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Monday, March 31, 2014

Listen To The Good Writing Fairy

The writing life is best described as a roller coaster. We're up and down from the moment we start moving on our writing path until our final breath. Finding success with what we write thrills us as we climb to the top of the next hill on the roller coaster but each rejection plunges us to the bottom again.

We handle the successes pretty well but the disappointments are another story altogether. Each time a rejection arrives or you hear about another Chicken Soup book being published without your story in it, you can't help but be disappointed. It's part of being human. When those rejections come flying through cyberspace like flocks of geese heading north in the fall, it's pretty daunting.

There are times when you feel like you've dug deeper into a hole with each disappointment. The trick is not to let yourself dig that hole so deep that you can't find a way out. It's then that your bad writing fairy overtakes the good one. She whispers in your ear, Why bother submitting any more of your work? You'll never sell one. Couldn't you just bop her a good one when she says things like that? How about when she says, Whatever made you think you're a real writer? Or Why don't you just give up?

Enter your good writing fairy. She's the one who will haul you up out of that deep, dark hole. Keep trying. she'll say. Or You can do this, you know you can. She might even say, You're a darned good writer. You just haven't found the write places to submit to yet. Listen to her when she taps you on the shoulder with a Let's show the world what you can do.

The quote above is a good one to help you have an optimist's attitude rather than dig the hole of misery any deeper. Putting yourself down never helped anyone. When your writing world looks the darkest, it's hard to keep an optimistic view but if you really want to succeed, you'll feed the good writing fairy and starve the bad one.

Keep those two keywords I am always mentioning in mind. Patience and Perseverance will help you get that optimist attitude and put away the defeatist feelings.

Maybe some of you wonder if I ever get down about the disappointments in my writing life. I do, most definitely do. But not for long. I was so sure my story for the Home Sweet Home book in the Chicken Soup series would make it. It didn't! And yes, I was truly disappointed for a day or so. Then, I started thinking about what other place I might submit that same story. I'll take a good look at it and see if there are any revisions I want to make before I submit it somewhere. The best part is that the hard part on that story is done. It's been written, edited and even revised already.

Take your good writing fairy to lunch and keep on moving to the next part of your writing journey.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Granddaughter's Birthday Begins A New Project


Today I am being rather nostalgic as this is our second granddaughter's 15th birthday. Gracen arrived on March 28th, 1999--a full three weeks prior to her due date. She's been in a hurry ever since. She had the good fortune to have a next door neighbor who was a professional drummer. Miss April introduced Gracen to the drum world at a very early age. The picture at the left is of Gracen trying out the drums, princess tiara in place.

When she was a bit older, Miss April offered to give her lessons and Gracen has been playing drums and marimba ever since. This last year, she was part of the Marching Band at her high school in suburban Dallas.

Regular readers here know that I urge everyone to write their family stories on a regular basis. I have dozens written about my parents, siblings, myself and parts of my husband's family, as well. It dawned on me today that I have not written very many stories about my grandchildren. Color me red! Those fun 'growing up' stories of the four of them should be included in my Family Memories book. It will be fun for them to read  when they are adults and perhaps parents and later on, grandparents, themselves. Maybe it will encourage them to write stories of their own.

If you haven't included grandchildren stories in your own memory book, be sure to give consideration to doing so.

I can begin with the story about the night Gracen was born and go right on with her fascination with Tinkerbelle, her drum sessions, the birthday party we attended with her friends at Bonkers and her love for her big sister from the time she was a tiny tot. Oh yes, there are many Gracen stories. And lots of them about my other three grandchildren, too.

I must thank Gracen for pushing me into a new project today. Will do that right after wishing her a Happy 15th Birthday.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Final Call For A New Chicken Soup Title

There's a deadline coming up for a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. This one is on Challenges/Finding Inner Strength. So many of us have faced challenges in our lifetime. Whether as a child or a teen or an adult, it doesn't matter. We have been faced with a challenge at various times and we've drawn deep into the well of inner strength we all have. Oh yes, we all have it but it might be deeper down for some more than others.

When did you have an obstacle on your life journey that you had to overcome or sink? Was it in your sports life? Your academic life? Your life as a newlywed? Or as you became, or tried to become, a parent? Was it when your marriage fell apart? Or when you lost your best friend and didn't know where to turn to find another? Was it when one of your children had a major life crisis? Or perhaps something else?

All of us have met challenges of one kind or another during our lifetime. Some much greater than others. Some that seemed great at the time. Here's what Chicken Soup is looking for, as posted on their website. The deadline is coming up in only days. Do you have a story in your files that might work with a little editing and polishing? Or can you come up with something brand new? I'm thinking hard on one I'd like to write.

