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Monday, September 30, 2013

Guest Post: The Gift of Morning Pages

  Annette Gendler

Recently, I've written about doing the Morning Pages exercise, then had a post with responses from people who have done them. Today, Annette Gendler is my Guest Blogger with her thoughts on doing Morning Pages. Well worth a read. She just may inspire you to give this exercise a try. Read what she has to say:

For 30-45 minutes every weekday morning, I am free. I can write whatever I want. I started writing Morning Pages in earnest this past April upon reading of Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write. I had heard of Morning Pages before, but I had resisted doing them because I feared writing three pages in the morning of “whatever came to my mind” would take away from working on whatever project I was pursuing. Instead, the opposite is true. While Morning Pages do “take away” most of my writing time before the household wakes up, they have proven to me one of the axioms of the creative process: the more you write, the more you write.

Morning Pages ensure that I write. Even if that’s all I write in a day, I have written. I have processed my life through writing. I find this concept of “authoring” my own life immensely attractive and grounding. I spend so much time writing for others; why not spend some time writing for me? Morning Pages allow me to reflect where and how I am at that moment. They are an exercise in self-awareness. When I close my Morning Pages book, I find it reassuring to know that the next morning I will open it again. My hand will once again move over the page; I will be leaving my mark, if only to myself.

Writing this much by hand is a new experience for me, who up until April only wrote grocery lists and notes to self by hand. Suddenly, by writing Morning Pages by hand as Julia Cameron insists, I am manifesting myself. Only I have this particular handwriting. In it I see myself, and that is anchoring.

Have Morning Pages benefitted my writing? Yes, I think so. My writing has become more fluid, easier to execute. My main goal as a literary nonfiction writer is to capture a feeling in words, and by being more in touch with my own feelings through writing about them, writing an essay is somehow less daunting.

Have I had more ideas because of Morning Pages? I’m not sure, but I certainly have followed through on more of them. Morning Pages keep me in the creative flow. My pages feature bubbles with ideas for new essays, to-do lists, or plans to rewrite old pieces. I revisit those bubbles, and they help me keep track.

Has my writing life improved since I started doing Morning Pages? At the beginning of this year, I set myself the goal of one publication per month, and so far that has been easier than I thought it would be. Not only have I managed to publish one piece per month, I’m actually slightly ahead of that goal.

Mainly, however, Morning Pages are a gift to me. When I don’t get to do them for a few mornings, I get antsy. Despite all the benefits listed above, the main one is that, every morning when I close my Morning Pages book, I feel good for having done them. I have written myself through some struggles or annoyances to a better place. I write in a rather large, narrowly lined book, so two full pages have become my norm. I have found that even if I don’t feel like it, I have to plow through the first page to get to a different spot on the second page. Somewhere on the second page, the junk gets left behind and some insight will emerge, however small, that I wasn’t aware of before. I always end up in a better place after writing my two pages.

Annette Gendler is a nonfiction writer. She has completed a memoir about an impossible love that succeeded; an excerpt, “Giving Up Christmas,” was published in December 2012 in Tablet Magazine,another excerpt, “‘Trown Out’ of the Family Home” appeared in the Wall Street Journal. She regularly writes for the Washington Independent Review of Books, and her work has appeared in literary magazines such as Bellevue Literary ReviewNatural Bridge, Under the Sun, and South Loop Review. Annette has twice been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and was the 2013 Peter Taylor Nonfiction Fellow at the Kenyon Writers Workshop. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and has been teaching memoir writing at StoryStudio Chicago since 2006. She lives in Chicago with her husband and three children.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Do You Know Your Main Characters Well?

I found the Character Brainstorming worksheet above at a website that helped children and teens hone their writing skills. I think it would be of great benefit to anyone who writes fiction, or even creative nonfiction, to use something like this when developing characters. 

Quite often, a writer has a story idea and plunges in blindly to write the story. That's one reason the first writing of a story is called a rough draft. Most are really rough! If you fill in a worksheet like this one for each of the main characters in your story, you'll know that person well, you'll be able to think like they might when you write the next draft. All these small things above will give you a full picture of this person. As a writer, you'll be able to slip inside that person and write the story from his/her view. 

Copy and print the worksheet and keep several on hand so you can grab one and start filling it in. If you have three major characters in your story, make three worksheets. You can also make a numbered list to help you develop the character, don't need the clouds above. 

Let's try one here:
1.  Name:     Will Jamison 
2.  Gender:    Male
3.  Hometown:  Medlin, Iowa (fictional town)
4.  Age:  11, almost 12
5.  Looks:  blond, blue eyes, slender build
6.  Family:  father (called Da), grandmother (Gran), brother (Freddie), great-uncle (Uncle Jack)
7.  Favorite Food:  Hermit Cookies
8.  Favorite Activity:  reading books
9.  Biggest Fear:  that he'll never get out of his job at a coal mine and back to school
10 Least Favorite Activity:  working as a 'trapper' in an underground coal mine
11. Best Friend:  Emily, the girl next door
12. Anything Else:. he is determined, angry, and afraid of a bully in the coal mne

The character in my list is the protagonist in a juvenile novel that has been written, not published. How about trying one of your own? Keep the list handy and add to it as you write the story. Yes, it will take some time to do this, but what you reap in the benefit of knowing your characters well is worth whatever time it takes.

Another, more detailed, worksheet can be found here. The one in today's post is a good beginning, this one will flesh out the bones quite well.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Literary Lady of Long Ago

pearl buck

Writers gain great popularity and then often interest in their work wanes. Perhaps with the author's death or just a new trend in the kind of story readers want in one era or another. Favorite authors of long ago slip away from us, staying buried in our memory banks until something triggers the treasures stored in our minds.

