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Friday, February 27, 2015

Sometimes Trouble Is OK

This quote had me nodding my head and also chuckling a bit. If writing proved to be a pure cinch every time we sat down at our computer or took pad and pencil in hand, would we get the thrill that we get when we struggle with a writing project that finally bears fruit? Doubtful.

If writing was so easy, wouldn't everyone give it a try? Possibly. Once in awhile, an idea comes to us for a story and it almost seems to write itself. Our fingers are on the keyboard but the words flow from who-knows-where? That does happen but not on an everyday basis.

Most of the time, we do struggle with what we write. It might be only one paragraph that gives trouble or one verse of a poem but we want to get it right. One poor section can taint the entire piece.

How many times can you rewrite one paragraph? Until it feels right to you! Whether that's twice or twenty, redo it until you are comfortable with it. Is this why some novelists say their book took 4 years (or more) to write? Maybe that's part of the reason.

We've discussed revising and re-editing many times so maybe it means there is something vital about doing so. Beginning writers all too often finsih a first draft and call it complete. It's a rare first draft that is ready for submission. Seasoned writers know that rewriting is key to publishing.  Even writers who can claim many publications have trouble writing in one respect or another.

I know a woman who writes wonderful prose but she struggles mightily with finding a title that sings, one that draws readers. Another writes wonderful essays but fails when she gets to the final paragraph or two. A good essay deserves, and needs, a good ending. Same with a fiction piece. An exciting story must stay exciting right to the final punctuation mark in the last paragraph. others have difficulty with opening hooks.

Trouble writing? We all experience it. Some of us have learned how to overcome the problems of various kinds. We work hard to end up with a finished piece of writing that is publishable and also satisfies us, the writer. Writing is hard but those who love it soldier on no matter how many problems they experience.

If you have trouble writing, remember that you're in good company. The vast majority of us are right there with you.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Be Careful Not To Overwrite

Have you ever read a story where every last detail about the actions the character takes are listed for you? Look at the picture above. The writer who 'overwrites' might say something like this:

Grace rose from the sofa and walked to the library table. She bent over and picked up the stack of       books. She placed her apple on the top and walked to her car.

Yes, the fact is that Grace got off the sofa, walked to the table and then bent over before picking up the stack of books, then placed her apple on top and walked to her car. If the author wrote the following:  Grace took the books home with her. we'd have the same information without the step by step process. Most likely, this is not a crucial part of the story itself. It's unnecessary description. If Grace had been sitting on the sofa earlier and then we're told she took the books home with her, we know that she stood up and walked to the table etc. Those actions are not needed to make the story move along. In fact, they soon become boring.

One of the best writing mentors I had contended that nothing should be in a story that is not important to the plot. Grace walking and carrying is superfluous. Maybe the important thing is that she took the books home with her--possibly they did not belong to her, or they were left there by a psychological killer. Whatever!

I recently critted a chapter of a novel for a friend. She described her character as getting out of bed, walking to window, closing the window. The only important part was that the woman closed the window to shut off noise from below. All that had to be said is something like "Belinda closed the window so the noise from the street was muted." I don't need to know that she a. got out of bed and b. walked to the window. As a reader, I will assume that she did those two things. 

Here's a passage that needs to be changed. 

   Mark stood up. He put the bookmark in his book. He placed the book on the end table. He         walked to the kitchen because he was hungry. A sandwich would taste good he thought. He walked to the cupboard and grabbed the loaf of rye bread. He placed it on the table, then walked to the fridge, opened the door and found some bologna, mustard and mayo. He closed the fridge door and went back tot he table to assemble the sandwich. 

As an exercise for today, rewrite the paragraph, eliminating all the unnecessary actions. Do we, as readers, really care what Mark did step by step to curb his hunger? Probably not--unless these actions are crucial to the storyline. 

One of the best parts of writing without unnecessary actions from characters is that you will be cutting words. You'll have more space to add important things. 

Here's a true story. I was at a Saturday morning get-together of a writing group I once belonged to. Members read a chapter of a work in progress. One young woman began to read. She described every tiny thing in detail. It wasn't long before she totally lost her audience. Some were writing in notebooks, a couple nodding off, one even tapping his pencil faster and faster on his book. No one cared about her story because there was no story. Or if there was, it became buried in all those descrptions of people doing what the reader would understand anyway. 

Give your reader some credit. They'll understand much of what you do not actually write. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Poetry Book To Be Read More Than Once

Music I Once could Dance To- Front Cover

My interview with poet, Roy Beckemeyer, ran Monday and Tuesday. Today, I'd like to feature Roy's first book of poetry, cover shown above. Some exciting news regarding the book is that it has been nominated for the High Plains Book Award in the poetry category. Results will be announced at the High Plains BookFest in Billings, MT October 2015. 

The poems in this book are ones that many readers can relate to. Roy does not write mystical verse that no one but the poet can decipher its meaning. He gives us poems about everyday happenings and memories of growing-up years. He takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary for his readers. Upon reading the assorted poesm in the book, I couldn't help but assess as a writer--he shows rather than tells and that is one reason his poetry appeals so much.

In the Introdution to the book, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, former Kansas Poet Laureate, said "Roy has a way of approachign poetry that is both expansive and precise. He instinctively trusts the image of the poem to convey the poem's layers of meaning, and he also leaps off any familiar edge to try new forms, new inspirations, and new rhythms to construct and unearth new poetry."