Overcoming Challenges/Finding Inner Strength 
Our writers surprise us with their ability to Overcome Challenges and Find Their Inner Strength. It is amazing how people demonstrate resilience, find hope, and use positive thinking in situations they never dreamed would happen to them. We would like to know what challenges you have faced in your life and what you did to overcome them. Are you recovering from health problems, financial difficulties or the loss of a loved one? What changes did you make to help you cope with these issues and turn negative into positive? Your stories will give our readers inspiration and insight into how others are coping and let them know that there is hope and recovery even in adversity.The deadline for story and poem submissions for this title was October 31, 2013. We have extended it to MARCH 31, 2014. If you have already submitted a story or poem for this title please do not submit it again. We have it in our database and it will be considered for this book.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Use Adverbs With Caution

If Stephen King uttered these words, it must be true.Probably!  He put into one clear statement what many writing books will devote paragraphs or even a chapter to.

Why do those who teach writing basics steer writers away from using too many adverbs? One of the reasons is that it allows the writer to be lazy. Why not use one word to describe what a character is doing instead of showing us what he/she does? I'd much rather be shown than told. Look at the two examples below:

A.  Joanie walked hurriedly.

B.  Joanie's feet flew down the gravel road toward home.

A.  Tom glared angrily at Susannah.

B.  The veins in Tom's forehead stood out and his face appeared redder than Susannah had ever seen it. His eyes never left her and his mouth remained set in a firm line.

The A sentences take the lazy way out while the B sentences show us a whole picture. You can bet that Stephen King uses adverbs sparingly (note:  using the adverb in that previous sentence works fine because I don't want to have a too-lengthy post here and it's modifying an inactive verb) They do have a place at times but it's far too easy to fall into the trap of using them too frequently and instead of showing what happens.

Look at one of your already written stories or essays. Circle or highlight the adverbs. Then ask yourself how many of them would benefit from a rewrite to show rather than tell. Do some rewriting and then read the piece again. I think you'll find that it's far more interesting.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ever Visited This Ezine For Writers?

Have you ever heard of  a website for writers called  Long Story Short? The subtitle is an Ezine for Writers. It's worth your time to take a good look. Not only do the editors run a school of writing, they publish fiction, nonfiction and poetry on the website. I cannot vouch for the writing classes as I've never taken one, but they've been in business long enought that I feel there must be something worthwhile there.

On the 7th day of each month, a new list of stories and poems can be found on the website. The editors do not publish all submissions. They are quite selective. You can feel very pleased when you do have a piece of your writing accepted. There is no pay but it's a fine clip for your file. Check out the submission page here The editors have very specific guidelines so pay attention. One of the reasons I like to submit to this ezine is that they are willing to take reprints, as long as you cite when and where the piece was published.

I've had nonfiction essays and poetry published in the past. I will continue to submit to this ezine and hope you'll give it a try, too.

Want to meet the editors? Go to this page to see who they are and what their backgrounds are. The editors give The Story of the Month and The Poem of the Month  writers a bit of extra exposure with an interview or more extensive bio.

Spend part of an afternoon or evening reading the stories and poems published at Long Story Short. Then consider submitting something of your own. You'll soon see why this ezine has been voted as one of Writer's Digest's 101 Best Websites for Writers for 9 years. They must be doing something right!

Let me end with a quote that is found on the Submission Guidelines page. It is one I especially liked and it may speak to you, too.

You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success - but only if you persist. 
                                            -Isaac Asimov (1920 - 1992)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Write A Sports Story For Kids

I've been watching myriad basketball games the last several days. The NCAA tournament always gets my attention. Our team, Kansas State, only got to play in the first round. They had a formidable opponent in Kentucky, who beat them but only by several points, not a blowout. Sad but not the end of the world.

Kids and sports are a natural fit. Young kids look up to the older ones and try to copy them on the football field, basketball court or when kicking a soccer ball around the field. This afternoon, I got to thinking about the fertile ground for fiction for kids that centers on sports. Two of my grandchildren love to be part of a sports program, whatever the season might be. It follows that they would enjoy reading about other kids in sports. These stories are entertaining but also incorporate a thin thread of a life lesson. Note, I said 'thin' as the one thing kid magazine editors harp on is to not be 'preachy' when writing a story for kids as they'll tune out fast if you do.

There are a lot of different angles a writer might use for a story of this type. Write about the kid who is always the last one to be picked on a team and how he deals with it. Or how about the hot shot who lords it over the others until something happens to make him see life from the other side of the fence? A story about a conflict with a coach would fit right in today's world. Coaches and players don't always see eye to eye. Another story line might be about a father who pushes his son to play in sports when the boy much prefers dabbling in the arts. 

