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Friday, November 30, 2012

The Comfort of Having Books

I'm having a three table Bridge group here on Monday, so you know what I've been doing this week. Yep--decorating for Christmas and cleaning up this and that, making menus that I change on a daily basis, sorting through recipes and cookbooks. Yes, we serve lunch at this group, but it should be fun as I'll get a chance to use my Christmas dishes for someone other than Ken and me.

For days now, I've walked past a stack of books on top of a speaker. Some are ones I've read and others are in the to-be-read category. But the stack seems to look higher than it did only last week, maybe because I'm more conscious of it now. The shelves next to our fireplace have books on the two bottom shelves that are two rows deep. There are a couple of books on the table between two chairs and another table holds a couple Christmas cookbooks on the bottom shelf.

My office has a bookcase that holds my writing reference books, and one in our bedroom has books I've read and may consider giving to the library book sale when I feel I can part with them. There is a bookcase in our downstairs Family Room that is filled with books I've had for a long, long time. OK, so I'm addicted to being surrounded by books, so it's no wonder that the poster above resonated with me.

When I visit someone whose home has no sign of a book or even a magazine, I am a bit uncomfortable. Part of me wonders where they hide their books. Then another part of me wonders if they have any books or ever read one. A woman in my book club is an avid reader and so is her husband. Their home is literally littered with books. A neatnik would shudder, but I find it comforting to be there among those books.

I'm going to take a wild guess here and say that I think nearly every writer in the world has rooms filled with books. If they don't, they should!

I suppose, like in most things, one needs to hit a happy medium as far as the quantity of books in a room. My home will always be filled with books and also magazines. How about yours? Do you have a lot of books in sight, or do you hide them away? Or do you not have books around at all?

Here's something you can do if you don't know where to store your books:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Does Your Writing Matter?

Does what you write matter to anyone besides yourself? You might never know because very few readers contact a writer to tell them a reaction to whatever they'd read.

Still, that doesn't mean that your words didn't reach someone who benefited from reading them. When one of my stories lands in a new Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I know that it will be read by thousands of people. My story may mean nothing to a lot of those readers, but for a good many, it will trigger a memory or touch their heart in some way. They will be able to relate to whatever I'd written.

Part of what keeps me writing, and probably many other writers, too, is knowing that maybe my words can make a difference in the life of a number of people. Not that a writer can work miracles in anyone's life, but maybe your story can ease a troubled heart, if even for a short time. Maybe your words can teach a lesson to someone who sorely needs it. Maybe your words will let someone laugh. Your words might lift someone's spirit.

It's always nice to hear from readers. It is so satisfying to hear positive remarks from others, but the percentage of readers who contact you is amazingly small. Of course, there are times when you get some pretty negative feedback from readers, too. A reader may vehemently disagree with what you wrote. That's OK. Whatever you wrote made them think, didn't it? There's no guarantee that we'll be liked by every person we meet nor that every reader will love our words.

Make your writing matter to yourself and it is most likely going to matter to a large number of your readers. Give it your best shot. Create a story, article, essay or poem that you can be proud of and it is going to matter to a lot of others.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Book For Writers

Nancy Pickard
Nancy Pickard

Nancy Pickard writes award winning mystery novels. She could easily stop there but she hasn't done that. Instead, she speaks to writers at conferences and has written a book to help writers as they move through the writing journey. She's willing to share her knowledge to help others. I've been privileged to hear her speak more than once and to have worked on a conference committee with her. She's a kind, thoughtful person as well as a successful writer. One of her publications is a good reference book.

This small in size but large in content book is titled Seven Steps On The Writer's Path. It's organized  in chapters that address a lot of the emotional aspects of becoming or continuing as a writer. The co-author of the book, Lynn Lott, is a Family Therapist. The blending of the writer's mind and the therapist's has produced a book worthy of a place on your professional bookshelf.

The chapter headings are listed below. You can go to Nancy Pickard's website to read her own summary of each one. I hope you will be inspired to read the entire book. It's a book that impressed me in my own journey in the writing world. While you're at the website, cruise through the other pages to learn more about this fine novelist.

Chapter 1:  Unhappiness

Chapter 2:  Wanting

Chapter 3:  Commitment

Chapter 4:  Wavering

Chapter 5:  Letting Go

Chapter 6:  Immersion

Chapter 7:  Fulfillment

Check with your local library or purchase the book at Amazon. There is a paperback edition and also one for the Kindle. It's a well-seasoned book, published in 2003, but still very relevant today.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gourmet Touches: Part 2--Quotes

Here's Part 2 of the article on Gourmet Touches--Titles and 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 quotes. 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. Even experienced writers occasionally forget to be careful about giving credit to those whose words they use in their own work.