I especially liked the poems that show the reader the deep love Roy has for his wife, Pat. Not an I love you, Pat type of poem. Instead, his feelings for her run softly through the lines of an everyday expericnce of husband and wife. One of my favorites is At Watermark Books Before The Reading. The poem describes husband and wife looking at books, his observations of her and finally ending with lines that touched my heart:

               and you look up,
              catch my eye,
              cup your hands,
             and motion for me to share a cold sip
             from this well of words
            that you have found.

Another poem I particularly liked is titled A Year in Small-Town Illinois: 1953 in Tanka. Using this poetic form, Roy explores the small town where he grew up, one month at a time. One of the verses that appealed a lot to me because of its wonderful visual image and the sensory detail in the second line is this one:


           skating on Shoal Creek
           ice cracks like a rifle shot
           and transforms us both
           from skaters into swimmers
           huddled steaming by the fire

A poetry book is not to be read once and shelved. Oh no, it needs to read mutlitple times for you will find something new in it each successive reading. Lines you may have read but missed will suddenly stand out on the second or third reading. 

I believe one thing that impresses me about Roy Beckemeyer's poetry is the wide variety that he offers. The poems use different forms for various subjects.Some poets spend the majority of their writing life composing words about one or two subjects. In Music I Once Could Dance To, you'll be treated to many different topics.

The book can be ordered at Coal City Review and Press in Lawrence, KS for only $10. It is now in its second printing. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Interview With A Poet--Part 2

This is Part 2 of my Interview with poet, Roy Beckemeyer.We learn about the process of putting a group of poems into a full book, getting it published and some advice for poets and wannabe-poets. 

6.  Do you have professional training as a poet or are you self-taught? Do you continue to learn about writing poetry?

I am self-taught in the sense that I have never taken a degree or major program at the university level in English or Creative Writing, but have improved my writing skill by sending poems out into the world and having them rejected or accepted, and then trying to understand what worked or did not work. Associating with good poets and reading their work have also helped. As do the workshops at Kansas Authors Club annual conventions and district meetings. I have also taken a number of writing classes, both local and on-line. Here in Kansas, we are fortunate that creative writing workshops are held regularly at state universities, and that past poet laureates such as Denise Low and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg conduct on-line workshops. I still try to read poetry daily and am currently in one of Caryn's on-line poetry classes and a songwriting class that Kelley Hunt is teaching.

7.  Have you won any contests or awards for your poetry?

I have been fortunate to have won quite a few awards in the annual Kansas Authors Club yearly writing contests over the past five years, and was named KAC poet of the year in 2013, the same year you were named the KAC Prose Writer of the Year. I won the Springfield Writer's Guild Jim Stone Memorial Poetry Award in both 2013 and 2014 and have won prizes in other categories in their annual poetry contest. In 2014, I won first place in the Beecher's Magazine Poetry contest.  Brian Daldorph, editor and publisher of Coal City Review and Press, chose two poems from my first poetry book as nominees for the Pushcart Prize. I consider it an honor to have had my poems nominated.

8.  Can you tell us about your poetry book Music I Once Could Dance To? What inspired you to create a full book of poems? What does the title signify? How long did it take to create the book? Was it self-published or through a publishing house?

My debut poetry book, Music I Once Could Dance To, was published in 2014. As I began to have more and more poems win prizes and be accepted for publication in literary journals and anthologies, I felt more confident in the quality of my poems and the authenticity of my poetic voice. I also became a bit more receptive to suggestions that I consider assembling a book of poetry. I finally got up the nerve to gather up what I thought were some of my best poems, printed them out, and tried to put them together into groups that seemed to fit together. After a lot of shuffling and cutting, I managed to have a rough manuscript with four chapters and about 90 poems.

The last poem in the book was to be one of the first accepted for publication. It was called The Geomorphology of Life. I gave the manuscript to my wife, Pat, and told her I was going to use that for the book title.  Her immediate and vociferous response was "You can't name a poetry book The Geomorphology of Life! No one would buy a book of poetry with a name like that. What is wrong with you?" Fortunately, she was a bit more complimentary about the rest of the book. I said to myself "Why not look at the first poem in the book for a title?" When I read that poem and came to the last line, I decided it had to be the title. I read it to Pat. Music I once could dance to. She smiled and said "Now that is a good name for a poetry book. That is one I would pick up and look at." The title turned out to be the key to arranging the whole book and to give it focus. It even inspired the cover art. I think that it holds together very well.

The book came together pretty quickly once I dug in and started. It took from September until December. By then I had formatted the book and produced a draft pdf manuscript. I asked three friends to read the book and suggest changes. By incorporating those suggestions, I tightened up the book, thinned it out to the strongest poems, and moved them around so that each chapter was begun and ended, respectively, with the two best poems of that group. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg  also wrote a great Introduction for the book.

Caryn had suggested that I query Kansas and regional small press publishers about publishing the book. I was fortunate that Brian Daldorph accepted and published the book as part of his Coal City Review and Press poetry series. Brian was a delight to work with, and his suggestions added the final polish to the book. He and Pam LeRow saw the book through the production and printing process with great care and professionalism.

9. Are you working on a new book?

Yes, in the sense that I am placing poems into a "book" folder as I decide they are worthy of consideration for a collection. Other than that, I have not identified a concept or title for a new book.