It happened to me yesterday when I saw a facebook post by The Literary Ladies' Guide to the Writing Life about Pearl S. Buck. The years fell away as I remembered discovering this wonderful author in my high school years. I clicked on the link that led to her page. The picture above is one they used on the webpage and had been used during her writing years for publicity purposes.

An American by birth, Ms Buck lived in China a good deal of her life. Her missionary parents took her there as a small child, so she grew up in a culture totally unlike the America of that period. She was born in 1892, a time when people did not jet around the world as they do today.

Her novels allowed Westerners to learn about another culture and she was able to make a statement about her beliefs on society, race relations, gender and even International relations. She was known to be a person of wisdom and strong opinions. Her best known book, The Good Earth, was made into a Hollywood film that was a hit. Read the 1937 New York Times review here.

Ms. Buck was a prolific writer. I looked up a full list of her books and books that included parts of her works. An amazing number for one person. Check it out.

The Good Earth, Peony, A House Divided--these are a few of the titles I remember from my teen and early twenties years when I read everything I could find that had been written by Pearl Buck. In my thirties, I read a biography of her life, and I believe that is the last connection I had with this fine, fine author. I would like to read some of those novels of hers again. I'm sure my perspective as a senior will differ from the teen-ager who was so fascinated by the historical fiction about China. I learned a great deal and was held captive by her excellent writing.

I know that I must go to my library and check the stacks with the letter B. I will check out one, or more, of this author's books and read them again.

Who is one of your favorite authors from way back? Have you read those books again on this side of your life? Do you have a list of favorite authors of another era? Share with our readers.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Please Read To Small Children

This poster was a definite Aha! moment for me. Subconsciously, I'm sure I already knew this, but here it is in print. A terrific reminder to all who have small children. It's also a trigger to memories of long ago. 

Think about it--when we read to a small child, we're usually in a very comfortable situation. Curled up together in a chair or on the sofa, or even on a bed. The child has the warm touch of someone they love and trust while those soothing words trickle down to them as mom, dad, or a grandparent reads to them. It's a safe place, a pleasant time, a special time. 

It's no wonder that we then come to associate reading and books as a part of all that. But what about the child who doesn't like reading once they acquire the skill at school? Does it mean they didn't have a parent who lovingly read to them in the very early years? No, it does not. But there are children who would never pick up a book to read on their own. It's a big question with few answers.

I think that those who do love books definitely continue to associate those loving times with an adult reading to them as part of the book/reading experience. Without realizing it, we practice the theory of Pavlova's dog when we establish a reading pattern with our young children. Pavlova's dog theory is nothing more than learning something through conditioning. 

One memorable reading session with a child has stayed with me. When our two youngest grandchildren were 3 and 6, they were spending the Thanksgiving holiday at our house. I had bought a children's book about the First Thanksgiving. I showed it to them when we were in the kitchen. They were seated on stools at the counter and I was standing on the opposite side of the counter. "Read it to us, Grandma," Jordan, the 6 year old said. 

So, I opened to the first page and began to read. When I looked up before turning the page, I noticed that 3 year old Cole was staring intently at me and the book. Each time I turned the page, I took note that Cole's attention never waned, he ketp listening intently, an occasional frown on his face during the tense moments of the story. When it all ended well, the relief on his face was clear and a broad smile came with it. 

Did he love the story? Or did he love that Grandma devoted some special time to him? Did he feel the love? Maybe a bit of all of the above. Either way it was a win-win situation and a special time for me, too.

I read to my children on a regular basis and so have my children done with their own. I continued to read to my children when we took long road trips. It helped the long hours in the car go by a little faster and it brought back what had been a special time for us when they were much younger. They're both in their forties now and I doubt they'd consider having Mama read to them now, but maybe they remembered how special it was when they continued the practice with their own children. 

There's no guarantee that reading to a child early on will make them love books, but it's most likely that it can be extremely beneficial to all involved in the process. Take time out of your busy life to read to a child whenever possible. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Writer Friends Are A Blessing

We all know the three Disney characters above have been friends for longer than some of us have been alive. This picture reminds me of a major benefit my writing world has brought to me. More friends than I ever imagined! 

We have friends from our childhood, high school and college years, friends in the places we've lived and live now. But I can add an entire other group. I've been writing for just over twenty years now and the number of people who have crossed my path with respect to my writing world would make a very long line if they stood shoulder to shoulder. Of those people, a very good percentage are ones I consider as a writing friend. Definitely one of the blessings in my life.

How did they become part of my writing world? For one thing, we all have a common interest. We were brought together through writing conferences, chance online meetings, critique groups and word of mouth by other writer friends. 

When I first started writing, I knew that having a writing buddy would be helpful to me. I heard a casual remark one afternoon about a woman who wrote picture books. I wrote down her name and then pursued finding her phone number. I called her and introduced myself as a newbie writer looking for someone to trade cititiques with. "Would you be interested?" I asked. I sensed a hesitation on the other end of the line, and why wouldn't there be when a perfect stranger calls and asks to become part of your life? Finally, she responded that she'd meet with me and talk about it but then went on to tell me how busy a person she was. I knew it was a good out if she felt she needed it. We met one afternoon, we clicked, and we spent the next 3 years critiquing each other's work. I learned a great deal from her. We kept in touch after I moved away, less and less as the years go by, but I still consider her an important writing friend.

I have made many writing friends through my state authors organization when attending the district and state meetings. The state authors website has helped to re-enforce those friendships. 

The people in my International Women's Critique group online have become solid friends, especially those whom I've met in person at our conferences. We are in touch through our group website on a continuous basis and I interact with many of them in one to one emails. They are always there for me when I need advice or a shoulder to lean on when rejection letters abound, and they're cheerleaders whenever a success happens related to writing. 

I've met more writer friends through the anthologies that I've written for. We commiserate or rejoice together online, whichever the need might be. Meet one writer and somehow you end up meeting other writer friends of hers, too. Not to leave out the men. I have made friends with many male writers over the years, too. And I do consider them real friends. One of them did something for me once that was so kind and unexpected that I cried like a little kid over it. 

