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Friday, January 30, 2015

Do You Have A Story For One Of These Books?

The poster pic above has nothing to do with today's post but it sure seemed perfect for the way I'm feeling this morning. The week has been filled with many things I've had to deal with. Nothing awful, nor major in importance--just 'stuff' to take care of and worry about. Plus, the week has flown by like a tornado across Kansas. Whoosh!

The real topic of this post is to remind you of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul has in the works. Deadlines are all workable for you to start on a new story or work on an old one to whip it into better shape. Following is the list of possible books:

1. Dreams and Premonitions:  Deadline March 15, 2015

2. Make Your Own Luck:  Deadline March 31, 2015

3. Stories About the Christmas Season:  Deadline March 31, 2015

4. Think Possible:  Deadline April 30, 2015

5, Volunteering and Giving Back:  Deadline February 15, 2015

Go to this page to read about the kinds of stories wanted for each book. Then check the story guidelines to refresh your memory. Be sure to check them again after you have written your story to see if it fits the requirements of a Chicken Soup story.

When your story is written and edited, use the submission page to send it. There are several lines to be filled in by you. Check them carefully before you hit the Submit button at the end of the page.

I'd say Good Luck to all who enter but I think Good Writing would be a better sentiment. You and I both know that it isn't by luck that our work is accepted. Good writing is the key element--that and following the guidelines.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Take Time When You Write

It seems that everyone in today's world is in a hurry. People look for shortcuts in nearly everything they do. Keep it short is almost a mantra for some. Technology has only added to the idea of doing everything in a rush.

Flash fiction came into being because too many people claimed they didn't have time to read full stories. They missed reading so the short-short story filled the need. Poetry contests limit entries to a line count that excludes a good many poems. We want this to be a quick read is what most of us derive from that requirement. There are even calls out for fiction of 100 words or less. Now, that's almost flash-flash fiction!

I'm sure you've noticed that magazines are considerably skinnier now. Part of the reason is cost to the publisher but I think that allowing the reader to get through the magazine in less time is also a factor.
The same thing is happening with newspapers. Again, cost of production is a major factor, but fewer and fewer people read the newspaper, preferring to get their news in bits and pieces online and on tv. It reminds me of that old Dragnet tv show where Sgt, Friday was known to quip, Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts. That's about all the news that a large chunk of our population is willing to read now.

In this speedy world we now live in, do you rush through your writing projects, too? Do you try to make them as short as possible? I hope not. We may be writing flash fiction for those 'have no time' people to read, but we need to take enough time to make it a minimum of words that are worthwhile. Hurry through a writing project and it will show. An editor will spot the I zipped this thing out in an hour story in a flash.

He who hurries through a writing project, who does not take the time to revise and edit more than once, who dashes it off without a backward glance is going to be the one holding a rejection letter in hand (or in an email).

It's all too easy to have the hurry-up attitude in your writing because of all the other speedy things in our lives. Slow down and give your writing time. Hurry through other parts of your life if you must, but take some time when writing.

A word about writing flash fiction or even flash-flash fiction--it might be short to read but it's not at all easy to write a full story in a very few words. If you've ever tried it, you know. If you haven't writtten anything like this, give it whirl and you'll realize how difficult it is to write thise bare-bones stories.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ever Needed An Attitude Adjustment?

A great attitude becomes a great day - Mandy Hale motivational quote

You've heard me expound on the importance of attitude in your writing life many times. You'll hear me say it again today and probably in future posts as well. Does that let you know how important I consider attitude to be? It should.

The poster above tells me that having a good attitude toward our writing world starts like many other parts of life. It begins with one day, or a small step and grows day by day to become months, years and the rest of your life. 

The beloved children's story, The Little Engine That Could, is a fine example to children but also to those of us who are long past childhood. Watch a video of the story by clicking on the book title. You can also order the book at Barnes and Noble online. If you've never read it, do so. If you've read it long, long ago, give it another read or watch the youtube film. It's such a simple story but can set our path for life in showing us what having the right attitude can help us achieve. Sometimes, the simplest things offer us the greatest tools for life.

And make no mistake--your attitude toward your writing is one of the tools in your writers kit. 

Approach a writing project with a negative attitude and guess what will happen? Keep putting yourself down as a writer and guess what will happen? Look at a new project at out of reach as clinbing Mt. Everest and guess what will happen? 

Is a good attitude going to make every writing project easy? Definitely not. It will, however, make it easier than if your attitude is negative. Being positive will help you over the bumps in the road on your project. 