10.  What advice do you have for others who are beginning poets?

Read poetry every day. Read all kinds of poetry by all kinds of poets. Figure out why you like or don't like what you are reading. Learn from it. Write every day. Get involved with some other writers who are willing to meet regularly. (I am in a group of 6-8 poets who meet weekly for a short writing exercise and then read what we have written to one another. We call ourselves the Wayward Poets. In the five years we have been together I have written more consistently than at any other time in my life.)

Read your poems out loud to yourself as you write them. Ask others to read them. Listen to where they stumble and ask yourself why and what you can do to improve the readability of your work. Send your work out to contests and literary journals. Learn to accept rejection and use it to fuel your writing engine.  Go to workshops. Ask people for comments. Write, write, write. Edit, edit, edit. Write, write, write.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Interview With A Poet--Part 1

Roy Beckemeyer writes poems we can understand and relate to. My kind of poet! I sent Roy a list of questions for a possible interview and he graciously accepted my request. Today's post is Part 1, tomorrow brings Part 2 and a review of Roy's first published book of poetry will come on Wednesday. I think you'll find Roy's answers of interest and inspiring, as well.

1.  Where did you grow up and how many siblings did you have? Has your background influenced the poems you write?

I grew up in Illinois, due east of St. Louis, oldest child with one brother and three sisters. Blue collar family, small town, father died at an early age. My background has certainly influenced me as a writer, from the values we learned at home and in parochial school to the people we knew and grew up with. I was an inveterate reader as a child and read literally everything I could get my hands on, and my lexicon and vocabulary and knowledge of syntax are derived from my life of reading. (Roy now lives in Wichita, Kansas.)

2.  When did you start writing poetry? What inspired you do to do so?

I began to write poetry in high school. I also wrote short stories. The stories were inspired by having read so many of them; I was a fan of science fiction magazines. I started writing poetry when I was writing notes to my high school sweetheart. We have been married for 54 years, so the love poems apparently worked.

3.  I know that you spent your career as an engineer. Do you think it unusual for an engineer to also be a poet?

Probably, but my reading habits had instilled in me a love for the English language and for literature. I have also always had a wide area of interests, and have always delved deeply into anything I got into, including poetry. I dabbled in poetry for years, and went through spurts of writing and submitting them for publication, but my job kept me from having much leisure time. After retirement I got involved in a lot of new interests, and poetry has occupied much of my spare time for the past five years.

4.  What triggers you to begin a new poem?

I try to write daily; that process almost insures that something will be put on paper that can eventually be worked into a poem. Almost anything, music, sunsets, people, can inspire a poem, but I find that when reading someone else's poetry I often am struck by a few words or lines that send me off writing. 

5.  Do you have any idea how many poems you have written?

I don't really keep count, but including unfinished drafts, probably over a thousand.

Come back tomorrow to read more about Roy Beckemeyer.

Friday, February 20, 2015

School Memories Might Help Your Writing Now

Oak Park-River Forest  High School

This is a photo of a portion of the large high school I attended in a Chicago suburb. Students were told repeatedly what a fine school we had. It didn't make much of an impression on most of us. For the majority, it was the only school we knew. 

We draw from a well of information regarding our schools when writing memoir pieces or even family stories. I could write a full story about my father's visit to the principal of my grade school. Dad was infuriated over my coming home with the teacher's handprint still on my cheek. She'd slapped me for talking in my second grade class. I probably needed to be disciplined but not quite so harshly. I still remember the day she broke a ruler over the hands of a boy named Jack. She taught for only one year at our school. Most likely my father was not the only one to complain about her disciplinary tactics. That was a very small incident in my second grade year but it left an impression and could easily be included in a memoir or a family stories book.

Consider the fact that most of us spent 9 years in kindergarten, grade school and junior high (or middle school). Then add another 4 in high school. That's 13 years of your life--12 if you didn't go to kindergarten. A whole lot must have happened in your school life in that period of time. There are memories, both good and bad, that a writer can draw from when writing creative nonfiction. A novelist might use an incident from school years in a book. The book is fiction but many things in fiction are based on something the author remembers from earlier years. No names used, just the incident itself. 

If I am using a high school as a setting for a story, my mind might take me back to my own large high school that had classes on four floors and a physical education building across the street. An underground tunnel connected the two buildings. I have mental images from the four years I traveled through those halls and the tunnel. It could be easier to use those memories in my setting than to invent something brand new. I could write a chase scene through the school, closed for the night, more easily because I can actually 'see' it in my mind.

Who are the people you remember in the schools you attended? How about the many teachers who influenced you in one way or another? Some positive, some negatively. What about the rest of the school staff? Nurse, janitor, principal, school secretary, lunchroom personnel, librarian--all these people were a part of your school years. 

Can you list the special events or parties your school had? Did you have a Halloween parade through the school? Did your classrooms all have a Christmas tree every December? Did you participate in a musical program at your school? Many of the things those of us who are older had in schools are no longer allowed. Maybe it would be good to write about them for our children and grandchildren. 

Your school years can provide many things that can be included in your writing years as an adult. Ponder on them for awhile. The more you think about this period of your life, the more you'll remember. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Censorship In A High School Newspaper

A couple days ago, I read an article in our Kansas City newspaper about a high school in Missouri that is embroiled in a controversy. The principal insists that the students allow him to see and approve of whatever they put in the school paper. The students want to print news stories without censorship from the principal.

The article in question is one concerning the resignation of the superintendent and assistant superintendent of the district. Definitely a newsworthy story. Read the full article here for details. I see pros and cons on both sides of the argument which doesn't make me look like a very decisive person, does it? 