I've made friends with writers who are readers of my blog. We've never met face to face but they are good friends, people whom I care about. We became friends because they took the time to make comments about a post now and then. I replied, they continued--it's how friendships take seed and grow. 

Never take friendship for granted. It's a true treasure, something to be savored, even cherished. I've found that to have a friend, you must be a friend. Also that friendships die unless they are nourished. It's up to you to do that. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Three People, Three Opinions

Here we are at the very beginning of fall. Thus, the picture heading today's post. Lovely autumn colors although some of them appear a bit unrealistic. Still--they are very pretty.

Friday I told you about a writing exercise called Morning Pages. The idea is to write up to 3 pages in longhand each morning before you begin your usual activities. You're to write anything that comes to mind, not necessarily anything related to being a writer. Often, nothing about writing will come forth but once in awhile, perhaps your thoughts on what is going on in your writing life may spill onto those pages. Or you could end up with a grocery list. I'm certain that each day brings something different.

I spoke to two writer friends who have been doing the exercise and received their permission to tell you what they think. A reader also commented on Friday's post.

Harriet Cooper, one of my guest bloggers awhile back, likes doing the Morning Pages. She said:

   when i do them regularly, i find they simply keep me in the mood. even if i do no other writing that day, i can point to my morning pages as an accomplishment. i use them for many things. i write down ideas so they're all in one place. i write drafts of articles and then i staple the finished article on that page. i write general stuff that may have nothing to do with writing. i put down my feelings. i'm beginning to also put down lists of what i want to accomplish for my writing. and i'm starting to glue in pictures or short articles of things that interest me. i may also jot down some notes about the picture or article that i may one day turn into my own article. for me, the pages are like a safety deposit box. i put my thoughts in it and can come back later to look through them and pick out the jewels.

Joyce Finn is the moderator of my online critique group, writersandcritters. She has also tried doing the Morning Pages exercise. She told me she is erratic in her effort and it makes her angry at times, Joyce added that nothing good seems to be coming from them and that she is only doing 1.5 to 2 pages, not the suggested 3. She conceded that the one good thing is that she is writing.

Theresa Hupp, novelist, is the person who commented on Friday's post. I appreciated the fact that she took time to comment. Her remark on yesterday's post was:

   I have been writing "morning pages" for close to seven years now. I confess I don't write them as soon as I wake up, but I do usually write them before I do anything else productive in my day. 

I'm not sure if the practice makes me more productive or creative, but it has definitely made me more self-aware. I see themes repeating themselves around what I worry about. I also see evidence of long-term progress when the daily progress seems so slow.

There you are--three people, three opinions. After learning what these three people think about doing the exercise on a reasonably regular basis, I felt inspired to try the exercise myself. No more good intentions gone astray. What I saw in each of these people, even though they all had different things to say, is that Morning Pages was a good tool to keep them writing. And I noted that even Joyce, who wasn't overly thrilled, has kept up the practice even if not on a regular basis, so she has gotten something from this project. 

Check the links to each of these three writers, learn a bit more about them and then read what their opinion of Morning Pages is again. Food for thought!

Friday, September 20, 2013

An Early Morning Exercise

We're home from our mini-getaway and happy to be here. Time for laundry and catching up on several things. It's also nice to be back writing in my home office with computer and printer working like they should. The hotel we were at for two nights had wi-fi. And it was free. But it didn't work! I used the lobby guest computer and had formatting problems when posting here on the blog. Frustrating.

Yesterday, I gave you a writing exercise and am wondering if anyone tried it. I've heard many writers say that they think writing exercises are a waste of time. The ones who are selling their work on a fairly regular basis have the attitude that they don't need that kind of practice anymore. There may be some truth in that concept, but I firmly believe that writing exercises are helpful to both beginners and intermeidate writers, even those who make a living writing. Who can claim that they already know it all?

One of the exercises that some writers practice is one termed Morning Pages offered by Julia Cameron, author of The Right To Write. She suggests that every writer write 3 pages in longhand every morning, early in the morning. If you do this soon after you rise, she claims, you will not have your natural defenses up yet, your thoughts will be purer and more instinctive. People will whine that they don't have time to do that. Her response is to tell them to get up half an hour earlier and do it. Ms. Cameron says she has seen a profound change in people who practice writing Morning Pages.( Last June, I posted a short review of the book. You can read it here.)

Ms. Cameron also says you must give it a full ninety days to make a real difference in your wriitng life and perhaps even your personal life. There will be a neurological change in that amount of time as well, fully integrating the practice into your mind. 

I had the best of intentions after reading about Morning Pages. I fully intended to try it but you know what happens to many of our good intentions? I'm going to make a concerted effort to do this. Today, I'll purchase a notebook of 8 1/2 by 11 size with ruled lines to keep a running journal of my Morning Pages. By Christmas, I should be seeing some kind of difference if what Ms. Cameron claims is true. And I have no reason to disbelieve her at all. 

Who would like to try this longterm exercise with me? You're probably wondering what kind of things you should write. It's merely a place to write about your thoughts on anything and everything. You're not trying to write a full story or an essay or plotting a novel. Just let your mind flow to your pen or pencil and capture whatever is on your mind when you wake up. It may have nothing to do with the craft of writing. That's OK. It doesn't matter because YOU ARE WRITING. 