Give some thought today to your attitude. Is it always positive? Or is it even sometimes positive? Is it something you work on? Check the poster again and start making any improvements needed today. So many things happen one day at a time. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Is Their A Magic Formula For Editing?

Yesterday, I wrote the first draft of a story aimed for a forthcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul book. It has the right amount of words to satisfy the CS editors. There is dialogue sprinkled throughout, another one of the traits the CS editors like. I wrote to the theme of the book. I wrote in first person.

So far, so good, but the story lacked something crucial. It had no life, had no heart in it. Disgusted, I saved the draft in a file and moved on to something else. I knew that I had to let it simmer awhile before reading it again. Usually, I see the story from a different perspective when I do that. What seemed completely baffling the day I wrote the draft will most likely become more clear a day or two, or three later. 

I've learned that it doesn't pay to beat myself over the head on the day I write that first draft. It will most likely end up with me being frustrated and angry with myself and a story that is no better than on the first writing. 

It pays to edit at a later time. How much later doesn't matter. The important thing is to let the story sit before you attempt your revisions and editing. As the poster tells us, editing is the right thing to do. Not only right--it's crucial! 

But what happens when you stare at the first draft for an exceedingly long period of time and you're still in the dark as to what to do to  make the story better? Go ahead and stare for as long as you like, be like the person in the poster below.  There are times when 70% of your ediitng process is staring at your work. The hope is that you'll suddenly see the way out of the dark tunnel and your fingers will fly over the keyboard making the needed changes. Does it always happen? No, but it will work a good deal of the time.

My next job today is to stare at that draft I wrote yesterday. I hope that I'll see the places where I can add or change to make my story better. I want to make it one that I can send to my critique group to get some objective eyes on it. Then, I'll make further revisions and send the story to the Chicken Soup editors for the final judgement. 

How about you? What's your editing process? Have you found a magic formula for editing that turns your stories into publishable pieces? If so, let us know your method. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Preserve The Past

Novelist, Isabel Allende makes a good point for writing your family stories. All the past history in your family should not be forgotten. But it will be if all you do is tell the stories at family dinners. Sooner or later, the elders in the family will have passed on and many of those stories will be gone, as well. 

There are multiple things in our families that should definitely not be forgotten. My writer friend, Terry Needham, writes about a terrible storm in the Hays, Kansas area that took a mother from her family far too soon. She froze to death when she and her husband got lost trying to make it home in a blizzard. The woman was Terry's grandmother. That episode is but one of the family stories he includes in his book When I Was A Child. He has woven the story of the children who were left motherless in a masterful way. This author definitely wrote what should not be forgotten.

Many of us will never write a complete book of our family stories and publish it. Even so, you can write these stories for your own children and grandchildren to read and keep. But nothing says you can't write a full book of your own family stories. Many have done so. Memoir upon memoir sells in all the bookstores and at Amazon. 

Every family has its share of tragic happenings as well as some that are humorous or just plain heartwarming. Write enough family stories and the reader will begin to see each family member more clearly. Was Grandpa a crotchety old guy on the outside with a heart of gold? Or was he just plain mean like my mother's grandfather was? Did your Great Aunt Gert dress weirdly? Tell off-color jokes? Or swear like a sailor? I have an aunt that was so unique that I doubt she has an equal anywhere. I have yet to write about her but she's on my To-Do list of things I need to write. 

Weddings should figure in the family stories you write. Did your great-uncle desert his bride-to-be? Whose wedding cake toppled over before the reception? Which child was a flower girl who refused to set one foot down the aisle? Who passed out at the altar while saying wedding vows? Lots of things happen at weddings. Include them in your family stories.

Same thing for funerals. Not all the things that happen at funerals are sad in nature. Funny things occur, too. They might not seem as funny at that time but later make a good story. 

Our school days give us lots to write about. Consider how many years you went to school? And the different stages you went through during those years. Funny, sad, scary and thrilling things happened to us during the time we were being educated.

Weather creates stories within families, too. It certainly did in Terry Needham's book. Memorable weather experiences stay in our memories forever, but you'd better write about them so the younger members of your family will learn about the episode. 

How about the places where you lived? Those should not be forgotten. Some folks stay in one place for a good many years but others have moved around the country or even within a small area. Some have lived overseas for a period of time. What interesting tales can be told about places we've lived and the moves we've made. 

If anyone in the family served in the armed forces, there are surely stories to be told. What happened during basic training or when deployed overseas? Did your family member thrive on the military life or detest every moment? Did he/she make lifelong friends while serving? Did they learn a skill that carried through to the remainder of their life? 