Students working on a high school newspaper are in a learning process. They may jump to conclusions without fully checking the facts. That even happens with seasoned news writers who end up with egg on their face when someone challenges what was written. I think the principal is trying to prevent that happening and to prevent the persons involved in the news story from being hurt, if that might be the case. 

This is not to say that the students did not check facts or are trying to embarrass those involved. We have no idea if that is true or not. This is certainly why the principal wants the authority to OK what is written before the school is put in a difficult position or becomes caught up in a law suit. That seems quite logical. 

There is a faculty member who acts as advisor to the students putting out the newspaper. Surely she would see and check the articles going into the paper. In the article, this person indicates that she would be involved. Having been a faculty member in a school, I am quite sure the principal would be in discussion with the advisor, as well. The principal is responsible for both faculty and students. 

It all boils down to freedom of the press. The question is: Should freedom of the press extend to high school newspapers?

A letter on this morning's Op-Ed pages indicated that a high school newspaper is owned and paid for by the high school. The school thereby has a right to censorship according to the letter writer.

What do you think? Should the principal have final say-so? Or should the kids be allowed to print whatever they choose?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Thoughts On Plot

Put very simply, a plot is what happens in a story. The quote above by author and former editor at Highlights For Children magazine says the same thing but far more eloquently. 

When writing fiction or creative nonfiction, we want to grab the reader immediately. That's a given, isn't it? The hard part is to keep the reader wanting to turn the page. Once we have the reader ensnared, or should I say--captivated--it is up to us to hold on to that reader through the rest of the story. This goes for both novels and short stories.

When do we let go? When the story ends. We hope the reader finishes the last paragraph with satisfaction. My Book Club read a novel recently that pulled the reader into the story and kept them interested but the ending left us all saying "What?" It proved more frustrating than satisfying. I've recommended a book by Nancy Kress titled Beginnings, Middles and Ends. If she can write fully one-third of a book on the endings of our stories, they must be pretty important. Your library may have a copy of this reference book for writers or you can order it on Amazon at the link above. 

It's your job as a writer to keep the reader engaged. I'm reading a book right now that made me want to quit in the first fifty pages, but then the story started pulling me in and I am picking up the book whenever I have some spare minutes to read. I managed to stay with the novel until it did capture my interest but many times a reader will slam the books closed and move on to another. This author is doing a good job after establishing the situation in those first fifty pages which tended to repeat the same information instead of moving on at a swift pace. The author didn't grab the reader in the beginning so she might lose many readers before the real story begins.

It's tough work pulling a reader into a story and keeping them. Chapters need to end with some reason for the reader to want to go on to the next one. We've all read reviews of books that tell us the author had enough plot twists and turns to keep the reader enthralled and reading rapidly. That doesn't just happen. The writer must structure the story very carefully. 

Whether defined with simple words or eloquent ones, what happens in a story is like clay in the hands of a sculptor. It's nothing at first but can evolve into a fine piece of art, or in this case, literature. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What Can You Write About A Pancake Race?

                                                                                         A small Kansas town created a special event

Pancake Race in England--pancakes are flipped at 
both start and end of the race; aprons and scarves
are required to participate in the race. 

Too often, writers claim they can find nothing to write about. My answer has always been to 'look around, there are stories everywhere.' Today is a perfect example of finding a story right under your nose.

It's Shrove Tuesday, the final day before the Lenten season begins for Christians. It's the end of Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans and many other cities in the USA. I read only yesterday that St. Louis has the second largest Mardi Gras celebration, right behind New Orleans. Who'd have guessed?

Another celebration on Shrove Tuesday is the Annual Pancake Race between the city of Olney in England and Liberal, Kansas. There are other towns in various places that observe this custom, but the Olney/Liberal race is recognized nationally in both countries. Read the history of the race here.

In England, Shrove Tuesday has become known as Pancake Day. In the USA, many churches and other groups have Pancake Suppers.

Why all the info above? Look at the ways you can use this topic in your writing. You could:

1. Write an article for a magazine

2. Do a photo-essay if you attend one of the races

3. Interview a contestant in the Pancake Race

4. Use it as background in a fiction story

5. Use it as part of a mystery story

6. Write a travel essay

7. Write a humorous essay

8. Write a historical feature

A simple event like today's Pancake Race can provide the basis for many writing projects. There are events going on all over the world every single day of the year. They are not going to come floating through your door and fall in your lap so that you can write about whatever it might be. You need to pay attention to things you see, hear and read. Train yourself to 'find a story' everywhere you go and in what you read.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Small Group Writing Conferences Are Terrific

  One of the cabins at Algonkian Regional Park
Typical Potomac River view from cabin 
Deer roam through the wooded areas by cabins

This morning, I made my flight reservations to Washington, DC for mid-April. I will be attending my online writers' conference at the Algonkian Regional Park in Sterling, VA. It's a mere 20 minutes from Dulles Airport but nature at its best. 

This is the venue selected for each of our several conferences which occur about every 18 months. The cabins are booked for a full week so writers can come and spend the entire week or just the 3 days of the conference itself. Those who spend the entire week have time for sightseeing and/or quiet writing moments with no interruptions. The price of the conference is the same, whether you stay a few days or the full week. 

Our moderator and her husband spend hours working out the details and finances of the conference. They book several months ahead as the park is very popular. The price is the best we've found anywhere, and we've looked at many other possible spots. The cabins have all been updated within the last couple years and offer all the comforts of home and more. On fall days, we've flipeed a switch to enjoy the fireplace. On warm spring days, we've gathered for wine on the large deck that faces the Potomac River and some glorious scenery. 