The sports stories aren't limited to boys. The girls' sports world expands every year. Jealousy can raise its ugly head between girls on teams. How is Susie going to deal with it? How is Mary Lou going to keep from cheating when the opportunity presents itself? What about the girl who wants to try out for a team but is too shy to make that first move? 

There are lots of story lines for fiction sports stories for kids but you needn't stay totally with fiction. A profile piece on a well-known player or one just coming up through the ranks would make a good article to pitch to an editor. Try one on a local high school player for your community newspaper.

Do a search for children's magazines that use sports stories, both fiction and nonfiction. The one thing I would caution any writer delving into this field is to have some knowledge of the sport you're going to write about. You don't need to know lots of  specifics as much as knowing something about the game so that you can write intelligently about it. If you're not sure of part of your story, find an expert and check it out. Kids will catch your errors mighty fast. It's not easy to fool them.

I've written dozens of stories for kids but I've never tried one that uses sports as a base. Maybe it's time I gave it some more thought. How about you? What's a sport you understand and like? Baseball--soccer--tennis--golf--basketball--football--bowling? 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Today is World Poetry Day

Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.~Edgar Allan Poe

Today is World Poetry Day. Bet you didn't know that. I didn't either until I ran across the fact quite by accident. Made me wish I'd saved my post on Tom Mach's poetry book, The Museum Muse, until today. UNESCO created the day in 1999 to celebrate the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry. That's 15 years ago but it's not a day we circle on the calendar or look forward to, is it?

For those of us who write, be it prose or poetry, it should be a day of interest. Also  for people who enjoy reading poetry. I remember very little of what we were taught about poetry in grade school and high school. We were exposed to it but I had few teachers who helped me embrace either reading or writing it. The approach, as I remember, was more clinical in nature. We were given many poems to memorize but I have no memory of a teacher helping us see the beauty of some of the phrases in poems. If we were taught how to write poetry, it must have been on a day I was absent! 

Even so, I have written poetry, even had some published and won a contest with one. I cannot recite the techniques of writing poetry to you but I know what is in my heart and can put it into words on occasion. I don't write a lot of poetry and do so only when the mood moves me. A true poet gets moved to pen a poem on a regular basis. I guess I'm a 'sometimes' poet. 

I will admit that much of poetry remains a "Huh?" situation with me. I frequently wonder what some poets are attempting to convey. Some of the metaphors used can escape me until someone points them out to me. Besides that, there is much I enjoy in poetry. Because I'm a word person, I can pick out many phrases that are particularly beautiful or poignant and be satisfied with that. 

Many people have favorite poets. Did you ever ask yourself why certain poets appeal more to you than others?

If you've never read or written poetry, you should give it a try. Since today is World Poetry Day, read a poem or write one. Maybe more than one. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Time To Make A Plan

It's here! At least on the calendar, spring is here. I'm happy to say that it is happening here in the Kansas City area just as it should. A cold, sunny morning and to reach 70 this afternoon. We're spending a few days with our grandkids who are on Spring Break this week. Mom and Dad still have to go to work, so we were invited to come and be in charge.

Jordan and Cole are 10 and 7 years old and quite independent. They're good conversationalists so we talk about all kinds of things. They often inspire me to write something. 

It's such a nice day that we all want to do something outside this afternoon. So scratch that original movie plan. There's a nice arboretum about 15 minutes away from their house which might be a nice place to take a long walk and then visit the science exhibit in the administration building. Cole just suggested we go to the Louisburg Cider Mill--a mile away--and have hot cider and buy their awesome (his word) cider donuts to have for breakfast tomorrow. 

We'll come up with a final plan soon. Which brings me to today's thoughts on writing. We do need to have a plan for our writing world. It doesn't have to be detailed and it needn't be set in cement either. It helps to have some kind of a plan to use for a springboard. 

Some people make a plan and then feel they can never veer away from it. I think it's just fine to make changes as you go. Use your plan for a starting place just like you find on the Monopoly game board, then move your game piece square by square. When you find inspiration along the way, go ahead and change the route. There might be some nice surprises along the way. 

Right now, I have a plan to finalize for the first day of spring with my two youngest grandchildren. 

Me with Cole and Jordan last year on Mother's Day

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Pleasant Poetry Book

Tom Mach is an award winning novelist. He's also an award winning poet. He's also owner of his own press.
In addition, he has a website that promotes his work.

His most recent book of poetry, The Museum Muse, is a thought provoking, pleasant journey through the museums in our life. Tom contends that these museums are not all housed in buildings. We find the museums in our life in the arts, music, history, science and more. We carry these museums with us through life and look at them in different perspectives as we grow and age. 