I could go on, but you get the drift. All the people who think there is nothing of interest in their family history might be surprised once they try to write about the people and places. Don't let them be forgotten. It's up to us who are left to preserve the stories and celebrate the people in our families.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Take An Ounce of Courage and....

The poster above urges us to try. True that we'll never know what might happen until we do.

The problem is that sometimes it takes courage to make that first step. What holds us back? Try these for starters.

1. What if I try to write something and it turns out to be a piece of junk?

2. What if I write something and it's a wonderful story and then I have to measure up with all the rest of my writing?

3. What if I'm just fooling myself that I am actually a decent writer?

4. What if I write a good story but then have to find a place to submit it? That's hard work!

Let's look at each of these worries. And don't kid yourself, these are the kinds of things that many writers do find of great concern.

1. So what if what you write turns out to be a piece of junk? There's no rule that, once you write it, you have to show it to anyone, have to submit somewhere, or even like it yourself. The big thing is that you actually took that first step and wrote something. Go for it!

2. If you have written something you feel is really good, you'll do it again. Maybe not every time but you will definitely write a good story again. All writers have files of writing that they are proud of, writing that could be better with some work, and writing that is a 'forget-it' type. Nobody, or almost nobody, writes a blue ribbon winner every time they put forth the effort to write. Maybe what you put into the writing is part of what group it will fall in. The harder you work, the better the piece is most likely to be.

3. It's possible that you are fooling yourself, possible that you may never make it as a published writer. But that's OK. At least you took the first step. You tried. It's also very possible that you are better than you think you are. We tend to put ourselves down more than we should. So, don't be too hard on yourself.

4. Yes, dear Writer, it is hard work to find a place to submit your work and then make the submission. You don't wave a magic wand to find a home for what you writer. If only! You must study the markets and look for the best match for your story. You need to make a list of possible markets for each story, poem or essay you write. Lists and more lists. Some writers whine that all they want to do is write. That's fine if you don't care about being published but if you do want to sell your work or see it in print, grit your teeth and get on with the search for a place to submit.

So, take an ounce of courage and try. You'll never know what might happen until you do.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Photo Prompt Exercise That Might Be Hard To Resist

This wonderful picture was on the front of a Christmas card we received last month. It absolutely melted my heart when I slipped it out of the envelope. On the back of the card, I learned that the artist is a woman named Lisi Martin, born in Barcelona, Catalonia. Her paintings depict the wonderful world of children.

Use this picture for a photo prompt exercise today. Study the little girl and the rest of the picture for awhile before you begin to write. Then begin writing and keep going as quickly as you can. Do a freewrite just as we do for some Random Word exercises. Later, you can edit and revise your story.

If I were teaching a writing class, I'd love to use this photo prompt exercise and then have each person read what they wrote after studying the picture. If anyone would like to share with our readers, copy and paste your story in the Comment box.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Comma--Tiny But Meaningful

Grammar and punctuation often bring a rolling of the eyes and a sigh. Boring! might be the word most people attribute to these most important elements of our writing world. Well ladies and gents, they may be boring but they're also mighty important.

I'd like to hone in on one tiny part of the whole punctuation picture. That is the comma used after an introductory clause or phrase in a complete sentence. I do a lot of critiques in my online writing group and that tiny comma is one place I find myself making a correction very often. I am amazed at how many writers omit the comma in this instance.

Look at this sentence: 
Incorrect: When I left the beach the sun had dipped down to meet the waves. 
Correct:  When I left the beach, the sun had dipped down to meet the waves.

In the correct sentence, note that the part of the sentence after the comma could stand alone. That first phrase is not needed but it does add something to the sentence, doesn't it?  Try reading both sentences aloud. Which one is easier? The comma in the second one gives you a place for a slight pause, a nanosecond of a breath, which makes it much easier to read aloud. In the first one, the whole thing runs together. 

Even when only using a couple of words as an intro, the comma is needed. Look at the two sentences below:
Incorrect:  That evening I slipped into bed hours later than usual.
Correct:  That evening, I slipped into bed hours later than usual.

Once again, the second part of the sentence--the part beyond the comma--can stand alone. The two intro words tell us more. They let us know when. 

For a little more detailed look at using a comma after an intro phrase or clause, look at this page or google the topic.

That tiny little comma makes a whale of a difference when it is placed in a sentence or when it is omitted. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How Do You Feel When You Write?

How do you feel when you are writing, especially when deeply immersed in a story or essay you've been working on? 

When you write, do the cares of your everyday life vanish? Do you feel like you're in a world all your own? 