I look forward to the presentations we'll have by several members and a few from outside writing world people, too. I'm excited to be with old friends and to meet face to face with the new members. I can't wait to indulge in Nita's great meals. This woman comes with a double bonus--she cooks for us and gives a presentation on computer use, as well. Add a dose of Mississippi accent and you'll declare her a real winner. 

I've been to larger conferences and have gained a lot from them but I'm sold on these smaller ones like ours. They're very informal but filled with useful information. They feel comfortable from start to finish. Casual clothes are worn, no worrying about what kind of outfit to wear to the big convention in New York City or Chicago. 

If you do some searching for a small group writing conference and come up empty, consider starting one with the people in your local writing group. Open it to others in your area if you feel you need a few more bodies. The conference I go to runs around 25 with a few husbands who come along to be the go-fers. They do a lot of the running to airports, stores, farmer's markets etc. Have it somewhere other than where you normally meet, even if it's not an overnight place. If close enough, attendees can drive there each day. 

If you're in an online writing group and would like to try a conference, choose a committee of three and have them do the initial work of finding a place, planning the presentations, meals etc. For online groups, the meeting face to face and hearing an actual voice of people you've known well onlne is absolutely wonderful. 

Look for a small conference or start one of your own. The first one is exciting but it also lets you know what you want to do differently the next time. 

As for me, I'll be counting the days until I fly into Washington, DC to meet with some fantastic women writers once again.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Give A Gold Star To Today

Do you ever beat yourself up over something you wish you'd written in a different vein? Do you regret sending in a submission too soon, before you had a chance to revise it one more time? Do you wish you could rewrite a contest entry?

As the poster says--we cannot go back to yesterday. It's done! It's finished! It's over! There's no reason to go over and over it.

The quote tells us we cannot control what will happen tomorrow. It's out of our hands. There is no sense in jumping ahead to things that we can't guide to the places we want to go. We'll deal with it when we get there.

Today is the day you can begin a new writing project. Today is the day you can revise and edit a first draft. Today is the day you can pursue a better way to market your work. Today is the day you can enter a contest. Today is the day you can submit to a magazine or anthology.

Forget yesterday, don't worry about tomorrow. Instead, concentrate on today. There are a lot of hours in the day and they're all yours to do with what you want to. Today deserves a gold star.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Writers Need Writer Friends

Jennie and Molly

This looks like two women on vacation, doesn't it? They are more than that. They're two writers who are at a conference just outside Washington, DC in a beautiful state park on the Potomac River. I was there, too, but it was me who took the picture. Not only writers, they are my friends, too.

Jennie lives in Atlanta. Molly lives in Bluffton, SC.and I live in Kansas. All three of us are members of an online writing group. We've critiqued one another's work, commiserated over rejections, celebrated successes and have sealed the bond of friendship as we did all that. We've roomed together in one of the cabins in the state park where our group conferences are held every 18 months. We've held deep discussions about writing (and other things) over a glass or two of wine. We email and connect on facebook. 

I would never have known these two wonderful women had it not been for the writing group I joined a good many years ago. I've heard and read so many times that writing is a lonely occupation. Believe me, it doesn't have to be. You need to develop professional and personal relationships with other writers. Writers understand other writers. Your friend who is a nurse may be a very good friend but she won't have the inside track to much of what you feel about your writing world. In reverse, you might be a wonderful friend to her but you can't possibly understand all that goes on in her nursing world either. Keep that friendship alive but you need others, as well.

I'm a believer in having friends from all walks of life but I also know that my friendships with many other writers have been mighty beneficial to me and my writing world. Only last week, when I had the question about my story being published in two Chicken Soup books and knowing about only one--well, my writer friends gathered round like mother hens circling their chicks. They were there to protect my feelings, to encourage me to pursue the issue and to cheer when it all turned out fine. I loved having my writer friends by my side. 

If you're in a local writing group, work at the friendship end. If you belong to an online group, interact both within the group and offline via emails. If you go to a conference, seek out other writers who seem to be moving along the same lines you are. If you belong to facebook, find writing groups there to join. I belong to a few and put my blog posts on each site. Within time, I've gotten to know some of the other writers in the group. One group in particular has lots of discussions which helped me start to interact with them.

Friendships don't just happen. You must work at developing and keeping a friendship. I've learned so much from other writer friends and I'm grateful for that. Maybe I've offered something to them, too. I hope so. If you're a shy writer, start with just one person and move on one at a time. I know that some people have a difficult time making friends. Not everyone is a gregarious person like me. 

I'm going to see both Jennie and Molly in mid-April when we all travel to our conference once again. We'll talk about projects we're working on and also about our personal lives as we've gotten to know a lot about one another's family life over the years. 

If you don't have a lot of writer friends now, make it a goal. You'll reap the benefits if you do.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Don't Be Too Creative When Writing Creative Nonfiction

News anchor, Brian Williams, embellished a story that caught up with hm years later. His NBC bosses have suspended him for 6 months without pay. My first thought, when reading that yesterday, was Do they actually think people will forget tht he lied in a mere 6 months? I think that a newsperson of lesser stature than Brian Williams would have been fired without a backward glance.

All this has made me think about the creative nonfiction stories many of us write. Truth is important in our writing. Yes, the term we use is creative nonfiction but that doesn't mean we can make up the stories we write. Nor does it mean that we can stretch the truth until we find we have a more exciting story. The term creative nonfiction is the one we use for true stories written with fiction techniques.