In one passage, he says Life itself is an interweave of different museums, a moire of dissimilar fabrics of experience all woven together to produce the whole of who we really were, are, or want to be.

The book is a pleasant read and tends to stay with you. I found myself wanting to read it again. When I did, I found more in it than the first time around. I have no doubt that I'll read it again. It's a great book to enjoy while drinking a cup of tea or coffee. Illustrations scattered throughout add to the pleasure found within its covers. It's the kind of book that could become an old friend.

Another quote from the author as to why he wrote the book:
Actress Audrey Hepburn once said that “Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering—because you can’t take it in all at once.”

Order the book or kindle version on Amazon or from Hill Song Press directly $10 ppd. Send for it at Hill Song Press, PO Box 486, Lawrence, KS 66044

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Personal Travel Essay

Me and a friend in Rottweil, Germany

Yesterday's post had some personal travel essay links. Writing for a travel magazine with all the facts about a destination is what some writers thrive on. I prefer to write the personal essay travel stories. This kind of travel story gives the reader a picture of a particular place, lets them know what is there, but also puts the human spin on the information. 

Kissing the Blarney Stone wasn't about how the legend came to be, nor who inhabited the castle through the centuries nor the exact location. Instead, it was about Ken and me and two friends climbing an endless spiral of stone steps many stories above the green of Ireland to see the Blarney Stone, about how I decided to pass on by instead of risking life and limb kissing the stone. 

Grandpa's Town highlighted a small town in Germany where my husband's grandfather grew up. We spent three days there exploring the town and the surrounding area. I didn't want to write about the industries there or what form of city government they had. Instead, I focused on the charming small hotel we found after a lengthy search, about walking the streets wondering if Grandpa had done the same while on an errand for his mother. Had he winked at a pretty girl as he ran down the street? I wanted to write about the human side of this town where some of my husband's roots ran deep. 

When I wrote, Pub Fare in the United Kingdom and Ireland, I wanted to highlight the food we had as we traveled in these areas with close friends. I didn't want to write about the monuments or cathedrals or manor houses on display. Instead, I chose to keep it to something we all relate to--food! British food has been panned for far too long. It's moved into the modern world and I wanted to show other travelers that they could expect to eat well in these countries. 

Many of us travel in our own country and abroad. Take advantage when you do. Find a specific place or activity and highlight it in a personal travel essay. There are a number of newspapers and ezines that publish this type of essay. I always keep a journal when we travel overseas and write faithfully in it every evening. It's a goldmine of ideas to use when I return home. The places you write about don't have to be exotic or famous. A very simple spot that spoke to you in some way could easily be of interest to your readers. 

Use people, family history, experiences in writing about a place. Make it real instead of make believe, something seen only in a fairy tale book. Write it so that others can relate to the experience you had. Add some emotions, sensory details--all those things you'd put in any other kind of writing.

Give it a try.

Monday, March 17, 2014

My Irish Roots

'Tis said that everyone is Irish on this day--the 17th of March--when we celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Part of my heritage is Irish. Thanks to a great-uncle, I know now that I am half Irish. Uncle Alec visited Ireland and did some research. He brought home the true story which turned out to be a great surprise to all of my mother's family. I'm reprinting a piece I wrote about finding my Irish roots. There are links at the end to other things I've written about Ireland or being Irish. 

Finding My Irish Roots

My mother always said that her family hailed from both England and Ireland. The Doonans on her mother’s side were definitely the Irish, and her Dad’s Studham name made them English. But then, her uncle made a visit to both England and Ireland. Interested in genealogy, he spent a great deal of time checking records and returned home with a story that set the entire Studham family into a spin.

Uncle Alec learned that in the 1880’s, an Irish lass named, Mary Jane, had done the unthinkable. She was about to have a child but had no husband. Shamed and humiliated, her family turned her out, and she fled from the green hills of Ireland to the dirty streets of London. There, she gave birth to a baby boy. Later, she met an Englishman who married her and took on the child as his own. They emigrated to America when the boy was only three making it easy to cover up the truth. 

With the proof Uncle Alec had, Mother’s entire family slowly absorbed the fact that they were one-hundred per cent Irish on both parents sides. Being in my teen years at the time of this discovery, I thought the whole thing terribly romantic, and I secretly wished to visit Ireland someday. It was a time that only the wealthy vacationed overseas.

Working class people like mine stayed close to home. But I held on to my dream to visit the land of my Irish roots.