Does the act of writing increase your happiness quotient? Or does it up the anxiety level? Are you aggravated when you have to stop writing to attend to other things in your life? Or are you relieved?

I find that when I'm writing, I do block out all other things. I'm also happy, at peace with myself, and satisfied. Yes, even when a story is not going the way I would like it to. It's not what I'm writing as much as the act of writing itself that gives me these feelings. 

I think that there are also writers who find writing painful but also feel compelled to keep writing. It makes me wonder why these people keep beating up on themselves. But we humans are funny--we do a lot of things that give the psychologists fodder for their theses. 

I never worry about a piece being rejected while I'm working on it. That comes later when I actually submit it somewhere and only sometimes, not with everything. There are probably some writers who think negatively the entire time they are writing something. They defeat themselves in doing so. 

I question whether we can change what our feelings about writing tend to be. I'm not sure how one goes about making a change from unhappy to happy when writing. Anyone have a thought? Send us your comments on this question and anything else you'd like to tell us. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

SIT and STAY Isn't Just For Dogs

I loved this poster picture put out by Writing Sisters. So simple and yet so profound. Really!

Stop and think about what these words tell us. We cannot write unless we sit at the computer or with notebook and pen in hand. We cannot actually write unless we stay where we are and get to work!

How often do you go about your everyday life thinking about writing something but somehow never getting to that sit part of the advice above? I'm as guilty of this as the next person but then I reach a point where I force myself to sit in front of my computer. 

Next, I stay there for a reasonably long time working on whatever project is at the forefront on my  mental To-Do List. How do you do it?

One simple word covers it--discipline.  I remember when my children balked at memorizing assignments in school and in their catechism classes. Why do I need to remember this? I'll forget it later. They might learn something from what they'd memorized or it might come back to them many years later when needed, but I am a firm believer that memorizing as a young person helps to acquire discipline. That quality is one that can be of good use the remainder of your life. 

Just for fun, I looked up discipline on the dictionary website. Among several meanings was one that fits our topic for today. They even used a sample sentence that fit quite well:

activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill;training:
A daily stint at the typewriter is excellent discipline for a writer.

There are myriad articles on developing self-dsicipline. Google the term and you'll have plenty of help if you are a person who needs to acquire more of this valuable trait.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Word Painting

While looking through some old files, I found a short piece I'd written a good many years ago after seeing something that made me wish I could paint. Here it is below, unedited.  

Word Painting
 By Nancy Julien Kopp

Out of breath and heart pounding, I make it to the top of the hill. Tallgrass prairie spreads before me, wildflowers springing up between the sharp blades of grass, dotting the hillsides with bits of bold color. Not a cloud mars the intensity of a clear azure sky.  The strong breeze ruffles my hair, and I take a deep breath, pleasure encasing my very soul. Soon, the sun will turn to flame and begin a slow descent before the darkness of night covers the rolling hills like a vast blanket.

Oh, to be an artist and capture the scene God has placed before me. But a paintbrush and canvas are useless for a person like me.  I can see the spectacular display, but never would I be able to duplicate it with an artist’s tools. I earned C’s in art classes all through my school years, and only for effort, not as the successful result of any assigned project.

I sigh, survey the living prairie once more, and bend to pluck a wildflower. I twirl the blossom between thumb and forefinger, then head to my car. The dust on the gravel road swirls behind me as I drive, and thoughts dance through my mind.

Maybe there is a way to capture what I’ve seen here today. Since I’m a writer, I paint my canvas with words in every story or article I create. That flower lying on the seat next to me—soft as the down on a baby’s head, purple as royal robes, and delicate as lace. All of these phrases describe the pretty little blossom. I bring it close and sniff to catch its sweet scent. I think of more phrases to capture this beauty for others. The artist’s canvas hangs on a wall or rests on an easel for all to see, but my words can live on, too.

The artist may dip his brush into paint and splash it across canvas to portray the sky, while I paint my sky with words—words that articulate, emote, surge the senses, highlight emotions. Can the artist capture the movement of the tallgrass prairie with a swish of his brush? A gifted painter can do so, but I can, too. I sift through phrases in my mind until I find the ones I want. Gentle breezes cause only a slight stir in the stiff blades of grass, but a strong Kansas wind can bring wave upon wave as it surges swiftly across the prairie. My words flow as easily as the artist’s brush. I paint my words with passion and excitement. The picture emerges from the depths of my heart. It is the gift God has given me, a gift He allows me to share with others who read my work.

Danny Kaye, actor and comedian, said, “Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.”  I, too, am an artist, and I’ll dot my prose with colorful words as long as I’m able. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dream Or Do?