Quotes should be kept to a minimum. Quoting long, rambling paragraphs does not serve any real purpose other than adding to your word count. It's also an easy way to lose a reader who becomes bored with the lengthy quote.

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 direct 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.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gourmet Touches: Part 1--Titles

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.


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 shouldn’t use a title laced with humor. On the other hand, when you write a humorous book, you want to reflect that, as well. Nora Ephron's book of essays on aging is titled I Feel Bad About My Neck. She addresses women on her topic with humorous insight. Her title is so much more appealing than one that specifically mentions aging.

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.

Part 2--Quotes will be posted tomorrow.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Girl Who Has Birthday Cake and Pumpkin Pie

In keeping with our Thanksgiving theme this week, here's a piece I wrote four years ago about a Thanksgiving story in our family. 

The Girl Who Has Birthday Cake and Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving of 1971 found us living with a bit of uncertainty. I was expecting our youngest child, and the due date fell only 3 days after Thanksgiving. That meant we wouldn’t be traveling to either side of our family for the holiday, and I also didn’t want to invite any of them to come to our house in case the baby arrived early or, Heaven Forbid, on Thanksgiving Day. I had visions of stuffing the turkey while timing contractions. No, that would not work. 

My husband suggested we go out for dinner to a lovely restaurant about 15 miles north of our town. “It’ll be nice for the three of us to have dinner out on a holiday for a change.” I wasn’t convinced but knew it was probably the best solution. 

Thanksgiving Day arrived, and our house had no good smells coming from the kitchen. No roasting turkey scented the air. I couldn’t detect any cinnamon and pumpkin from the pies either, for there were none. It didn’t feel right, and besides that, we would not be with any of our family. It made me sad, and as the day progressed, my sadness swelled almost in proportion to the great mound of stomach that let the world know we’d soon be parents again. 

I helped Kirk get dressed. He was three and a half but still liked help from Mommy. I wished a little of his excitement would transfer to me. I tried to put on a cheerful front. No sense in ruining the day for my husband or son. I managed to do that until we walked into the restaurant, which had once been a Victorian home. Elegant furnishings, crystal, china and linens on the tables, along with Thanksgiving centerpieces should have been the first thing I noticed. Instead, I saw only the many people either eating or getting ready to eat. Still holding Kirk’s hand, I turned to my husband and said, “What are all these people doing here? They should be eating at home!” Obviously, my vision centered on only one thing that day.

The hostess escorted us to our table, and we had a sumptuous meal. I think Kirk and Ken enjoyed it more than I, since the baby chose that time to practice somersaults so it was hard for me to concentrate on the fine food on my plate.

The next day there were no Thanksgiving leftovers at our house, and the day progressed like any normal Friday. I stayed home all day, no Christmas shopping like other Thanksgiving week-ends. And the sadness of the day before refused to disappear. It enveloped me from head to toe. Pregnant women are said to be more emotional, and I surely was all that holiday week. 

In bed that night, I lay awake a long time thinking about the new baby. We’d lost both our first and third babies when they were still infants, so there was a little anxiety mixed in with the hope of having a healthy baby this time, just like Kirk had been. I’d felt very positive all through this pregnancy, but a tiny bit of fear still lingered. My nightly prayer centered on having a healthy baby, boy or girl.

Shortly before 2 a.m. a strong contraction woke me. I slipped out of bed, not wanting to wake Ken until I knew I was really in labor. By 2:30, I knew it was for real, and Ken was up and dressed. He scooped our sleeping little boy into a blanket and placed him in my arms in the front seat of the car. Good friends, alerted by a phone call, were waiting as we pulled into their driveway to deliver Kirk into their care. Then it was on to the hospital in the darkest part of night. It began to snow as we made our way through quiet streets.

Karen was born later that morning. When I held my baby who had a small amount of golden hair and big blue eyes, all the sadness and grumpy behavior of the past few days melted away. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that we’d not seen our families on Thanksgiving Day. It didn’t matter that we’d eaten a holiday dinner in a restaurant and didn’t have any savory leftovers the next day. All that mattered lay in my arms—a healthy and beautiful baby girl. 

Karen’s birthday falls on Thanksgiving Day sometimes, and one of them is this year. So, we’ll have birthday cake and pumpkin pie at our Thanksgiving dinner. Even when the birthday falls on a day prior to or after the holiday, we still have birthday cake and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving as that is when we come together as a family. Tomorrow, as she blows out the candles on her 37th birthday, I’ll think back to that Thanksgiving so long ago when I created my own problem and the great joy I received only two days later. 

A Writer's Thanksgiving--Day 4

A Happy Thanksgiving to all those who celebrate today. To conclude the week with the things I am thankful for in my writing life, I have one more blessing to tell you about. And this is a big one.