I held on for fifty years before it became a reality. My husband and I had done some foreign travel after he retired but Ireland was not among the countries we visited until 2007. We spent two weeks motoring with friends from the southeastern coast of Ireland, across the southern part of the country, then up the west coast, into Northern Ireland and back to the northeastern coast. From the moment I stepped onto Irish soil, I felt completely at home.

I had a name and address in a county in Northern Ireland where my mother’s paternal grandparents had lived in different villages. They met at a Sunday School party. John Doonan married his Elizabeth and they sailed to America where they farmed in Minnesota. We searched and searched for the address in Portadown of a distant relative until we finally discovered that a gas station stood where the house had been. Still, it was a thrill to be in the town where two of my ancestors had lived and fallen in love more than a hundred years earlier.

The green, rolling land filled me with a joy I found hard to understand. I warmed to the people and the little pubs where we ate lunch and dinner. I felt completely at home in th various B&b’s, and the lilting Irish speech sounded like music to my ears.

When we stood on the Cliffs of Mohr as the chill wind whipped my hair and I watched waves crashing far below, I wanted to stay forever. A visit to Blarney Castle with the famous kissing stone enchanted me. I’d visited my Irish roots and the images of all the places we saw will stay with me forever. 

It’s still possible to visit your roots without crossing an ocean. We have books, movies, documentaries, TV shows and websites that bring you to the country of your ancestors. There are genealogy libraries and websites that will allow you to research your own family, wherever they came from. It’s never been easier to find your roots.

Note: This story was published in Ozarks' Sr Living March 2011

Links to other writing I have done about Ireland and Irish heritage:
Nora's Journey--fiction published in Horizon magazine in Canada
Kissing The Blarney Stone--a travel essay published in several places

Friday, March 14, 2014

Finding Your Writer's Voice

Are you confused about the meaning of using your writer's voice? You're not alone. I remember the first time I head the term. It was the early days of my writing world. I'd met a children's book writer just by chance. She agreed to do some back and forth critiquing and before long, she became my mentor. I respect and admire her to this very day. Barb and I were sitting at my kitchen table one afternoon. She had critted a story of mine and was explaining some of her remarks. At one point, she said, There's no doubt that you've found your voice. It comes through clearly in all that you write.

I knew it was a compliment but I really did not understand what she was telling me. I was glad I had it, but the bigger question for me was what was it?I didn't want to admit my ignorance by asking her to define the term. Little by little, I figured it out through reading books on the craft of writing, listening to others at my critique groups and using the brain God gave me. Voice in writing is an abstract and I tend to deal much better with concretes so it did take me awhile. 

A writer's voice is his/her style of writing. It's what is unique to your own writing. It's the way you put words together to form sentences and thoughts. It comes from within you. You can't buy it. You can't sew it together. You can't paint it. Your life experiences create some of it. Your personality creates some of it. You create it unconsciously. 

Have you ever heard someone say that they loved the way a certain author writes? They meant that the author's voice spoke volumes to them. Sometimes writers emulate the voice of an author they like especially well. It happens a lot in the beginning stages of your writing life, I think. Oh, I'd love to write like Maeve Binchy is what your subconscious might tell you, or you might even be well aware that you are striving to sound just like this prolific Irish author. But you are not Maeve Binchy. You're you! And it's your voice that you want to come through to the reader. 

Are there ways to find your writing voice? You'll find plenty of articles on the subject if you google. It would be worthwhile to read several of them. Some do more than define it, they give you tips on how to find it. If you've ever been told that you haven't found your voice yet, it's nothing to worry about. If you let it come naturally, it will happen. 

My suggestion is to be yourself when you write. Don't try to be Ernest Hemingway. Don't try to be John Grisham or Barbara Taylor Bradford or Patricia Cornwell. Don't try to be the woman who teaches a writing course you're taking. Don't try to be the one who leads your critique group. Let your own personality and experiences shine through your writing and you'll have your voice. Once you've got it, never let it go. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Five Traps Writers Should Avoid

Nancy Julien Kopp

This is a guest post I did for Michelle Rafter's Word Count blog awhile back.

Writers are urged to write often, to write voraciously, to write, write, write. Even so, to win the prize — publication — there are myriad things you must do besides putting words on your computer screen.
Non-writing tasks such as reading about writing techniques or joining critique groups are beneficial, even essential. But if you're not careful, those non-writing tasks become traps. You can become caught in a spider web of good intentions that eat into writing time.

The key is to maintain a healthy balance. Review your writing-related activities occasionally to make sure you aren’t falling into a time trap. When you produce fewer and fewer pages, it may be time to step back assess why.