What if Writer A submits a true story to an anthology, one about an event that occurred on an overseas trip? She wrote it exactly as it happened.

Then Writer B submits a story of something that occurred when she was teaching in an inner city school? She adds a little here, a little there. The additions are a part of what she thinks would make the story better. She keeps enlarging on the facts until she has a story that she thinks will be a cinch to be accepted.

Bot stories might get accepted. If an editor decides to fact check, Writer A has no worries but Writer B had better start preparing a defense. She didn't make up the entire story but she did add little things that never happened. A good editor is going to figure it out after some questioning or some checking with the school.

What if both stories end up being published? Writer A still has nothing to be concerned about. Writer B might have to field questions from readers. There will be a few who were familiar with the situation and will know that certain parts of the story never happened. Writer B loses credibility with the editor and those readers who knew she was adding to the story.

The editor will be happy to look at more stories from Writer A but he will most likely not ever consider work from Writer B again.

Yes, these are totally made-up scenarios but each could possibly occur. Even though you're tempted to add, embellish, embroider the facts, or out and out prevaricate, don't do it. Sure, you might get away with it once, twice or even more times. Eventually, you'll get caught.

I had an aunt who was a great storyteller. She never wrote her stories, only told them to others. She used the facts of the story but added so many things she thought would make it a better story, make it more fun to hear, make it one her listeners would remember. She'd tell the story so many times that she began to believe those made-up parts were actually true. We all loved her but learned to take her stories with that proverbial 'grain of salt.' Occasionally, someone would question her story but she'd persist with whatever version she'd settled on. She didn't have an editor who would scratch her story from a newspaper or magazine. All she had were listeners who could walk away not believing what she'd said.

Tempting as it might be to add to your true story, think long and hard before doing so. If you tell only the true parts, you'll never have to defend yourself to an editor or to a reader. And maybe to yourself.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Two Things I've Learned About Chicken Soup for the Soul

One of my nonfiction stories landed in two recent Chicken Soup for the Soul books. My story is one of a duo of Bonus Stories at the end of The Power of Forgiveness book. It's a preview of coming attractions for the Reboot Your Life book.

The funny thing is that I had originally submitted the story "Freedom and Forgiveness" for the book with the forgiveness theme. When I received notice that my story had made it to the final cut round of the Reboot Your Life book, I was mystified. I decided that the editors must have felt it was a better fit  for the second book and then forgot about the first one.

The one problem was that I had not been notified that the story was in both books. I learned about it only after a reader wrote me a lengthy email regarding my story. She mentioned having read it at the end of the Forgiveness book. After an email inquiry from me, the editor called to let me know that using the story without my being told was an oversight. She was most apologetic and said that she was sending me a copy of the Forgiveness book. 

The book arrived this afternoon and I'm looking forward to reading it. Just scanning through the table of contents made me want to read the stories. Isn't forgiveness something that proves difficult for many of us? There are times in our lives that we either seek it or grant it. You will find it interesting to see how others have handled the situation.

Both books would be a help for those looking for new beginnings.How many times in your life have you wanted to put something behind you and start anew? The stories in both these books should be encouraging and probably satisfying. 

Consider either or both as gifts or for yourself. I have a feeling there may be some stories in these two books that you'll want to read more than once. 

My story was originally titled "My Dad, A Dream and A Red Shirt." It's about all three but the final title, "Freedom and Forgiveness" suits it quite well, too. 

I learned two things about the Chicken Soup Publishing Group. One is that they occasionally use a story twice, once as a Bonus Story to entice readers to look for the next book. Second, I learned that the Chicken Soup people do things right and are very easy to work with. These two books are the 15th and 16th I have with this publisher. The 17th will be out in March. It's got the prettiest cover and ...guess I'll wait until it's released to tell you about it. Let it be said, though, that I will continue to send submissions to this publisher because they do treat their authors well. 

Meanwhile, check out the website and see what books still need stories. They might be waiting for the one you send. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Don't Let Your Best Writing Lie Buried Within

These words came from the mind of a young teen who had a level of maturity that many older people never reach. That she realized things of such depth at a tender age is a wonder to me.

I think that many older writers--by that, I mean anyone not in their teens--are not completely sure why they want to write. Anne Frank knew.

When my daughter was 13, she went to Europe with her best friend's family for several weeks. It was a golden opportunity for her. When she came home, she chattered on and on about the places they'd been and the things she'd seen. Over and over, she mentioned visiting the attic home of Anne Frank, the place in which Anne and her family hid from the Nazi's during a portion of WWII. Of all the sights Karen had seen, this left the deepest impression.

A year later, Karen's English class read The Diary of Anne Frank where she learned even more about this young captive girl so close to her own age. Anyone reading this book would find Anne was mature beyond her years. So many insightful things that she wrote in her diary. And even so, there were times that her writing showed us that we was a teen-ager, too.

Have you, as a writer, been able to write about things that have been buried deep in your heart? If you have, I think you have done a service to yourself and to others who read what you've written. Most often, when we write about those things buried deep within us, we finish with a strong piece of writing and one filled with emotion. Passionate might be another word to describe this type of writing.

Some writers fear releasing many of those topics that lie deep within. Once brought forth, they bring benefit to both writer and reader. Try unlocking your heart and write about what lies there. Show it to no one or share it with others. That's your choice. Sharing it, however, might touch the lives and hearts of your readers in ways you can only imagine.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Cut, Cut, Cut And See What You Gain

I learned something last night. I probably knew it subconscously but it came to light in a big way when I started working through several critiques from members of my online writing group.