Could this be you? Dreaming about a great idea you have for a new story? Haven't we all been hit with a wonderful project that we think about or continue to dream about but never seem to get around to actually starting?

Dreaming about a new writing project and turning it into reality are two different worlds. Ideas for new projects sometimes come out the blue, hitting us when we least expect it--often at inopportune times. We continue to think about the project, maybe start making a mental list of what needs to be done. Then  Life gets in our way and we don't get the project started.

Time moves on and the project slips farther into the recesses of our mind where it is going to rest and grow whiskers unless you do something about it. I'm guessing that we all have more than one of these dreamed-about projects that have yet to see the light of day. I can almost see the little compartments in my brain where story ideas reside. Some are aging rapidly while others are hammering to get out.

You're a writer, but maybe a few subheads might be applied, as well. You might also be:

1. A dreamer

2. A procrastinator

3. An idea-only person--one who likes getting ideas but doesn't act upon them

4. An overflow project person--too many ideas and not enough time to start any of them

We're human, so we do some of the above occasionally, or maybe even on a regular basis. There might be another reason we put off starting on one of our long-held story ideas. We might be just a little bit afraid of beginning, especially if we aren't sure where the story, or novel, is heading. We might have only the seeds of the project in our mind. There's no shame in being afraid to begin a new project. We need to push that feeling aside and begin one step at a time. Each successful step is going to send that fear farther back so you can push ahead on the project.

Why not make it a goal to work on and finish a project that has only been a dream so far?  Give yourself a deadline. By the end of 2015. Or six months from now. Or 30 days, Give yourself ample time but don;t srtetch it out too far or it's apt to get away from you again.

Dream or Do? Which one is it going to be?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Writers Leave A Gift To Be Opened Many Times

My state writers' organization, Kansas Authors Club, sent a sad notice recenly to let members across our state know about the death of one of our members. Ursula Turner was born and grew up in Germany, married an American and came to the USA where she spent the rest of her life. I did not know her well but I have her book, My German Christmas, and enjoyed it so much when I read it. The book is a combination of memoir and German Christmas traditions. We see Germany through the eyes of a young girl. She wrote other books and was a columnist for her local newspaper in Coffeyville, KS. She self-published several books.

In the week since I learned of Ursula's death, I have been thinking about what happens when any writer passes on. The hand that wrote thousands of words has grown still. There will be no more funny lines, or poignant passages. No more stories that teach and entertain readers. Readers cannot say Oh, I can't wait til his next book comes out for their will be no next book.

When Maeve Binchy died, I felt sad about her passing but I was also devastated that there would be no more books written by this outstanding Irish author. A door had closed, a curtain had fallen and the long list of her works had been completed.

Even so, the words any deceased author has written can live forever. Whether the writer gave us poetry, short stories, novels, essays, memoir or creative nonfiction, we can hold the book or magazine in our hand and read again and again. Or we can find the writings online and read to our heart's content. The deceased writer has left us a gift that we can open many times.

Knowing that these writings live on softens the sadness of losing a writer we know or one whose work we love. Someday soon, I will read My German Christmas once again, and I'll think about the kind woman who wrote the book.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Writers Should Be True Readers

Winter days often keep us indoors so what better time to increase your reading time? You might be able to whittle down that stack of books you've not had time to read. Curl up on the sofa by the fire and open to the first chapter. Before you know it, you'll feel like you're in the hammock in the poster above with gentle Gulf breezes skipping by. Well, maybe.

Do you keep a list of books you'd like to read? Do you have a stack of books waiting to be read? Do you go to the library and have a difficult time selecting only three off the shelves to bring home? Do you read book reviews and mentally check off the books that appeal to you? If you can answer yes to any or all these questions, you're a True Reader. 

I've always been a True Reader--ever since I learned to read in first grade with the help of Dick and Jane, Baby Sally, and their pets, Spot and Puff. They became my friends and I could hardly wait to get to school to see what adventures they would have in the next chapter of the reader. 

I think being a True Reader is essential for those who want to write. If you've read voraciously through the years, consider all the techniques, the plot how-to's and sensory details now stored in your subconscious. You pull from that treasure trove when you write your own stories. Not copycat stories but your own. You use various little things that you might have admired when reading the novel of a popular author. While reading for pleasure, you're also learning.

Take advantage of these winter days--even those of you who live in the South have much cooler weather than the rest of the year. Spend more time reading now than you do during those other months.