I am grateful for being physically and mentally able to continue writing stories, poetry, articles and essays--and this blog. As a senior citizen, the possibility of facing a day when that is not the case is a bit daunting at times. Sometimes we take these good times for granted, and we shouldn't.

I believe that keeping both mind and body exercised is most helpful and I encourage everyone to do  the same. I've read more than once that playing bridge and doing crossword puzzles is good mental exercise. I do both. In addition, perhaps all that I do in my writing life has been part of the reason that I can be thankful for being in good mental and physical health. 

A very Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers on this November day. I'm thankful for every one of you.

Photo: Have a wonderful thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Writer's Thanksgiving--Day 3

Free Thanksgiving Clipart
The First Thanksgiving

What a group picture this is. Two cultures coming together to share a meal and give thanks for surviving that first horrific winter. Which brings me to one thing I'm thankful for in my writing life. Groups!

I've been in four critique groups through the past twenty years. Two were in-person and two online. I gained something from all of them but the online groups have given me bountiful benefits.

When I first started writing, I attended a one day seminar. As it was breaking up for the day, a man approached me and invited me to come to his writer's group. Gave me time, place and directions. Hungry to learn more about writing, I found my way one night through a dark residential area. When I arrived, I found myself with three men. Tom apologized that there were not more members in attendance, and I wondered what in the world had I gotten myself into. Shouldn't have worried as I had such a good time listening to these three male writers that I was hooked and belonged to the group (which did have several women in it) until we moved away. The people in this group encouraged me, gave me some confidence in my writing, and became friends.

I started a group for people who wanted to write for children. As the moderator, I made sure I had something to read for the group at each monthly meeting. When we started, others also brought stories to read. We discussed the positives and negatives, encouraged one another to submit to a magazine. But little by little, the others petered out. They stopped bringing stories to read. Instead, they just wanted to talk about the writing world. They drifted farther and farther from that writing world because they talked but did not write. I finally disbanded the group after offering for someone else to take over. No takers. No group. 

My first online group was a joy from day one. An editor and a poet started the group, and I accidentally ran across it online aand was one of the first members to join. No application process necessary. The editor who moderated the group was brilliant, tough, sarcastic, a fabulous teacher and a caring individual. New members trickled in until we had a thriving critique group and our own journal published online. Even though I'd never met any of these people in person, they became good friends. I loved the group, so I was devastated when the moderator became seriously ill and had to disband. I felt so bad for her but also for all the members left adrift. 

One of those members happened to be the moderator of a different group. She wrote to a handful   from the original group and invited us to join hers. Feeling like I was at sea all alone, I accepted gratefully, and I've been a member of writersandcritters ever since. We've lost members, we've gained members, but the core group has stayed strong thanks to good leadership and a marvelous blend of international women writers. We're honest but fair in our critiques, sometimes painfully honest. We all know that whatever criticisms are given are meant to help us, not hurt. We give praise but never to make someone feel good, only if it is rightly earned. We support one another in our writing but also in our personal world because we are friends. In this group, I've had the good fortune to meet many of the members at our conferences in the Washington, DC area. We've supported members through family losses, having babies, job losses and even the serious illness and death of one of our members. 

Today, my thankfulness is for the quartet of critique groups I have been in. They have all helped me grow as a writer and they have expanded my knowledge of the writing world. I encourage anyone interested in writing to join a group. You, too, will end up giving thanks.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Writer's Thanksgiving--Day 2

Free Thanksgiving Clipart
The second thing I'm thankful for in my writing life is the place where I put words together to create stories, essays and articles. 

Twenty years ago, when I first started writing, I hauled out my electric typewriter and sat at the kitchen table to write. I had to put the typewriter and all the papers strewn around it away when the session was finished. Somehow, it didn't seem right to leave it on our table while we ate dinner every evening. Call me a neatnik, but no, all I wanted at dinnertime was food and the plates to eat it from. The next day, after Ken left for work, out came the typewriter again.

When we moved back to Kansas 15 years ago, we purchased a 4 bedroom house. You can be sure that I designated one bedroom to become an office. No more typewriter on the kitchen table! Within a year, we had purchased a computer, a desk, another computer desk, chairs for each, a 2 drawer file cabinet and a bookcase to furnish the new office. 

I'm still using it and still gleeful to have my own space. The bookcase holds many writing books plus folders filled with things I like to keep at hand. The file cabinet holds copies of my published work in magazines and newspapers and other things related to writing.  I keep hard copies of everything I write in two large binders sitting on a shelf. The desktop is filled with various things my husband and I both need, and the shelves above it are a great place to display framed family pictures. The walls are covered with certificates of accomplishment like my husband's degrees and Bar Association certificate along with awards we have both been honored with over the years. The computer desk holds my laptop and printer and a stack of papers that I keep thinking I'll sort through but never get to!