I had submitted a first draft of a story I plan to send to Chicken Soup for the Soul's new book that uses Volunteering as its theme. I mentioned that I was almost at the maximum word count--1200 words--so there would not be room to expand on what I'd written. Critiquers often suggest adding more. That's fine if you have wiggle room but in this one, I didn't.

Each of the critiquers, or critters as we have named ourselves, marked plenty of words and info that could be deleted. Omit a word or change a phrase to one simple word and the space to expand starts to come available. A few pointed out that the information in one whole paragraph did not actually add to the story. Instead, it was background information that could be eliminated without losing anything in the main theme.

I started editing as per the critters' suggestions and when I finished, I realized I had about 150 words left to expand a little in places. I added some dialogue and a bit of physical description here and there and finished just under the 1200 word mark. Hooray!

Using unnecessary words, repetition and information that doesn't add to the story are common errors we make. We do these no-no things most often in our first draft. We can read the completed draft after finishing and never see those problems. Our eyes slide right past them.

If we put the draft aside for a few days and read it again, the errors appear. Some almost jump out and hit us squarely between the eyes. When that happens, I admonish myself because I  know better but it's a first draft and we're writing to get the main story written from start to finish. Our mind is not worrying about the little problems.

I sent the first draft to my writing group for critique right after I'd written it. The deadline was looming and I needed to have it looked at and then revise and edit quickly. Yes, I sometimes break my own rules! Had I left it for a few more days, I'd have caught many of those errors. One other fact is that someone else reads our work with totally objective eyes and they see more. Sounds crazy but is absolutely true.

It's quite amazing how much can be cut. Remember that old TV commercial with two little boys eating cereal. One brother says to the other, "Try it, you'll like it." So go ahead, try this method, you'll like it!

The best part is that you will have a stronger piece of writing.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Movies Make It Seem So Easy

We all know that anything worth having may not come easily. Any writer would be happy to tell you of the difficult roads they've followed over the years they've been writing. Some have had more bumps along the way than others.

The movies have often led viewers to believe that a writer works hard on his first novel and then, just by chance, meets the connection needed to get in the door of a famed publishing house. Lo and behold, the agent he sees loves his first novel, signs him to a contract immediately and then takes him out for lunch. And maybe seduces him after dessert and coffee. Hey! It's a movie!

What are the odds of getting a first novel published so easily? What are the odds of beating out a few thousand others to get your story into a popular anthology series? What will it take to finally get your article in your local newspaper? Or to win a national writing contest? Or to be awarded a fellowship so that you can hide away in a cabin and write your novel? 

You and I both know that what it takes is hard work. Growing as a writer as you follow your writer's journey is also necessary. Patience and perseverance, my own two favorite keywords, come into play, as well. Rare is the writer who becomes an overnight sensation like the guy in the movie. That's the second part of the movie scenario I mentioned in paragraph 2 today. He becomes so famous so fast that he ends up being hated by everyone who ever truly mattered to him. He hits the depths of despair and...well, you can finish this story as well as I can. 

Commitment to being a writer is a helpful tool, as well. We read all the time about men (and women) who are afraid to commit to a permanent relationship. Dating is fine, but marriage? Scary. Committing to a writing journey is pretty scary, too. With every success you have, it's scary to thnk about having to live up to that success, to repeat it over and over. Make a commitment and stay with it even when you hit those bumpy spots. In the long run, you won't be sorry.

Ask a writer to pen a paragraph or two on discouragement and most of them would have no problem. It's a subject they know well. Ask the guy who wins Honorable Mention in a state contest over and over but never makes it to 3rd, 2nd and 1st place. What about the woman who wants to write more than anything in the world but has enough rejections to cover a wall? 

If you have the passion it takes to be a writer, you can overcome all these problems I've listed here today. You'll still face them but you can get beyond them. Keep writing, keep your eye on your goals and you'll be fine. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

You Can Eat Food and Write About It, Too!

Hotel Zur Linde in Germany

Harry's Uptown Supper Club in Manhattan, Kansas

Have you ever thought about food and/or restaurants as a topic for your writing?  The pictures above are two places I have especially enjoyed eating. The top photo is of the dining room in the small hotel we stayed at in Hohenlinden, Germany, a half hour outside of Munich. The bottom photo is of a favorite restaurant in my own community. I love both dining rooms as well as the service and the food. Two decidely different experiences but both memorable. 

At the Hotel Zur Linde, we had friendly waitresses in Bavarian dress who fairly bounced as they carroed large trays of the German food that both Ken and I enjoy. The atmosphere added much to the good food. One very cold, rainy night, we decided to eat one more time in the hotel and avoid the nasty weather. What a surprise to see dogs lying next to a table filled with local diners. Each one behaved perfectly. A fireplace with a blazing log added warmth and a bit of cheer. Being our last night in Germany after a three week driving tour, we savored every moment of our dining experience. 

Harry's is a fine dining spot ten minutes away from our home, one that we reserve for special occasions or when we feel like treating ourselves. The 1930's decor provides an inviting stmosphere. The waitstaff is topnotch--friendly but also very professional in attitude and service. Their black and white attire add a touch of elegance. The food is consistently perfect. 

We found the dining in each of these places to be outstanding. Both have their own brand. If the Hotel Zur LInde was not so far away, we'd probably be regulars there. I could go on at length about some of the fine meals we've eaten in both places but won't take time to do so now.