I finished a book toniight that left me very disappointed at the end. I really don't like books that leave me hanging but this is a series so it would definitely make me want to read the next book. Trouble is that I'd not read any of the earlier ones, just delved into this as it was one my Book Club is reading. The author gives enough background in this story to help the reader catch on pretty quickly. 

I much prefer endings that tie things up in a tidy litle package. Some people would rather have one of those endings that leave the reader with mouth open or saying What? Trouble with endings is that you must read the entire book to get to them! I have to admit that it was a good read right to the end but then....! 

Keep in mind that all writers should be True Readers. I find that, as a writer, I do read with a more critical eye than I did prior to my own writing years. 

On the next snowy or bitterly cold day, I hope you have a good book, a cup of hot coffee, tea or chocolate and an afghan to toss over your legs while you read.The housework willl wait. You and I both know that it is never going to go away!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Pure Drivel Or Hidden Gold?

My online writing group does a weekly Random Word exercise. An appointed member posts a word each week for a month. We are to look at the word, then freewrite for a full ten minutes without stopping. Write whatever comes from brain to fingers.

It's pretty interesting what evolves from these simple little words. Some are common words while others are a little more exotic.

The other day, the word was swift. I wrote rapidly for the required ten minutes, then read it over to myself. My reaction? Pure drivel! But I sent it off into cyberspace to land in the inboxes of my group members.

Later in the day, two emailed me to tell me how much they liked what I'd written. One said she smiled at much of it and almost cried, as well.  Another recommended that I expand the piece into a full essay because the subject was so worthwhile.

My mouth dropped open when I read each of the responses. They amazed me! Drivel--or so I thought. Maybe not. I decided I needed to work on that ten minutes worth and see what I can come up with. So I searched for the email with my Random Word offering. It is nowhere to be found! I looked in my inbox, my deleted file, the writing group website. No luck. Frustrating! But I've written one of the women who suggested I continue to work on this to see if she might be able to locate my drivel--no, my offering.

While waiting to hear from her, I have been thinking about my considering what I wrote as drivel and two others liking it well enough to suggest I expand it into a full essay. It tells me that I shouldn't be quite so quick to judge my work in a negatve manner. I need to give it a chance and to heed the words of others who have read the words I have written.

Maybe the short piece will not work as a full personal essay. But perhaps it might. How will I know unless I give it a try?  We writers tend to drag ourselves down sometimes when we should be boosting our own ego a little bit more. Did you ever read over something you've written and smiled, knowing you'd done a good job? Have you finished writing a story, essay or article and felt proud as punch? I hope so because that is what we strive for as writers--finding that golden nugget.

On the other hand, have you ever thought less than pleasant thoughts about something you've written? I have a feeling we have all been there a time or two. I know I've thought This is dreadful! more than once when reading a first draft.

Letting others read our work, whether a finished piece or just a Random Word exercise brings us the knowledge of whether the piece is worth working on or is it something to be set aside? I am a firm believer in belonging to a critique group or a one-on-one writer team. We hope to have thousands of readers for our finished work, so why not start out with those few who know good, bad, or indifferent writing? They can spur us on to success or let us know to move on with something new.

What a writer might consider pure drivel just might be hidden gold.

Friday, January 9, 2015

An Adage That Gives Us Pause For Thought




Over and over, this old adage shows writers what power they hold. True, some have died in using that power. That comes home to us after the horrific slayings Wednesday in Paris at a satirical newspaper whose staff used their pens to let the world know of their opinion of the radicals who ended up killing one dozen people.

Nevertheless, the words and cartoons penned by those who died will live on. Free speech is valued by the Western world. I think every writer would agree. Would all writers die for wht they believed in? Probably not. But these who did will give pause to thousands of other writers who must examine their beliefs.

Just something to think about.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Mark Twain's Advice Works For Me

I like this quote. I like it a lot! So many writing projects we have in mind end up overwhelming us to the point that we never do more than think about the project. It's too big to actually begin working on whatever it is--a novel, your memoir of decades of your life, a series of books for young adults. 

For me, the big project I'd like to tackle this year is to publish an ebook. Maybe two! I've been thinking about it for a long time and I've looked into several 'how-to' articles. I've learned a few things. Even so, the whole task feels like it is of gigantic proportions. Possibly because there is still much I do not know. I worry that the old saying A little knowledge is a dangerous thing might apply here. 

Last week, I started reading more about publishing ebooks on your own. I decided that I needed to start somewhere, so I set myself the little task of getting the five stories that I am hoping to put into book form all in the same font, same size. In other words, the five stories now follow the same style along with the short intro and table of contents. It looked good to me when I finished and I felt like I'd accomplished something. 