This office affords me some privacy and a quiet place to write. I'm not disturbing anyone else in the house, namely my husband, and his TV or radio don't bother me in here either. While the office was originally meant for both of us, he uses it only once in awhile. As for me, I spend a good share of my day in here. 

I love this place where I write. It is one of the blessings in my writing life. I hope all writers can carve even a small nook in their home to call their own for the time they spend writing. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Writer's Thanksgiving

Free Thanksgiving Clipart

Thanksgiving week has arrived and with it comes some thinking about the things we are grateful for. I'm going to join the crowd but I'll write about the things in my writing world that give me reason to give thanks. There will be one each day of this week. As you make your Thanksgiving holiday preparations, whether it be to host or to travel, consider the many blessings in your own writing world. If you are not a writer, then concentrate for a few moments on the things in your life as a reader that give you joy and for which you are thankful.

One of the blessings in my writing world has been the many, many outstanding people I've met through and because of my writing. To list them individually would be an impossibility as there have been hundreds over the twenty years since I joined the writing world. 

Some have been instructors in classes I've taken. Various things they said stayed with me over the years and made a foundation for everything I've written. One of the first was a woman in Connecticut who was my one-on-one instructor in a correspondence course. We never met in person but she had a big influence on me. We continued to correspond for some time after I finished the course. I learned a lot from her.

The moderators of the three critique groups I've been in have all had a huge influence on my writing abilities. I was able to grow as a writer because of my connection to each of them. Tom is the one who repeatedly said, "Send it in. No editor is going to climb in your bedroom window and look for your manuscript in the top dresser drawer. Send it in!" Kate hammered and hammered at me and the other members of the group but she taught us so much and did it with the intent of making us better writers. Joyce is the perfect Mother Hen who loves her chicks dearly but sometimes uses tough love to get her point across. All three of these people have brought a lot of light to my writing life.

I've met other writers in so many places. There have been countless Kansas Authors Club meetings, seminars I've attended, conferences and conventions that gave me an opportunity to meet and network with other writers. The wonderful writers in my critique groups all get gold stars as we've become good friends as well as compatriots in the writing world. I've met writers online at various sites including facebook. Many of them I'll never meet in person, but they are a part of my writing world and I've learned from all of them.

Editors come into this blessing, too. Oh sure, lots of them have said No to my submissions, but others have said Yes and we've established a relationship while working together in the submission and publication process. I've met few of them in person, but so many figure positively in my work.

Finally, I cannot name all the wonderful people in my writing world without mentioning the readers who take time to comment on a blog post or have written to me about something I've written. 

Yes, I'm truly thankful for all the people in my writing life and for the many fruitful friendships that have resulted.

Friday, November 16, 2012

So What Does This Mean?

“The difference between real life and a story is that life has significance, while a story must have meaning.

The former is not always apparent, while the latter always has to be, before the end.” 
― Vera Nazarian 

Our final author quote for the week comes from a writer who is known for fantasy and science fiction works, both novels and short stories. The idea that a story must have meaning can be expanded into nonfiction works, as well. If there is no meaning to what we write, what's it all about?

In other words, be sure there is a why I wrote this aspect to everything you write. What is it that you're attempting to show the reader? Essays, including personal essays, should include some universal truth. Even if it is only one line, it can be the entire reason for the rest of the essay. It's why you wrote it.

After you're finished with a story, a nonfiction essay or memoir piece, read it over again and ask yourself what is the meaning, what did you try to portray to the reader. If you can't find it, your reader certainly won't either. And I am not suggesting that there be a line in the story that says I wrote this because.... Definitely not. It needs to be there for the reader to find. We might consider the meaning of what is written as the hidden treasure--something not to stay buried but to be found and savored by the reader.

I've noted many times when someone offers a critique in my online critique group, they will ask why the writer wrote the piece. They want to know what the meaning is, especially if it is not obvious. Sometimes the meaning of what we write is very clear, while others remain a bit too deeply entrenched. A good writer will make sure the reader knows the meaning and a good reader will be able to find it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What's Crummy Writer Syndrome?

Write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you are writing, and aren't writing particularly well.
Agatha Christie

Today's quote could rub on an already sore spot. Every writer has times when they really are not in the mood to write. They may not like what they've been producing, and when they read it back to themselves, they are a little disgusted with what has been produced.

What happens to many who run into this 'crummy writer syndrome' is that they decide to stop writing. Maybe a break will help is the rationale they use. That might bear some truth, but it could also mean that the break becomes longer and longer. Days, weeks, even months could go by with no writing being done. Not good.

Then it becomes even more difficult to write. There is the fear factor. What if I still can't write? There is the It's easier to not write thought. The longer you wait to go back to writing, the harder it might be. The lack of self-confidence can only increase when you back away from your writing. Too much time away creates a monster of epic proportions.