If you like dining in different places and enjoy eating and trying new foods, you might consider writing about restaurants and what they serve. Newspapers carry reviews by professional food critics, but if you live in a smaller community, your local newspaper might welcome a review. 

Many magazines feature food articles in every issue. You might not want to submit to the top magazines with your first food article. Instead, start with the smaller circulation publications and get a few clips. Then, you can target the larger magazines. 

There are many food websites online. This might be another place looking for food writers.

Should you just dive into the deep end of the food pool and start writing? Maybe not. Use your old friend, google, to find articles on writing about food and restaurants. Doing that will give you some tips about what works and what doesn't. 

I know one writer who travels in the USA and abroad writing about food and places to eat. There is another in my online writing group who lives in Japan with her husband. They are Americans who savor living as expats. She has done a series of articles on the craft beers of Japan and the various places that serve them. I've learned a lot reading her articles.

Your food writing can be strictly an article with facts and figures or it can have the personal touch. I much prefer the latter method. Some people would rather have the facts and nothing more. 

One of the first essays I wrote about food was published at A Long Story Short online and in The National Quarterly news magazine. It's also posted at Our Echo online. After reading it over today, I know that I would write if differently than I did 8 years ago. Take a look at Pub Fare in the United Kingdom and Ireland for a possible trigger to writing your own food-related essay or article. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Do You Have Unfinished Writing Projects?

I recently used a poster showing a dog at the computer. Not wanting to leave out the cat lovesr who read my blog, I am using a picture today that might appeal to the feline crowd.

This cat has the right idea. We all have chapters--or full projects--that need finishing. How many essays or stories or poems have you started and never finished? Writers are akin to those crafty people who start sewing projects and put them away for another day which often never comes along.

How many unfinished writing projects do you have in your files or notebooks? I doubt any of you, including me, can answer None. I have finished everything I've started. If only!

Why do we abandon these stories etc that we often start with great enthusiasm? One good reason is that we are stumped on the middle and/or ending. A great beginning often ends up like a bridge over a river that has never been completed. It's going nowhere. Or, we may not like what we've written so far. A poor beginning may not make us feel like going on with the project.

I once started a children's story about a boy sitting on the player's bench at his baseball game. I wrote a fantastic paragraph (or so I thought at the time) describing the coach. When I came to the end of that, I asked myself and then what happens? To this day, I have never come up with the answer. There will be situations like that, but there are also many beginnings that can come to a conclusion if we put our mind to it. I'm not going to say never to my story. It deserves more than I've given it so far.

The important thing is to write the rest of the story. It may not be the finished product. Instead, it's a way to finding the best middle and ending.Many revisions may take place before a satisfying ending occurs.  I think lots of writers have numerous 'great beginnings' that never see a 'fine ending.'

Look at finishing a writing project as a challenge. Many of us work well when challenged. A few will cower and whine a bit and hide the offending beginnning away again. A good story might end up being buried forever because we tell ourself it is just too hard to finish.

Take some time today, or very soon, to look at your unfinished writing projects. Choose one to work on this week. One at a time is the way to achieve completed projects. I think I need to find something for that little boy and his barking mad coach to do. That's my challenge this week. What's yours?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Looking For A Writing Topic?

That short month of the year has arrived. It may have fewer days than any other month of the year but it's filled with lots of things for me. My son and oldest granddaughter were both born in this second month of the year as were several friends. We all celebrate Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, and President's Day.

I also like February because it brings us just a wee bit closer to spring in the middle part of the country. In Kansas, we often have some nice warm-ups but also some cold, wintery weather as well. 

All of the things I've mentioned in the first two paragraphs could be topics for a writing project. Had I put them in list form, it would be fairly long. I hear so many writers say they have trouble finding a topic to write about. It's hard for me to understand that because I see writing topic material around me all the time. 

Sometimes, I get an idea for a blog post in the strangest places or unusual times of the day or night. My biggest problem is not the topic itself but in jotting down a few words or lines to help me remember the good idea I had. If I don't, it slips away very easily. And that's not just because I am a senior citizen! Younger people experience this same kind of memory problem. That good idea, once out of sight, can disappear leaving you groping to bring it back.

Keep a small notepad with you so you can write a few words that will help you remember what your super idea was. Or write it down as soon as you get home from wherever this idea popped up. 

When you get a glimmer of an idea for a story, play the What if...? game. Ask yourself that question as you ponder the story idea. It's quite helpful. 

Take advantage of February and what it brings us to help you find writing topics. Take a look at this chart to help you with even more special moments in February.Some things are listed more than once and some are days you will not know. Google those. Then get started writing!

Feb 1SundayNational Freedom Day
Feb 2MondayGroundhog Day
Feb 4WednesdayTu Bishvat/Tu B'Shevat
Feb 4WednesdayRosa Parks Day

Feb 6FridayNational Wear Red Day
Feb 12ThursdayLincoln's Birthday

Feb 12ThursdayLincoln's Birthday

Feb 14SaturdayValentine's Day
Feb 15SundaySusan B Anthony's Birthday

Feb 16MondayPresidents' Day (Washington's Birthday)
Feb 16MondayDaisy Gatson Bates Day

Feb 17TuesdayShrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras

Feb 17TuesdayShrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras
Feb 17TuesdayShrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras

Feb 18WednesdayAsh Wednesday
Feb 19ThursdayChinese New Year