Here are five common writing-related activities and how to get the most out of them without letting them cut into your writing time:

1. Books on writing.  Writers buy or borrow dozens of books on the keys to good writing. But read too much and you risk becoming so busy learning that you forget to apply what you learn. Use books to teach yourself the craft of writing, but be selective.

2. Writing websites and newsletters.  Writing websites, blogs and newsletters offer articles and classes. They also showcase markets, present contests, offer writing prompts and exercises. Many writers subscribe to several, sometimes many more than several. Though these resources offer excellent information, they take precious time to read. Pick the ones you like best and unsubscribe from the others.

3. Critique groups.  A face-to-face critique group is a great place to get constructive criticism and praise for your work. It also provides an opportunity to network with other writers. While writers can profit greatly from them, critique groups also take time. Ask yourself if belonging to one is worth the hours you might otherwise spend writing and if it works into your writing schedule or your home schedule.

4. Research. For many writers, research and reporting is a necessary part of what they do, and for some, it's pure joy. But don't get so involved in the process that you spend far more time than is needed. Practice determining the appropriate amount of time to give to the research end of a story or article.

5. Writers' organizations.  Joining a local, state or national writers group such as the Online News Association or American Society of Journalists and Authors offers networking possibilities with other writers, and can connect you with new-to-you markets and publishers. Being a member also is a way to keep up with the latest trends in your field. However, along with all that, some of organizations require members to become officers, committee chairs and or serve on committees. Before you join, know what you're getting yourself into. Keep your membership to a select number of groups and limit your participation to what you can handle.

Financial experts advise clients to take money out of their paycheck for savings before spending it on anything else. Writing is no different. Those 1,000 words a day take precedence over all other writing-related aspects of your life. Now that you know what the traps are, practice self-discipline to avoid them. Your greatest benefit will be more time to write.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dig Deep Into Your Memory Bank

Cappuccino  I usually write my posts after reading thenewspaper and eating breakfast. I bring a cup of coffee into my home office and start with email, then seeing what is going on at facebook. It's surprising how many times I've found a subject or inspiration for the post from something I've seen on that social media page. I originally joined facebook to promote my writing and Writer Granny's World but I've found lots of other pluses to my membership. After email and facebook, I write the blog post, still sipping my coffee. It's a rather nice way to begin the day; makes me feel like I've accomplished something.
I gave you a few writing prompts a few days ago. If you missed it, check out this page. All the prompts here revolve around March and early spring. Today, I've got a list of more general prompts that will help writers who write memoir or family stories but also those who write fiction. By doing this exercise using your own experiences, you can find the basis for a character or plot in your fiction, too. Pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee or tea or a glass of juice and let the writing juices emerge.

Begin with the prompt phrase and write as quickly as you can, don't stop to plan it carefully. Instead, freewrite. Let the thoughts come from the recesses of your mind. Once you've primed the pump, the memories will flow like water over a dam. You may become inspired to keep on writing, and if that doesn't happen, don't delete what you've written. Keep it in a file and go back to look at it now and then. Ready?

1.  My mother never....

2.  I always told my children....

3.  On the school playground....

4.  When a stranger looked at our town,.....

5.  My favorite teacher was....

6.  The teacher that annoyed me....

7.  My brother/sister asked me to....

8.  Our next door neighbor was....

9.  We had a dog that....

10. My favorite place to visit is...

11. I feel furious when....

12. Whenever I was mean, my mother...

13. I helped my father.....

14. The one thing I could never eat was...

15. When I picked the neighbor's flowers...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Writer Or Reader? One or Both?

Someone was asking the other day what traits a writer should have and what kinds of things should they do to learn more about the craft. There are many but today I'd like to concentrate on one very important thing all writers should do. 


We're told to read books about writing and I fully agree with that. As important as that is, I'd add something else, maybe even above that in a list. Read as often as you can. Read the books in the area in which you would like to write. If you want to write Historical Fiction, drown yourself in books of that genre. Make a comparison of the various well-known authors who write this type of novel. Read more than one book by an author. Find the ones you like best and read as many of their books as possible. As you read ask yourself why this person's books appeal to you. What is in them that captures your attention? What makes you come back for more? Is their style one you like or does it put you off?

If you're a poet, wallow in poetry books and magazines. Find the poets you like best. Figure out why you like them. What is in their poetry that speaks to you? 

Do you write memoir? There are plenty of memoir short stories and full length books as this has become a very popular genre. Look at the ways in which the various authors present their story. What did they do that stands out? What parts of the book will you remember for a long time? 