A side benefit might come when your mind begins to nourish a seed of an idea for a story, poem, essay or article when you are writing those 3 longhand pages. I know two writers who are practicing this exercise on a daily basis. I haven't discussed with them how they feel about it but I think I will do so soon and then report back to you. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Sunset Inspires A Writing Exercise

Today, we're heading home and I'm ready to be there. Getting away for a few days is nice, but home is always best. I am writing this on a hotel computer as the wi-fi is not working here in our room. Frustrating when there are things to do on the computer. Yesterday's post here was written in paragraphs and when it was published, it came out in one big blob of a paragraph. Hoping that is not the case today. But if so, it was Blogger, not me. After seeing the unbelievably beautiful sunset over the lake while we ate dinner last evening, I thought a good writing exercise might be to write a paragraph or two describing a sunset in a place of your choice. Pick a lake, the ocean, the mountains, the tallgrass prairie or as seen from the roof of a tenement building in a poverty-stricken area. Pick a person who is viewing the sunset, include something of their character as well. Anyone brave enough to post what you've written? We'd love to see the results. This kind of exercise can lead to a full story. Writing exercises are great motivators. Give it a try on this Thursday morning.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Orphan Books

Yesterday, we left Hermann, MO and drove about 90 miles to the Lake of the Ozarks region of Missouri. We made one stop at a lovely shrine near Starkenburg. The complex had two limestone churches that were quite old, one built in 1875 and the other in 1910. Between the two was a modern building that was a meeting place of some kind. To the back of all this was a beautiful wooded area where the shrine had been built. I cannot even begin to describe the beauty and majesty one feels there. A sign asks for complete silence and that is not hard. It was a special moment in time for me. It rained off and on all day yesterday but the sun is out in all its glory this morning as I write this. We had a wonderful dinner last evening at a place called Bentley's in Lake Ozark. The restaurant had an Old English atmosphere and decor, fabulous food and good service. Our daughter had recommended it and we were grateful she had done so. We spent quite a bit of time in a book store yesterday. This one was filled with what I call 'Orphan Books' because the books are all leftovers that no one bought in the regular retail stores. Many were written by authors that would be familiar to most of us, but there were also some that I'd never heard of and maybe no one else has either. They were running a sale on the over-sized trade paperbacks--3 for $10. How could I not rescue some of these orphans and take them home with me? I told Ken to pick out some for his winter reading. I am a library user, he is not. So, we spent a lot of time browsing among the sale books and those that were full price. In this outlet store, even full price hardbacks were a nominal price Being the reader I am and also a writer, I wanted to rescue all these orphans, but I held myself back and chose only a few. Publishers must be glad to have these outlet stores to help them get rid of overruns and books that did not do well in the normal retail market. The authors must feel bad that their 'baby' didn't break all records and sell out of all that were printed. That might only happen in a perfect world, which we are never going to achieve. So, isn't it nice that some of these leftovers can be adopted and placed on a bookshelf in someone's home?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Plan B Turns Out Just Fine

Hermann, Missouri

vintage home page-01
Restaurant at Stone Hill Winery

Ken and I are on a short getaway trip. We had planned on spending all week in the mountains of Colorado at a resort near Vail. We had to cancel due to the terrible flooding in the foothills west and north of Denver. Roads washed out, bridges washed away, thousands of homes lost and mudslides happening. My heart goes out to those who live there and will be dealing with the aftermath for a very long time. So, on to Plan B for us.

We decided to head east, rather than west. We drove about 5 hours from our home in Kansas to reach Hermann, MO. It's a small town founded by German immigrants and still bears the flavor of a German town. We'd stopped here 41 years ago for a very short time and had always wanted to come back. Never say never!

The picture on the right shows part of Hermann and the one on the left is the restaurant we ate at last night. The restaurant is part of the Stone Hill Winery, where we had taken a tour and participated in a wine tasting earlier in the day. We explored the small community and stopped in a few shops. Most of the shopping here is geared to people who like antiques. That's not me so I can get past those shops pretty fast. 

We're staying in a B&B that is one of close to 70 in the area. Hermann has many festivals that bring people from afar. Oktoberfest every weekend in October and Maifest in May. I believe there is a big craft fair in November. And of course, the town itself draws history buffs. Our stay here at Capt. Wohldt's Inn has been very nice. 

I am always telling people that there are stories everywhere. We found one yesterday. I was looking at a display of some clever wine bottle holders at the winery yesterday when a woman next to me made a comment about the item I was looking at and I answered her. We were in a complete conversation very quickly. Turned out she and her husband live in the town where we had been on Friday for the Painting/Poetry Exhibition. Then the tour began, and they were in that group, too. Later, we checked in at the B&B and the same couple walked in right behind us. The Inn has 3 buildings and the couple were in the same one as ours. Shouldn't have been a surprise by this time. We were destined to meet and spend some time together. Last evening, we spent some time in the Gathering Room and they gave us some tips on other places to visit in this area. 

Ken went out for an early mornng walk today, and several blocks away, it began to rain. He'd bought a newspaper which was almost as wet as he was by the time he got back to the inn. Hope it is just a quick morning rain and will clear up for us later on.

Next on the program is breakfast at another building across the street. B&B breakfasts are usually of such quality and quantity that you seldom need to have lunch later in the day. Our new friends chose the same time as we did for the breakfast and I'm looking forward to sharing the meal with them.

Later today, we're on to another place in this Plan B of ours. Wondering if there will be another story there. Come back tomorrow to see where we are.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

My Friday Night Date


I started something quite awhile ago on facebook that has become a regular posting which friends appear to look for each week. My husband and I almost always go somewhere on Friday evenings; it's our Date Night. Not bad for a couple married 49+ years. I'd like to tell you about our date this past Friday because I didn't post anything that night on facebook. Instead, it's today's blog subject.

We drove 2 1/2 hours to St. Joseph, MO on Friday afternoon, checked into a hotel and changed clothes. Ready to go, we drove to the Albrecht-Kemper Art Museum to attend a very special art exhibit. It was Opening Night for a Painting/Poetry Collaboration. Abstract artist, Jennifer Rivera, selected 18 poems from poets who responded to a call for submissions for this project. Many months elapsed between submission, acceptance, and showing.