So, what are you to do when things go wrong in your writing as Ms. Christie indicates in the quote? If you're working on a novel, try setting it aside for a short while (note the word short) and begin a new project. Maybe try a short story or a poem, or get going on research for an article you've been pondering. If nothing else, do some writing exercises each and every day. 

Another good way is to start a blog and post something every day, or at least Monday through Friday. I find that these blog posts get the writing juices flowing and on the days I have time, I'm ready to roll on a story. 

Whatever problems occur in your writing world, don't back away from them. Create a diversion if you must but keep on writing. It will get better sooner or later. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Are You Born A Writer?

Some critics will write 'Maya Angelou is a natural writer' - which is right after being a natural heart surgeon. 
Maya Angelou 

Since we've had two posts based on writer's quotes this week, I'm going to keep going with them for these next three days. We should feel privileged to receive free advice from top-notch professionals. I liked the wit included with Maya Angelou's wisdom in the quote above.

There's often a debate over whether writing is an in-born trait or if it is a learned skill. Famed poet, Maya Angelou indicates here that you aren't just born a writer. A whole lot of learning must take place over a good many years. Some writers are self-taught while others obtain degrees in creative writing programs. Whether you take umpteen classes or do the reading and research on your own or participate in a professional program, you can learn to write fiction, nonfiction including essays, memoir and articles, and also poetry.

Yes, you can learn but it doesn't mean you will be a roaring success instantaneously. You still have to work hard at marketing what you've written and building your author platform. Being a writer is not a one-step process.

I happen to believe that anyone can learn the craft of writing with the proper tools. But I also feel like there is something within some people that make them better writers, that there is an in-born ability to be able to reach a reader better than some others.

It's much like the old Heredity versus Environment argument. It's not all one or the other but often a combination of the two that creates the people we are. So, a natural born writer versus a writer who uses all the tools available to learn to write. With both in place, you have the ingredients to become a first class writer.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The One Thing A Writer Must Do

"You only learn to be a better writer by actually writing." Doris Lessing 

Novelist, Doris Lessing. said a  mouthful in the quote above. Her short declaration is filled with good advice. It may sound a bit ludicrous to some, but believe me, there are many writers who fill their lives with writing tools, books, and writer friends but who do very little writing. They are in love with the idea of writing.

I was once in a small writer's critique group that asked the members to bring something new to read at each bi-weekly meeting. The others would discuss each offering giving praise for the good parts and suggestions to help the weaker areas. We spent a good deal of time at the beginning of each meeting talking over any news from the literary world, sharing markets, and general chit-chat about writing. Sounds like a good group, doesn't it? 

I'm afraid it turned out to be a group where one or two people read their work and the others did give weak critiques but they wanted to spend more time talking about writing. They wanted to be a part of the writing world without that one essential ingredient--writing! 

As the group leader, I begged people to bring samples of their work and to read what they brought. I tried to bring something to read to each meeting. Finally, it was me reading and them discussing my work. At that point, I gave them a choice--either participate or we disband. They chose the latter and later remarked to me how much they missed the group. They didn't miss writing. It was being a part of the writing world and talking about the writing world that interested them more.

Sadly, none of those people were going to become better writers. Ms. Lessing was correct in advising that we must actually write in order to become a better writer. A pro baseball player does not become a better hitter by talking about it to the other players. He does it by hitting a ball over and over and over again to improve his ability. 

If you're stuck for an idea on what to write, do an exercise. Try a Random Word or a Picture Prompt. Google Writing Exercise to find others. But write something every day. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Unnecessary Words

Mark TwainSubstitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” 
― Mark Twain

I've always liked this quote by Mark Twain. It highlights a problem that is sometimes difficult to eliminate from the stories/essays we write. We tend to use these 'extras' in everyday conversation and they drift right into our writing. We use these words without even thinking about it. They drift right from our brain to our fingertips and Voila! They scatter themselves throughout our story/essay/article.

In my early writing days, one of the words I used repeatedly was just. I did so unconsciously but it popped up far too often. I credit the moderator of the online critique group I belonged to at the time for breaking me of using that word. I do use it now but with a careful eye. 

There are many words that become fillers and add nothing to the content of what you are writing about. Watch out for words like these:

kind of 
sort of

This list is by no means complete. If you use these words, there's a good chance you sprinkle them throughout your work way too often. 

What happens if you work to eliminate words like the ones in the list above? For one thing, you shorten your word count which may be crucial when writing on assignment. You also have a tighter, stronger story. You won't be accused of constant repetition of certain words. The main idea of your sentence stands on its own and is of greater importance. 