How about sci-fi and fantasy writers? Or Bodice Ripper romances and erotica? If that is what you want to write, read lots of it. Same way with those who want to write for kids. Go to a bookstore or library and read dozens of kid lit in the age group for which you want to write. They change with time. A number of years ago, mood books were huge, and then they slid off into the night, seldom to be seen again. Read the newest ones, read the classics and learn what is appealing about each.

All readers need not be writers but I firmly believe all writers should be readers.

I do know one writer who actually dislikes reading. She'd rather write ten stories than read one. As much as I love her and the stories she writes, I don't understand why she doesn't read. I suppose there are a few others like my friend, but they surely are in the minority.

The one problem I find about reading a lot of other writers is that time becomes a problem. I dearly love to read but I know that it takes away from my writing time. Even so, I wouldn't give it up. And neither should you.

One more thing read for sheer pleasure!

Monday, March 10, 2014

No, You're Not Too Old To Begin Writing

I spent Sunday afternoon at a district meeting of our state organization for writers. During the opening moments of the meeting we told a bit about ourselves and the kind of writing we do for the sake of a new member. One of the women had been at our December meeting but I hadn't learned much about her then so I was pleased to have an opportunity to get to know her better.

She told us she'd done a little writing related to her job a number of years ago and bits and pieces here and there. She would be retiring in a few years and she joined Kansas Authors to see if it might inspire her to begin writing again and perhaps pursue it further in the upcoming years of more freedom and time.

I couldn't help but admire her. Many people who had limited writing experience may have been reticent in joining a group of people who have a longer writing history and write on a regular basis. This woman has hopes of returning to writing. She has a goal and perhaps she is fulfilling a dream, too. She joined in the discussion, asked questions and was definitely a participant, not an observer. I feel quite certain she will attain her goal.

We don't have to jump into the writing world in our twenties or even thirties. It doesn't matter how old we are when we take that leap and pound a keyboard putting words together that we hope someone will read someday. No matter what our age when we begin, we all start with those beginning baby steps and move on.

I was one of those who waited to realize the dream of being a writer. Do I wish I'd started earlier? Absolutely! I've spent just over twenty years pursuing my goal but I've never felt like I was too old to continue. I haven't achieved all the things I'd like to in my writing world. I hope that I'm still writing and setting new goals in my eighties and nineties. As long as I can think and my writing is coherent, I'll continue.I want to keep learning right into my final days.

What about you? Did you ever feel like you were too old to start a whole new project, an entirely new field? It would be easy to talk yourself out of trying. I'm too old is a phrase easily plucked out the clouds whenever fear sets in. We all fear failing when we attempt something different, something we have only a small amount of knowledge about. If we set our minds to giving it a try, we just might find out we can be successful and keep on learning.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Look At Those Unfinished Writing Projects

Finish the book. The world is full of first chapters. Julia Quinn, author of Historical Romance novels said it. A writer friend posted the quote on facebook this morning. I fully agree with the quote, enough so to make it today's subject.

It's good advice for all writers, not just for those who write novels. We begin an essay or a short story and reach a sticky spot and set it aside. Sometimes we go back to it but all too often, we do not. I keep a folder labeled In Works. Every now and then, I leaf through the pages tucked inside and sometimes I have the urge to work on one of the pieces of writing that I'd hidden away for whatever reason.

We're not alone here. Women who sew or quilt start a project, get halfway through and set it aside. Sometimes they go back and finish that glorious quilt or a sweater they were knitting, but too often it lays untouched for months or even years. Men who enjoy working with wood probably have many unfinished projects, too. Creative people don't always create in a perfect beginning to end fashion.

What do you do with unfinished writing? I hope you save it somewhere. Please don't just delete it and move on. If the beginning idea came to you alright, then surely you can find a way to finish it. Maybe there will be major changes or perhaps you'll get beyond that trouble spot that made you give up and move on right from where you left off. It's even possible that the unfinished piece will give you a completely new idea.

Sometime this next week, look back at the unfinished projects you have put aside. Look at each one with an objective eye, if possible. Make a list of the various ways you might finish each one. Then start working on them again. You might be glad you did.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

March Writing Triggers

Hello March

Have you ever made a list of the months in the order in which you like them? Number 12 on my list would be March. Why? We're tired of winter but March isn't really springlike other than a day here and there. March is often gloomy. It can be cold and windy here in Kansas and was much the same in my growing-up years in Chicago. For some reason, the March wind feels sharper and more penetrating. The rain we get is cold rain. The only thing I really like about March is St. Patrick's Day and the fun and frivolity it brings with it.

If you live in a warmer climate, March may be a wonderful month for you. If you live in the far northern states, you're still in the throes of winter with little sign of spring. 