Jennifer Rivera's exhibit featured the poems and her interpretive painting for each one. My poem, "play, gypsy girl, play," and the painting are posted above. It proved an exciting experience to have my poem in the exhibit with Jennifer's painting. We had been invited to attend the Opening Night on Friday September 14th. Perfect Friday Night Date.

The museum, once a mansion, impressed us both on the outside and what we found within. Because of an addition to the original home, it was even larger than it looked from the streetside. Light-colored wood floors gave it a contemporary feel and the display of colorful paintings drew us in immediately. As we strolled from painting to painting, I marvelled at the use of colors that somehow matched the poem posted next to each canvas. After reading several of the poems and admiring the paintings, Ken said, "Here's yours."

I must admit I had a few butterflies as I turned to view it. What had the artist seen within the words I'd written? When I saw the very large canvas and the great deal of red, I wasn't quite sure what to think. The title she'd given the painting was "Frolic" which was taken from the context of the poem. The longer I studied the painting, the better I liked it. I didn't completely understand it as is often the way with abstract art--at least for me. But I will tell you this. I felt absolutely thrilled to see my poem as a part of this project.

A bit of background on how the poem was written. At one of my writers conferences, a poet told us to reap the harvest of our dreams. She said if we woke in the morning with a vivid memory of a dream, we should get up and begin writing immediately. Forget all those usual early morning activities. One morning, I tried it as the dream I'd had was so real, so filled with color and images that I knew it must be written about. I even had the first two lines in my head before I threw back the covers and got out of bed. Off to the computer where I wrote and wrote until the poem felt complete. Later, I changed a very few things, probably one of the smallest editing processes ever for me. The poem was published at A Long Story Short and selected as Poem of the Month there. I shared that honor with another poet, as the editors could not choose between us.

Ken suggested we move on to the reception area where we had wine and appetizers and visited with others who had come to the exhibit. We went back to the paintings and poems and made a second tour of all 18. I recognized a few names of the other poets. We had an opportunity to visit with the artist and met some of her family members who had come from as far as California for the Opening.

The price of the painting titled "Frolic" was, we learned, $4,600. Ken told Jennifer we would buy it but it was much too large to fit anywhere in our home. True! Plus it saved my dear husband a lot of money.

It was a long way to drive for a Friday Night Date, especially since we had to make the return trip the next morning. We were both very glad we'd attended the Opening Exhibit and had the thrill of seeing my poem featured there. I'll post the poem below. Read it and then look at the painting again and see what you think. As for me, I love it!

play, gypsy girl, play

passengers on a train, gypsies
going nowhere; wheels kiss tracks
like passion-driven teens
as gypsy women dip needle and thread
into cheap and flimsy fabric,
fashion bits and pieces to sell.
pricked fingers bleed onto gingham
and voile, spit wipes it clean again.

little girls wear blue eye shadow,
swing immature hips and mimic
older sisters, thumb their nose at
mothers, aunties, and grans.
too soon they’ll be snatching cloth,
sewing, wiping blood spots away
but for now, let them frolic,
midnight eyes glittering with
mischief, too soon the cares of a
gypsy woman settle on shoulders
like a burlap shawl, hardly noticed
until the years pull it tighter, hold
her captive in a smothering embrace.

play, gypsy girl, play for the years
roll quickly by; shake your tawny locks,
clap your jeweled hands, twirl until your
skirt billows round umber knees,
laugh and sing, before the heavy
 mantle of womanhood crushes
girlish patter, cares and woes
etch themselves in deep ridges
on cheek and chin, shoulders curl onto
sagging breasts, veins make maps of legs,
and thinning tresses turn to silver,
eyes dull from anger and
sometimes fear, gaps where teeth
once looked like pearls on string.

weathered faces turn to watch the
young girls dance, needles never still,
minds spiraling backward.
play, gypsy girl, play
before the years sit like a rock on
your heart. the train speeds
through the night, whistle whining,
through sleeping villages,
while gypsy women sew and
little girls with blue eye-shadow
see only tonight.

         --Nancy Julien Kopp

Friday, September 13, 2013

Are You Too Old To Pursue A Dream?

I'm the perfect example of the quote above. I dreamed of writing from childhood through adolescence and being a young adult. Then I kept dreaming about it as I raised my children and supported my husband in his career. Finally, in my early fifties, I leaped headfirst into the deep waters of the writing world. 

I'd reached a frustrating time in my life, living in a community new to us, children grown and on their own, no job, no friends. I struggled mightily until I saw an opportunity to begin writing, to try my hand at that long-desired activity. An advertisement in a magazine was the spark I needed. 

Step 1:  I did a little research on the correspondence course school that promised to teach me how to write for children.

Step 2:  I enrolled and began a course that took 18 months. No email in those days for me so the lessons and letters went by snail mail. By the time I'd finished the 10 Lessons in the course, I was hooked for life.

Step 3:  I read every book I could find at the local library about the craft of writing.

Step 4:  I joined a small critique group in our community

Step 5:  I worked up the courage to begin submitting to children's magazines

Step 6:  I leaned how to accept rejection and move on to the next project immediately.

Step 7:  I subscribed to newsletters and magazines for writers and joined a writers association

Step 8:  I felt like a writer when that first sale occurred

All that began just over twenty years ago. I've never regretted taking that first step, nor following with all the rest. I have been incredibly fortunate to be published in many places. When a door opened, I didn't hesitate, I ran straight through. These twenty-plus years later, I'm a whole lot older but my enthusiasm is no less, my ability has grown, and I look forward to continuing to be a writer for many more years. As long as mind and body keep going, so shall this writer. 

I wrote an article quite some time ago about writers who didn't start writing until after the age of fifty. Each interview I did brought new insight to the reasons people waited so long and also gave me inspiration and motivation to continue my own writing. You can read the article here.