What unnecessary words are you guilty of using? 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Remember Veterans Day

This week-end, many communities will observe Veteran's Day, formerly known as Armistice Day. The poster above commemorates the time the armistice was signed at the close of WWI. I learned about it in grade school and those words On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month remain etched in my memory and on my heart. 

Now, we remember all veterans of all wars on this national holiday--he thousands who left home and family to fight in places around the world. Many gave their lives while others survived and came home. Often they were changed people, horrific memories buried deep. 

I was a child during the last couple years leading up to and during WWII. I have a few memories of that period--of the ration books my mother took with her when shopping, of older girls using leg make-up because they could not buy nylon stockings. I remember cars not being driven to save on the tires as there were no new tires to be found. I have vivid memories of a trip we took on a troop train when I was five years old. 

I've written more than one essay/story connected with Veteran's Day which have been published in various publications. I am posting one below that is about our military members today. Remember the vets but also keep in mind the young men and women who serve today in a world at turmoil. I highly recommend a visit to the WWI Museum in Kansas City and the WWII Museum in New Orleans. 

More Than A Number   

The men and women in our armed forces are not numbers in a newspaper article. Each one that deploys leaves behind parents, sisters and brothers, spouses and children, as well as myriad friends. They are not numbers; they are people. They laugh, they cry, they love, they endure hardships, they work hard. They are human beings with all the emotions you and I experience. They sweat, they like to eat three times a day or more, they enjoy fellowship with others, they pray, they shake with fear more often than we’ll ever know. They are warm, living beings—not numbers in a newspaper account.

How often do we read that another brigade has deployed? Numbers? No, not numbers, that brigade is made up of people who smile, cry, tell jokes, treasure the photos they carry of loved ones. They have headaches and stomachaches like you and me. They get slivers in their fingers and bruises on arms and legs. They’re no less vulnerable to physical ailments than you or I, but they face dangers we have never dreamed of.

I live near an army post, so I see uniformed soldiers everywhere I go. They stop at the grocery store on their way home from work just like teachers and attorneys and librarians do. They pick up their children at soccer fields as a civilian mom or dad does. We are all very much alike, except for one thing. These soldiers, male and female, have volunteered to serve, to protect our country at home and in foreign lands, to perhaps put their life in danger while doing so.

Have you ever thanked a soldier or marine or sailor? Maybe you’d feel uncomfortable walking up to a total stranger and saying, “Thanks for all you do for me and the rest of America every day.” What a great gift it would be if you could say that or something like it to a member of the armed forces. Think about it the next time you see an American in uniform.

A few years ago, my husband and I were returning from a European trip. We were tired and anxious to get through customs when we landed in the USA. As we approached the passport checkpoint, a door opened and an entire unit of uniformed soldiers filed through. They were returning from Iraq, an even longer flight than we’d had. We stopped and watched these fatigued young men and women as they walked by us. Some nodded and smiled, others stared straight ahead. Some I could barely see for the tears that had filled my eyes. I wanted so badly to say Welcome Home to them, but the lump in my throat didn’t allow it. The pride that encompassed me at that moment cannot be described. I was every soldier’s mother for just an instant.

And what about the ones who didn’t return to walk through that airport door? The ones who came home in a body bag or a wooden coffin. My pride in them is every bit as strong along with a deep and abiding gratitude in what they gave for the rest of us. They sacrificed so that we can keep living in a free country. Yes, we Americans have many disagreements, but, even so, we are blessed in numerous ways.

Don’t wait for Veterans Day or Memorial Day, take time to say thank you to a military person. Say it in person or say it in your heart, but please say it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A New Picture Prompt Exercise

How about trying another picture prompt exercise? Use the picture above to tell a story, or even the beginning of a story. You might look at the picture and think There's no person in the picture. How will I tell a story about a road and a stone fence? 

The answer, of course, is to use your imagination. Ask yourself some questions like the following:

1. What time of year is it?
2.  Why is the gate standing open?
3.  What is that building that is inside the gate?
4.  Who might be walking down the road?
5.  Are they leaving or just arriving?
6.  What is the reason? 
7.  What do they look like?
8.  Are there other people walking on the road?
9.  What do the garden flowers and shrubs indicate?
10. What does the stone fence, the gate and lanterns indicate?

Start writing and keep going as long as you can. Whether you end up with one paragraph or twelve is not important. The reason for a picture prompt is to get a story started. The more often you do an exercise like this, the easier it becomes. You'll be exercising your imagination in a big way. So, go for it!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reading Is A Joy For Some

I'm an avid reader and have been since the days of a little book with Dick and Jane as hero and heroine. Even in first grade, I loved picking up those small books to read about Dick and Jane and the other people and pets in their life. That feeling has never left me.