My next task is a singular one but important and needing some more research. I need to create a book cover for the book. The title is going to be either Five Brave Girls or Five Strong Girls. The five stories are meant for 8-12 year olds. Each one has a strong girl as the protagonist. I'm leaning toward the second title because of the character of each of the girls. Each story has been published somewhere but I still hold the copyright so can use them again. 

Task number 3 is to decide on a selling price. Price it too high and there will be few sales. Too low and I make little to nothing. But money is not the prime purpose of publishing this book. I'd like to do it for my own satisfaction and to give children in this age group some examples of how young girls can be strong and/or brave. 

Task number 4 is to learn the ins and outs of publishing through Amazon. They make it sound so simple at first but, like so many things, I'd better read the fine print carefully and follow guidelines step by step. 

Task number 5 is to put it altogether and publish my ebook. I'm looking forward to that day.

Task number 6 will be to market the book which will be an ongoing process. 

Dividing that one huge job into smaller ones that I can accomplish one at a time takes away the feeling of it being an impossible task. We can do this with all our big projects. You can even do it with a 1200 word personal essay. Break it into sections and work on one at time. 

Thanks to Mark Twain for a great suggestion for me and for you!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

It Pays To Check

I found out yesterday what a gift google is. I use it to search various things on a frequent basis. I'm willing to bet that most of you do, as well. Either google or some other search engine. There are plenty of them available. Here's what happened that made me appreciate search engines.

Chicken Soup is looking for stories for a new book titled Inspiration for Nurses. I thought about a story I had written a few years ago that would work for that title. The story had been published in a Canadian medical hiring agency newsletter. Chicken Soup will take stories which have been published IF the story appeared in a local or small circulation publication, or on your blog. I felt the story met these guidelines.

I wanted to revise it a bit so I worked on it one afternoon until I felt it was polished enough to submit. Before I sent it sailing through cyberspace, I googled the title of the story and my name. To my great surprise, the Canadian publication did not come up but others did.

I'd forgotten that the story had also been published on a website called Insight of the Day. The site has a large following and I'd subbed the story on a whim. When I clicked on the link and saw the story at Insight, I remembered having sent it to them. But what about the other places? I checked each one and found that they were blogs that published inspirational stories. Apparently, each one just helped themself to the story when it was posted on Insight of the Day. 

Each place did give me credit with a byline and bio so it is not like they literally stole the piece and used it as their own. That's a good thing. The bad thing is that neither place had bothered to contact me and ask if they might use it. That truly irks me. It's not the first time this situation has arisen either. I've had it happen several times. I don't know how you keep people from doing this. If any of you have had a similar experience, I'd love to know how you handled it.

When it happened a number of years ago with a poem I'd written after 9/11, I contacted the website owners and expressed my feelings about using a story or poem without permission from the author. I told each one that, had they asked to use it, I would have been happy to grant the request. Then, I asked that they remove the poem from their site. One did with no problem but the other wrote me a scathing letter which made ME look like the bad guy. 

Since then, I have learned to google my stories to make sure of the publication situation before submitting them elsewhere. It takes a little time but it saves some embarrassing moments later when the editor runs a check on publication background. I don't think every editor does this, most take you at your word, but I'm sure there a good many who do run a check. And that's alright. I have no problem with it. 

It's taken a long time to get to my tip for you today. Check and doublecheck your previously published work before submitting it elsewhere. I'm glad that I did before sending the story to Chicken Soup and ending up having to withdraw it later and risk having a black mark in the editor's mental notebook next to my name. 

Next part of the tips is this: Appreciate what google and other search engines do for you. They are a gift that we can open again and again.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Write About The Good and Bad Things In Life

I write essays, poems and stories detailing the events that bring basic emotions into my life. Anguish, joy, pain and hope visit me through the years, some of these feelings more intense than others. My words spill onto the paper or the computer screen, paragraph upon paragraph, a coping mechanism. At times, I become driven to put emotional experiences into words, whether for myself alone or for others to read. My writing releases a sort of power that can deliver healing or achieve satisfaction.

The paragraph above was my opening to a personal essay on why I write. The rest of the essay details four specific times in my life when writing helped me address an overwhelming emotion, both negative and postive ones. Writing about the situations that brought these emotions to the surface took me to a place where I couldbegin to understand and deal with whatever had happened. It allowed me to step back a bit and look at what occurred and my reaction, also to how it affected my life.

As writers, we are privileged to be able to do this. It helps us through many of the ups and downs that we experience as we move through our life. We meet both the positives and negatives on our life's journey. There are times when it seems the unhappy moments will never end. Writing about those events  may not change what happened but I find that it helps the healing begin. It's not the end-all solution but it's a step in getting through whatever difficult time it might have been. 