Whether it's writing or something else you've not tried in your life, you can do it. Take that first step like I did and you'll feel renewed and eager to sprint forward as fast as you can. Those over fifty have to make good use of the years left to them. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Contest Entries and Submissions Needed

Today's post is to let you know about some calls for submissions. So, on with the show.

1.  A Children's Poetry Contest  The Children's Writer newsletter, which is published through the Institute of Children's Literature, is sponsoring contest with the them of Seasonal Poetry. They are also accepting holiday poetry, so you have a pretty broad range of subjects to write your poem. For those who subscribe to the newsletter, the first entry is free. Don't we all love contests like that? If you are not a subscriber, your entry fee will be $15, but you will receive a year's subsription to The Children's Writer. That appears to be a win-win situation. Read more about the contest and the guidelines here. Grand prize is $500, one of $250 and 3 $100 prizes. You've got 5 chances to win in this one. The Grand Prize poem will also be published in the newsletter.

2.  Not Your Mother's Book On...Pets  Editor, Kathy Baker, is still seeking stories for this title. She says she has plenty of cat and dog stories. Now, she's looking for true stories on more uusual pets--iguanas, turtles, potbelly pigs, hamsters, snakes and more. One rule is that they want no stories about beloved pets dying. Nope, these should be funny or amazing stories, perhaps an embarrassing moment involving your pet. Go to the NYMB page on this book for further guidelines.

3.  Chicken Soup for the Soul:  Overcoming Challenges  This popular anthology series wants to know what you've done to meet a challenge in your life. How did you handle it, what did you do to overcome it? Not an essay or a how-to article. It should be a story about something that happened to you. Read the guidelines before writing your story. Deadline is October 31, 2013. Even if you've read them before, do it again.

4.  Chicken Soup for the Soul:  Home Sweet Home  Stories for this book will illustrate Hearth, Happiness and Hard Work. Read the call for submissions on this book to get a feel for what they are looking for and perhaps some motivation for the story you will write.  Deadline is November 30, 2013

5.  U.S. Kids  This publishing group gives children a choice of 3 magazines, each for a different age group. They seek submissions for each in fiction, nonfiction and poetry as well as recipes and crafts. Check their guidelines page.

6.  Past Loves Contest  This one has a deadline of September 17th so you'll have to write fast or find an old story in your files and polish it up. Read the guidelines, then get to work

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Saddest Birthday

Today we recognize and remember the tragedy of 9-11. I'm posting a story I wrote some time ago. Take a moment or two out of your busy life to honor those who lost family members and friends that day. 

Birthdays are special in our family, celebrated and recognized all the waking hours of the specific day. Not only a cake and gaily wrapped gifts mark the occasion. Extra smiles and hugs come the way of the birthday person, as well. Treasured memories of other birthdays seem to pop up during dinner table conversation. Daily chores might be cancelled for the honoree. In short, the birthday person reigns as the star of the day.

But in recent years, my husband’s birthday has been clouded over with a sense of sadness and grief. His special day happens to be September 11th. Never again will we celebrate without remembering that ill-fated day in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. 

That morning I’d greeted the birthday boy with a kiss and a hug and presented him with a card and gift. He smiled broadly as he fingered the purple and white shirt with the Kansas State logo gracing it’s front, and I knew thoughts of wearing it to Saturday’s football game ran through his head.

After the gift-giving, we settled into our usual routine. Since Ken had retired, we spent our early mornings reading the newspaper from front to back and keeping an occasional eye on the Today show on TV. We both looked up from the newspaper at the urgent sound in the broadcaster’s voice as she narrated film showing a plane flying into a skyscraper in New York City. In less time than it takes to sneeze, the tragedy repeated itself. And we knew immediately that it was no accident.

The remainder of the day found us tuned into further reports of the devastating occurrences which are seared into the memories and hearts of all American citizens. I never made the cake I’d planned on. The birthday greeting calls our children made to their dad were not filled with good wishes and teasing remarks. Instead, these adult children of ours were as overwhelmed with the day’s happenings as we were.

Late in the day, we received word that a baby boy had been born to one of our daughter’s childhood friends. Shadows of grief surrounded the joy we felt for Jen and James and their new son. As evening fell, it occurred to me that the birth of this baby and all the other babies born on this day might be taken as a sign from God that no matter what had happened, life would go on. These new lives became seeds of hope sown in sadness.

The American people banded together on that tragic September 11th. They picked up the shards of their lives and soldiered on. Hearts shattered, but prayerful resolve pieced them together again.

This year we celebrate another birthday for my husband on September 11th. We’re back to those special celebrations once again. I’ve been mulling over cake possibilities and worrying about what to give him to commemorate the day. Even so, we’ll take time to remember the saddest birthday he ever experienced and to honor those who’ll not have an earthly birthday anymore.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What Is Creative Nonfiction?

The picture above is exactly what might be the motivation for a creative nonfiction story. This picture was taken a few years ago in South Africa at a game reserve farm. Samantha and Jonathan are grandchildren of a close friend of mine and the baby elephant was born on the property. The children live on the game reserve farm and have access to many animals that we would not think of being so close to. Here's another one of Sam holding a new tiger cub.

You could write a factual article about life on a game reserve farm or you could add something to it to make the story more interesting to the reader. Certain topics would work best in the factual nonfiction category but many can be done in this more creative style.

How does creative nonfiction differ from plain, ordinary nonfiction? It tells us a story that is true. Nothing in it can be made up. It really happened. The writer must take all the facts and weave them into a story that reads
like fiction. It should have a beginning, middle and ending. It should use the techniques of writing fiction, like sensory details and showing rather than only telling or 'reporting' what occurred.

There has been an increasing interest in creative nonfiction. Look at the many anthology series that have become popular, Chicken Soup for the Soul is one of the best known. All the stories in its multiple books are classified as creative nonfiction. If they had a book theme on Unusual Pets, the children and animals in these two pictures would qualify as a great true but unusual story. The writer could tell about the children waiting for the birth of the baby elephant whose mother is named Three. And how about that tiger cub Sam is holding the same as most girls might hold a new puppy? There has to be a good story to be related in that scene.

