconds to do so. Once you've done it, the next time is easy. Again, anyone who writes a blog appreciates comments. And for those who follow in a regular basis, you might want to check back on recent postings to see if there are any comments. They can be interesting reading.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year, Same Old Song

Happy New Year! 2010 dawned sunny and frigid here in Kansas.

Several weeks ago, a writer friend asked me to be a Guest Blogger. Jennie Helderman left the field wide open when I asked her what subject she wanted me to write about. She said it could be any subject of my choosing, or I could simply post a sample of my writing. The post did not have to be about writing, but that's exactly what I selected. It's one that I think is a good way to begin the new year for my blog. As the title above says, it's a new year, but I'm singing the same old song by continuing to urge writers to send their work to editors. I had a full article on the subject published in 2009. Editors are receptive to the subject, and writers need to be aware, so here's the Guest Blogger's posting.

Guest Blog


Thanks, Jennie, for asking me to be your first guest blogger. I could write three words that cover the topic I’ve selected, but readers might not be satisfied with such brevity, even though the words are pretty self-explanatory. Send it out!

Your work may never be published, nor will you ever be paid, if you don’t send your stories, essays, articles or poems to an editor. It sounds so simple. Write a story, study a market guide, send the story to an acquisitions editor and wait for the acceptance.

When I was a newbie writer, I joined a critique group that met twice a month. Tom, the moderator of the group, and also the only published writer, constantly encouraged the members to send their work to editors. “No editor is going to climb in your bedroom window and search in your top dresser drawer for your manuscript.” He said it so often that I began to believe him. Send it out became our mantra, and the more I heard it, the more I believed it.

I was a late bloomer—didn’t start writing until well into my fifties. The desire to write had been there for many years, but I let Life get in the way. Because of that late start, I felt I needed to make up for lost time.

I studied market guides and sent my work to editors with high hopes, trying not to be discouraged when the rejection letters shot back into my mailbox like bullets from a high-powered rifle. Every now and then, an acceptance would arrive.

I began with no-pay websites and moved on to paying ezines and anthologies. Did I get rejections? You bet I did. Lots of them. But, my nonfiction stories are in nine Chicken Soup for the Soul books, two Guideposts anthologies, and a few others. The successes I had encouraged me to keep submitting my work. I tried some newspapers whose content aimed for senior citizens. Since I’m one of them, it seemed a natural. And sure enough, they liked what I sent. I’ve become a regular in one. I’ve written articles on the craft of writing for several writers’ newsletters. I’ve even sold a few pieces of fiction.

None of that would have happened if I hadn’t sent my work to all those editors. “Send it out!” I hear Tom’s words in my mind when I’ve written something and am satisfied that it is a finished product. So I send it out.

There are reasons that some writers don’t send their work to an editor. Their files are filled with writing that no eyes but their own have ever seen.

Why?

1. Fear of rejection: Nobody likes rejection, but it’s part of the writing game. Remember that it isn’t you personally that is being rejected. Maybe your story isn’t right for that particular publication

2. Not knowing how to study a market guide: The more you read marketing material, the better you become at selecting the right editor.

3. It’s hard work: Yes, it is, so you must decide how great a desire you have to see your work published.

4. Fear of success: This one may sound laughable, but it can happen. If you succeed once, you’re compelled to do it again. And what happens if you become famous? It’s a very real fear for some people.

5. Lack of confidence: Doubt runs rampant in a writer’s mind. Most writers question their own worth at times.

Look through your files and pick three finished pieces to send out. If one or all are returned, send them out again. If you get three rejections on one story, it’s time to look at it with objective eyes and revise. Then send it out again. John Grisham sent his blockbuster novel The Firm, to twenty-six publishers before it sold. We can all learn a lesson from that. Send it out and take a healthy dose of patience and perseverance along the way.