Writing about an emotional time in our life is merely a tool for dealing with whatever occurred.  As stated above, it can be a coping mechanism. Writing allows me a release. Reading about it later lets me stand back and view whatever happened in a little more objective light. It gives me insight in how I should have or still can deal with it.

There are things I've written that will never be seen by others. They are for me alone. Conversely, many of the difficult times in my life have driven me to write for others who may be experiencing something similar. It's one small way I might be able to help someone else cope with a mind-numbing event comparable to mine. 

Even writing about the joyful times can be of help to others. Some simple wonderful memory from our childhood can be revealing to someone reading about it. They might never have realized that events of the same type in their own lives were of importance in their own happiness quotient. It's one reason memoirs are so popular. People enjoy reading about the lives of others. As they do, they are consciously, or maybe subconsciously, comparing their own lives to that of the person writing the memoir. 

Use your writing skills to cope with all the events of your life. Be they good or bad, write about it. Do it for yourself. Do it for others, too. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Cut! Slash! Chop!

Cut! Slash! Chop! It's one thing writers must do with no sympathy for the words that must be deleted.

Oh, how hard that is. When we write a first draft and then go back to revise and edit, the last thing we want to do is to get rid of our precious words. Those words are personal. We put those phrases and sentences together and we sure don't want to lose any of them. We tend to want to add more words rather than chop a few.

But wait--it's a necessary evil to cut wherever you can. If you can look objectively at your work, you are likely to find that you often repeat yourself. Redundancy is rife in first drafts. Part of the reason writers tend to repeat themselves is that they want to be very sure the reader 'gets it.' That's something to get over. Readers are far more with it than we sometimes think. If you give them some information once, they'll remember it. You needn't hit them over the head by repeating two, and even three times. 

Another place we can slash is our opening paragraph. I see dozens of submissions and critiques in my onlne writing group each week. Time and again, critiquers will suggest omitting an opening paragraph. Our English teachers of yesteryear taught us to include an introductory paragraph to let the reader know what is to come. I fear that is out of touch in today's world. We writers need to open with action. Open with a bang. Open with a surprise. Open with something that makes the reader want to continue. Hook 'em! 

We can also cut some of the flowery language writers, especially novice writers, tend to use. Stop using two and three adjectives with most of your nouns. One does very nicely and makes your point. Too many flowery descriptions becomes irritating to a reader. There are times they'd like to shout Get on with it!  

Long, drawn-out sections of dialogue are not necessary. Use dialogue. It's important. But use it wisely. Let your characters say only what is pertinent to moving the story from one point to another. Can the chatter; make each word a character says count. 

Writers have a tendency to over-inform the reader. They want to give a great deal of background material that probably has nothing to do with the story itself. Say what is important and no more. Giving too much information tends to divert the reader's attention. 

Cut where you can and you'll end up with a stronger story, essay or article. Time is the enemy in our world today. People still read but they want a short, clean read. No time for unnecessary words or paragraphs. It's a fact of life in this 21st century and writers had better go with the flow. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Get Rid of Donnie Doubt, Freddie Frustration and Aggie Aggravation!

If there is a list of traits needed to be a writer, I think the last line in the quote above should be the headliner. 

Always believe in yourself. Four simple words that can carry you on your writing journey forever. 

It sounds so easy to believe in yourself but outside factors move in and create problems. Donnie Doubt may cross your path on a frequent basis. He makes us wonder if we're good enough to get published. He points his finger and asks "Are you sure you can do this?" 

Freddie Frustration comes to call now and then making it hard to believe in yourself. Every time you submit your work and it comes rolling back with a NO, Freddie claps his hands in glee. "Told you so," he crows at you. 

Aggie Agravation drops in to visit once in awhile. She makes sure there are just enough glitches in your writing life that you step back from believing in yourself. "Take that," she says as she tosses a dart in your path.

Your job is to sweep these three right out of your life. Each time one comes to call, close your ears and your eyes and send them out the door. Be like the bird in our quote. Rely on your own wings. Know that you are the one person in control. Doubt, frustration and aggravation are only blips on the radar screen. Listen to yourself, not them. 

Always believe in yourself doesen't mean that your writing life will be stress-free. Far from it as there are always ups and downs. It does mean that you can handle whatever comes yoru way. That you can meet the down parts with strength and determination and move on. 

Make 2015 a writing year in which you Always believe in yourself. If you do, others will believe in you, too.