Creative nonfiction can often be found in magazines and even some newspapers. Memoirs might also be classified as creative nonfiction. 

Have you tried your hand at writing creative nonfiction? If you've written a family story about someone or something that happened in your family, whether present day or long ago, you're writing in this genre. List a bunch of facts and figures and leave out the story line, and you're writing strictly nonfiction. A report on a country or an economic situation would qualify here. But if you give us that report on a country by telling a true story about someone who traveled there and what happened, it's creative nonfiction. 

Use a search engine to find detailed articles on writing good creative nonfiction. I probably write more of this type of story than any other. Have you tried it? If not, give it whirl. You may find a whole new category for your writing skills. The important thing to remember is that it must actually have happened. No make-believe.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Waiting Game

NYMB On Being a Mom

Several weeks ago, the publishers of the Not Your Mother's Book... series sent out a call that more stories were needed for their book about being a mom. The deadline for submissions had passed but they were not pleased with the number of stories that fit their specifications for the book. They needed more to select from. 

I admire a publisher who will extend a deadline so that they can have a certain quality story in the book from cover to cover. It's been a long time since I was raising kids but I started pondering on those earlier years to see if I had anything that might be turned into a piece of creative nonfiction to submit. Sure enough, I thought about a time in my son's life when I thought he needed to learn about how babies are created. You know what I mean---sex! It was a rather amusing story and definitely shed light on being a mom.

So, I wrote the story, let it simmer a few days, then rewrote and polished it up. I sent it to the publisher and began the inevitable waiting game. But in less than a month I received word that my story and 15 others that were sent in on that late call had made the finals. It does mean more waiting to see if the story makes that final leap into the book or not, but even so, this is far shorter a period of waiting than is usually the case.

It's that seemingly endless waiting that drives most writers crazy. They've worked hard on the story and they want to know if it is going to be published or returned with a So sorry but your story does not work for us letter or even never hearing one way or the other. I much prefer receiving that rejection letter than to be left hanging--not knowing. For one thing, the writer has no idea when the publisher has acquired the set number of stories to use. It could be 2 months, 6 months or close to a year. I'd rather know that my story didn't make it so that I can send it somewhere else. This has always been a gripe of mine. Editors will always say that they just don't have time to send out the rejections. 

I know that time is often our enemy, but it seems to me that they could have a form letter that needs only the address put in before sending. Would that be so hard? For some, it apparently is because they continue the practice of notifying only those writers whose story they plan to use.

You who read this blog regularly know that patience is one of my keywords for writers. Use patience when an extended period of waiting to hear about the precious jewel you submitted is part of your life. I must admit that I have learned to be more patient than I was in the early years of my writing. It was that or go cuckoo.

One other thing I learned early-on was to send the story, then move on to the next story you want to write. Work on it, send it in and start the process all over again. You can't sit and wait to hear about that first one. Keep the ferris wheel of submissions moving at all times. On those occasions when you receive an acceptance, it will be a wonderful surprise. So be a writer but know that you must play the waiting game.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Why You Should Hug A Writer

I saw a quote by Winston Churchill at The Writers Circle this morning that runs in the same vein as the poster above. Sir Winston once said:

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.” 
- Winston Churchill

Anyone who has ever tried to write a book would probably be able to relate to what the famed British statesman said. Even short stories, essays, articles, creative nonfiction--whatever needs a writer to be born--is proof of what American author, Nathaniel Hawthorne said. Interesting sidelight that they printed his rather significant birthdate on the poster. 

The EASY reading part caught my eye first and the thought came that most readers who have that easy reading in a well-written novel or any other piece of writing most likely never give a thought to the writing. I do, but that's because I am a writer and I admire anyone who can hone the skill well enough to give me, the reader, an easy read. I'd bet that most other writers also have a deeper appreciation of something they read that is a good read. They know what it takes to achieve that smooth flowing piece of prose. They know the proverbial 'blood, sweat, and tears' that go into the writing that can be assessed as GOOD.

Next time you read a novel you truly enjoy, give some thought to the writer. He/she may have lain awake many nights working on a plot, might have agonized over a decision as to what should happen to a beloved character, could have spent hours researching something that has only a minor place in the book but is monumental in the story itself. 

Readers may love a book but writers admire he/she who wrote the book even more. If you see a writer today, you might consider giving him/her a hug. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Stress or Dessert--Which One Do You Choose?

From the Mad Hatter Tea Room

I loved this poster, for what better remedy for stress can there be than having some dessert? No matter how we'd all like that to be true, we know it's not the best way to treat our stress. Still, I do love desserts!

Writers deal with stress on a regular basis. Deadlines, writers block, lack of motivation, running out of story ideas, rejections, the exceedingly long wait between submission and hearing from an editor--the list goes on and on. 

I think that there are times when we create our own stress, or when we take a seedling of stress and nourish it with our fears until it grows like Jack's beanstalk. That long waiting period after a submission? There's where we can invent more scenarios than fans at a football game. We invent reasons when we haven't heard about our submission. We don't practice one of my keywords in the writing world--patience. If you're an impatient person--and I speak from great experience here--work on acquiring a more patient nature. If you don't, you're going to dish up more stress than you might be able to handle. 

How about those deadlines? Fritter away your time and suddenly the date looms far too close. The next thing you know, you're lying awake nights thinking about it, your mind goes blank when you try to do the project in too little time, your stomach hurts every time you look at the calendar. The easy cure here is to start working on a project soon after you receive an assignment or a call for submissions. Give yourself time to write a first draft, make revisions, then polish before you must send it flying through cyberspace to an editor's desk.