Here are a few writing triggers for you. Try one or more and see what you come up with. Some of you might end up with a story to put in your Family Memories Book. Others might have the beginning of a fiction piece. Someone might use the trigger to launch a poem. Keep the month of March in mind for this exercise.

1. March winds.....

2. In March, my mother....

3. At school, we....

4. A March garden is....

5. On St. Patrick's Day, we....

6. March kites fly...

7. The only flowers in March...

8. My mother baked....

9. My father told me...

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Slash, Cut, and Destroy

A writer friend who lives in sunny South Africa shared this poster on facebook today. I found only one thing wrong with it. The man is smiling while he's deleting precious words he'd written in his first draft. Why, oh, why do you think he'd smile about this? He must have a loose screw somewhere, and I don't mean in his computer.

Writing a first draft is hard work. All you have to start with is an idea--totally abstract. Putting words on the screen or paper makes it concrete. It's there. You put all those words together to form a sensible (hopefully) piece of writing, be it an essay, fiction story, memoir or a poem. You let it simmer awhile and then go back to read it. You might find you've gone over the maximum number of words for the market you're aiming at. Or you see that much of what you've written is repetitious or doesn't fit with the theme at all. Time to cut.

When we are newbie writers, cutting anything we've written is absolutely painful. How can I destroy something I've created? It's well worth dumping those redundant, overflowery, off the subject parts of what you've written. We all tend to overwrite in our first draft of a new project. I wonder sometimes if too much enthusiasm for a new piece of writing is partly responsible. We get excited when beginning a new project. We're happy. We're filled with satisfaction. We are ready to plunge ahead in a hurry.

Offering your first draft to a critique group or a trusted writer friend often results in the writer hearing that a great deal of what he/she has written must be deleted. Scratched. Cut out. Destroyed. Doesn't matter what word you use, it must be done if the writer wants a publishable story. Once we accept that doing so is necessary, then we can slash words without any pain whatsoever.

In the early days of my writing life, I could have worn a crown as The Queen of Unnecessary Words. I thank my first online critique group for admonishing me over and over to get rid of those words that added nothing to the story or were redundant or those adjectives that were too many in number. They taught me to put nothing into a story that didn't move the story along, they encouraged dumping long descriptions that made no difference to the story plot. I learned that if I cut all those unnecessary words, my finished product felt exactly that--finished. It was tighter writing, it was stronger, it was more likely to be published.

Maybe I'm wrong in wondering why the man in the poster is smiling as he slashes his way through a first draft. Maybe he is delighted with the end result. Yep, that must be it. He has made his peace with cutting parts of his first effort. So why not smile?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Get Past The Negatives

I subscribe to a blog that Christian writer, Donna Clark Goodrich writes weekly. The blog title is A Step in the Write Direction. In this week's edition, Donna wrote something that had been inspired by the Sunday sermon she heard at her church. She used parts of what she heard to apply to the writing world. I liked it so well that I asked her if I might use it in my own blog. She graciously gave me permission to do so. You can take a look at Donna's website and blog here.

This is what she featured in her blog. These are three reasons that many writers become discouraged with an answer to all three at the end. Certainly, we have all had some negative thoughts like these at one time or another in our writing life. Any one of the things in this list could end a writing life. But then, look at the solution at the end. Time and again, I have read quotes by authors who say they are called to write, compelled to write, or have a need to write. Others call it a passion. It doesn't matter what word you use, it matters that you feel it, that you follow it and that you persevere no matter how many negatives pop up along your writing journey.

·        I don’t have a college education; nevertheless, I will keep on writing…because—
·        I don’t get any support from my family and friends; nevertheless, I will keep on writing…because—.
·        All I get are rejections without even a personal note or a reason; nevertheless, I will keep on writing…because—
I am called to write!!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Happy News For This Writer

My good news for today is that my story Off the Hook made it into a brand new Not Your Mother's Book... This one is filled with stories about being a mom. 64 stories that will make you smile, laugh out loud and nod your head in agreement--if you're a mom, or even if you had a mom.

The release date for this newest volume in the anthology series is April 8, 2014.

You can submit stories for other titles in the works and some yet to come. Read the submissions page carefully. You'll find book titles on the lefthand column. Take some time to click on each one to find some suggestions for the kind of stories the publisher is seeking.

Off The Hook is a story about my son. When he was about 11, something happened one morning that made me realize he was growing up, that he was taking notice of girls, that maybe it was time to have The Talk with him. And that brought back memories of how I learned how babies came to be--not from my mother or father--but from a classmate whose dad happened to be a doctor. Who was going to have this conversation with my son? Me or his dad? One guess as to who would do it.

I know I'm in good company with the authors of the other 63 stories in this soon-to-be-released anthology.