When I am ready to begin reading a new book, I feel that sense of finding treasure in the words on the page. Open to page one and an adventure begins. Granted, I don't always have the same fulfilled feeling when I close a book. Some are far more satisfying than others. But I usually find something of interest, something of merit in the majority.

As Dr. Seuss said so well in the poster above, I will read anywhere. I don't believe I could get through a trip without a book or two or three. I watch many people in airport waiting areas sitting and staring into space. What a sad waste. They could be reading!!!

I also know that not all people feel as I do about reading. Children's publishers are constantly searching for books for a group of kids known as reluctant readers. Capture their interest and maybe they will get turned on to reading. Or perhaps not. Years ago, when I was teaching a class of emotionally disturbed children, I struggled to help one boy who could not read. He was ten years old and reading was painful, except when he read about the continent of Africa. Give him a book or magazine about that subject, and he read flawlessly and eagerly. Give him a book about two kids who lived in Wyoming on a horse ranch, and he floundered from beginning to end. Needless to say, I scoured the library for reading material on Africa.

Many people claim they do not have time to read. Moms with a career, kids, and a house to care for truly are pressed for time, but even they can eke out a few minutes here and there if they want to read. It's the same with those who want to write. If the desire is there, you make the time.

I finished a book of more than 900 pages last night. It's the second book in a trilogy by Ken Follett, and when I closed the cover, I could only sigh and wonder how long I'd have to wait for Book 3. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Some Op-Ed Writers Go To Extremes

Click to view

Today is Election Day. We've waited a long time. People are tired of a long, drawn-out, bitter campaign. I'm all for changing to the way the Brits elect Members of Parliament etc. They have a very limited (weeks) amount of campaign time and I believe the funds used for same are also on a limited basis. If only we could try it here. I am always disturbed by the millions of dollars spent on campaigning on both sides. Add it together, and think what good it might do in our country. 

Today seemed a good time to talk a little about Op-Ed writing--Opinion Page Editorial writing.  If you're a newspaper reader or read political articles online, you are exposed to these articles on a daily basis. Some are written by everyday citizens, but many are written by syndicated columnists who, understandably, slant their view to their political leanings. But they often go off the deep end, accusing the other side of things that may or may not be true. Or if there is some validity, they sometimes twist the truth so that it is seen from a different perspective. 

There's nothing wrong in writing about what you believe, but I would not want to rant and rave to the point that it hurts or humiliates people who don't believe as I do. And that's what I've seen a lot of during this campaign. The message that sometimes comes across is If you don't believe the same things I do, you're an idiot! Maybe they feel the only way to make their point as clearly as possible is to belittle others. As a reader, that turns me off. No one party is any worse than the other in doing this. I've seen it on both sides.

As a reader, use that 'take it with a grain of salt' approach. Don't swallow every word as if it is pure truth. Don't reject every word a writer on the opposite party of your choice writes either. There's some merit in what all these people tell us. As we read, we need to learn to sift and sort, fact check, and then decide if we agree or not.

Those who write these pieces need to back up statements with some proof, not just that they 'heard' or 'think that' one thing or another happened. I'd be delighted if they'd stop bashing the other side and tell me why I should be on their side. Show me the positives in their arguments. Dump the negatives. 

Meanwhile, I am among the many today who are urging you to go out and vote. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

New Month, New Memories

The picture above reminds me of what my childhood November days were often like. Bare, gloomy, and a bit depressing. Of course, living in a Chicago suburb, we didn't see the wide open spaces as the picture shows, but maybe some of you who were raised in rural areas can relate.

November 2012 is only a few days old, so you've got plenty of time to write about the things you remember from childhood, young adult days for that month to add to your Memory Book. Think of the many things that occur in November. Maybe some of these will trigger memories for you.

Election Day (some years)
Veterans Day
Family Birthdays--we have several in our family this month
Starting your Christmas shopping

Think back and ask yourself these things about November:

What kind of weather did you have where you lived?
What special things did your teacher highlight?
What preparations did your mom make for Thanksgiving?
Did you have a small gathering or big at Thanksgiving?
Did you attend Veterans Day parades or events?
Did your parents talk to you about elections?
How did your clothing change this month? Need warmer clothes or not?
What was it like when you got that first cold of the winter?

I never liked the month of November, as in Chicago, many days of this month were gloomy, damp, windy, and downright chilly. More than chilly some days. November days were the preview of winter to come. It got dark earlier so there was no more playing outside after dinner. Trees were now bare and people wore jackets, hats, scarves and gloves. Rainy days called for umbrellas and boots. But inside, my mom was creating a cozy nest with lots of baked goods that warmed our kitchen and made after-school treats something to look forward to. I remember walking the six blocks from school to home, feeling the wind and chill temps, entering our vestibule and racing up the three flights of stairs. Often, I could smell what Mother had baked that day. It felt so good to slip inside our small, warm apartment.