Lack of motivation can bring stress into a writer's life along with running out of story ideas. I've found the best way to address those things is to get away from writing for a short period. Go for a long walk. Go to the mall and window shop. Fix a picnic lunch and visit a scenic area nearby. And when you do those things, use your writer's eye. Before you know it, you'll see something that will spark an idea for an article, essay or story. It's more helpful than sitting in front of a computer screen with a blank Word document and staring at it in hopes that the words will magically appear. 

How about the stress that comes with those rotten rejections? Who creates that stress? We do, of course. Instead of dwelling on the negative side here, start checking for another editor to send your submission to. Don't forget that there are many reasons a piece is rejected. Only one reason is a poorly written story. Others are out of the writer's control. So, ditch the dessert and the stress and move on.

How do you handle the stress in your writing life? You don't have any? Sure you do. We all do. Take a step back and assess you and stress. Ask yourself if you create some of it yourself. Next question to put to yourself is What do I do when stress moves into my writing life? If you answer honestly, you may gain some insight in how to handle it with or without eating that extra dessert. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Writing Conferences Are Inspiring

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 prerequisite to becoming a member and/or attendee. 

I’ve attended a retreat/conference that my online writers critique group sponsored several times but that first one is memorable, mostly because it was filled with treasures for this writer. 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. Regular readers of this blog have heard about the various conferences I've attended here.

That first time, 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. Start with a one day meeting, then move on to one that meets two or three days. Spread your wings and consider a full week somewhere. 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.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

College Application Essays

First Day of School

Years ago, the day after Labor Day brought a new beginning for children. It was the standard day for schools to start the new year. With that day, we considered summer to be officially over. Not so today, since many schools begin anywhere from the first week of August clear up to the first week in September. What do you remember about those first days of school? I did a post earlier last month about adding to your memory books, recalling what those first days of school were like as you moved from the kindergarten class all the way through your senior year in high school.

Late in my senior year, I applied for college. I think I had to fill out a form with name and address and checked a box saying I'd like a state scholarship. Surely there was a bit more on that paper but not a lot. I asked my husband, who went to a private college as opposed to the state school I attended, whether he had a big application form, including writing an essay. His application was little more than what mine had been. I asked a friend yesterday afternoon what hers had been like and all she remembered was the line where it said Send money. 

We had been discussing it because our oldest granddaughter, Alexis, is applying for colleges now. She is just beginning her senior year of high school. She's applying to four schools but has her heart set on one. She's got her back-up plan with the other three in case the favorite doesn't work out. It's a whole different game today. She's a very good student, ranking #11 in a class of over 900. Even so, the admissions person she interviewed with at the #1 choice told her that may not be good enough. Scary! 

It didn't deter Alexis. She spent this past weekend working on the application form. Part of it was an essay to be written from a prompt given that would show the applicant's character traits. She wrote the essay, then emailed to me and her other grandmother, who is a school librarian. "Would you look at this and edit it for me?" It goes without saying as to what our response was.

Only two weeks earlier, I'd read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the essays sent with college applications. Apparently, there are parents who pay big bucks to have someone write the essay their child sends in as their own. Hope it was not on the same subject as the one Alexis had to write. Character traits, indeed! One man reportedly paid $10,000 for his daughter's essay. It made me wonder whether, even if she gets into that school, she'd last very long.

I became curious enough to google guidelines for college application essays and I was totally amazed at the number of articles that popped up. This is now big business. I read several to get a feel for what they want and what they don't want before I edited my granddaughter's essay. Many of the articles suggested that the student ask two or three people to edit their work. To be honest, that kind of surprised me as I would have thought they want the student's work without having any help. That might happen, I suppose, in a perfect world and we all know there is no such place. 

Yesterday afternoon, I did a second reading of the essay and then proceeded to write a list of things I hoped my granddaughter would take into consideration. Next, I did a critique in the same manner as I would for a submission from a member of my online critique group. I did let Alexis know that these were only suggestions and that she was the one to decide whether to use them or not. I also explained that it was not being critical but to help her grow as a writer, the same as in my crit group. 

As for the essay she wrote--this grandmother is very proud of what she chose to write about and the way she wrote it. It was quite well done, and the suggestions I made for changes were actually very minor things. A polishing rather than major revisions. 

And next comes the wait. Alexis won't be waiting alone, her entire family will wait with her. She's a very sensible, mature young woman, and if this doesn't work out, she'll swallow her disappointment and move on. 

Have any of you had experiences with the college application essay process in today's world? 

Monday, September 2, 2013

One Powerful Word for Writers

I saw this poster on facebook this morning, placed there by Dave's Words of Wisdom. It's a great place to check for inspirational, motivational poster quotes. 

This one seemed made for Writer Granny's World because I have so many posts that address exactly what it says, sometimes parts of it and other times pretty much all of what it says. Those who read this blog regularly know that my two keywords for writers are patience and perseverance. I've mentioned them about a gazillion times in the 4+ years of my blog's existence. 

You've heard me talk about the last two parts of this quote many a time, but today, let's look at the first section. Believe--one simple word that holds a great deal of power. If you are looking for success as a writer, and nearly all writers are, the very first thing you must do is believe in yourself. 

It's a rare bird that would be an outstanding writer in beginning days. Even so, you must believe that you can be a good writer with time by practicing and perfecting your skill. If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will either. Trash the negative thoughts that accompany those rejections you get. You get them, I get them, my other writer friends get them, but we don't dare let them take precedence in our goal to be a published writer. Believe that you can grow as a writer and you will. No, not by sitting on the sofa and waiting for it to happen but by working at it.

A writer must sell him/herself to not only editors and publishers but to their readers. Any salesman will tell you it's a whole lot easier to sell a product that you believe in. You might be thinking But I'm a writer, not a salesman. In the writing world, you have to be both a writer and a salesman of sorts. Believe that you can do it and most likely, you will. 

Believe--a word filled with power to help you soar to new heights.