Our teachers created bulletin boards that represented November, mostly pilgrims and turkeys. And we learned the story of the Pilgrims first year in America over and over again. Somehow, we never tired of it. We looked forward to the feast at home or an aunt's house on Thanksgiving Day. I can still smell the turkey giblets and neck simmering to make the stock for the stuffing that would go in the turkey. Also the spicy aroma of the pumpkin pies and roasting turkey. In those days, turkey was not prepared through the year, mostly for the holidays, so it really seemed like a treat.

The retail stores revealed Christmas displays and holiday merchandise the day after Thanksgiving. Time to shop! The teachers at school had removed the pilgrims from the bulletin boards and began Christmas decorations in our classrooms. You can read more about my November memories in this essay at Our Echo.

Start writing your November memories soon. Add them to what you've already got in your Memory Book. Sooner is always better than later!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Looking For Stories

Willie Wildcat leads the K-State team onto the field

This is the story I'm following. The rise of the Kansas State University football team. Prior to the first game of 2012, the Wildcats were picked to win sixth place in our conference of 10 teams. Not so hot! But this team believed in their coach, they believed in each other, they worked their tails off in practice and played like winners during every game. Result? At this point--8 games played, 4 to go--they have a perfect record. They are #1 in the Big 12 conference, #2 in the nation in the BCS poll, and #3 in the country according to the other national college football polls. All the parts are there for a terrific novel or movie. And where is this happening? Right here in little old Manhattan, Kansas, a town of 50,000+ located in the heartland of America. Excitement reigns supreme all over our community. Can they finish with a perfect record? What bowl game will they play in? Will our quarterback win the Heisman? Questions yet to be answered. Coach Snyder has always approached this team with the idea that they are a family, and right now, our town appears to be a whole family. Even if the Cats don't finish with a perfect record, we're still family and will still support them to the fullest.

That's the story playing out in my life at the moment. Now how about you? Look around you. There are stories everywhere. What's yours? What's a story in your community? Doesn't matter if it's about something terrific or something tragic. There's a story everywhere you look. You only need to study the world around you carefully. Think of the people who are survivors of Hurricane Sandy. What a vast number of stories yet to be told, and make no mistake, those stories will be passed down through the generations, related at Thanksgiving dinner tables for years to come.

What about those suffering through drought situations getting eerily similar to the Dust Bowl Days of the 30's? Lots of stories there. Just a few months ago, we had myriad stories of those participating in the Summer Olympics. Wonderful stories of the athletes, their coaches, their families and the communities they lived in. Add the stories of the military families all over our country.

All you need do is scan your personal horizons. Find a story and write it as nonfiction or use it as a base for a fiction story. Sometimes writers claim they just cannot think of an idea for a new story. Happens all the time, often while they're in the midst of tripping over a great story right in front of them. Train yourself to have writer eyes so you recognize a real story.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Work For The Key

Great photo,  isn't it? That Knowledge is Key looms large in almost every facet of our lives isn't news. But it most certainly is something to keep in mind in whatever we are striving to deal with.

For writers, it's especially helpful. You may be a wonderful writer but if you don't educate yourself about the literary world, the marketing process, and publicizing your work, you may find little success. What a shame to allow good writing to languish in your files instead of finding a place where your words can reach the eyes and hearts of readers.

For beginning writers, I can't stress enough the importance of reading everything they can find about writing. That includes the mechanics, which can sometimes be pretty boring, all the way to the submission process, building a platform, and keeping your writing knowledge as up to date as possible.

One by one...

Mechanics  Grammar, word usage, point of view, plotting, themes, showing more than telling--all these things show in your writing. It's vital that you master them. Those who don't find more rejections than acceptances. it's as simple as that. Even if what you have to say is great, poor mechanics in your writing will sink it faster than an overloaded ferry.

Submission Process  It is to your advantage to study--note the word study guidelines and then follow them carefully. When you're ready to submit, go back and do a checklist with the guidelines.  Some publications have very specific rules, while others are a bit looser, and some give you no direction whatsoever. Learn all you can about the publication to which you are sending your work.

Building a Platform  You are your own agent. You are the one who has to get your work and your name before the reading public. There are so many parts involved here that I'd suggest googling building a writer's platform and read some of the articles.

Keeping Your Writing Knowledge Up To Date  You can read copious amounts about the writing world in 1995 and then move on. But if you do that, you won't keep up with the constantly changing literary world. The mechanics may remain relatively the same but other things will not. Think about ebooks. In 1995, they were unheard of. It's to your benefit to stay abreast of the newest innovations in the writing world.

One last thought. We all concede that Knowledge is Key but I'd add a little more to that. Keep in mind that New Knowledge is Key Everyday. It's an ongoing, never-ending process.