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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Big Day For Grant Overstake--Audio Book Released

When Grant Overstake's YA book, Maggie Vaults Over the Moon, was released, he sent me a copy. I didn't know him personally but we'd seen one another on writing places on facebook and Kansas Writers Association and Kansas Authors Club pages. I didn't expect to be bowled over by the book but I was.

The story of Mggie, who loses a brother and gains recognition in the sports world and, oh so much more, hooked me immediately. So, how many people do you know interested in pole vaulting? Probably not a great number, but Grant's book has sparked interest in the field competition in places across our country, and other countries, as well. It's a book for younger and middle teens that any adult would enjoy and benefit from. 

Maggie has her own website and myriad fans. Today is a special day for Maggie and also for the man who wrote the story. The book was released today as an audio book narrated by Tavia Gilbert, voice actress. She is one of the top in the business. She liked Grant's book so much that she wanted to do the narration on the audio version produced by Blackstone Audio. Ms Gilbert's quote says a lot: "A great metaphor for courage, faith and belief in oneself"

Check here to learn more about the book, the audio book and how to order it as a download. Then go to Tavia Gilbert's page to learn more about her. You'll see why Grant Overstake was so excited about this newest version of his book. 

I downloaded my copy eaerlier this morning and am looking forward to listening to it. Do it for yourself and do it for your teen-age kids and grandkids. I remember one young reader of around 14 who said she'd read the book over and over. Definitely a message there! 

Read a Kirkus review, only one of many. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Two Things Necessary For A Picture Prompt Exercise (A Repeat Post)


Why are picture prompts such a good exercise for writers? One of the best reasons I can think of is that they help to develop our imagination and creativity. If I were teaching a class filled with twenty writers of all stages--newbies, intermediate and top pros--and I assigned the picture above for a writing exercise, I would receive twenty different stories. There is no doubt of that. Two main things enter into what comes of an exercise like this.

Experience: Each writer who studies this picture will see something different. A lot of what we see is based on our own experiences, or our dreams perhaps. If the writer had lived in a place where snow in winter was the norm, the many experiences taking place on snowy days would spark their writing. But if the writer had lived in southern Florida, a snowy day like this one is only a dream. Maybe a nightmare as it doesn't appeal at all to many of these people to be cold. They can only imagine the crunch of snow under a pair of warm boots. They don't know what it feels like to have the snow land flake by flake on already-chilled cheeks. Nor do they know the joy of making a snowball or building a snowman. So, yes, experiences do play a part in what we see in a picture prompt.

Imagination:  Let's face it. Some people have more vivid imaginations than others. Walk through a museum of contemporary art with 5 people, stop before a colorful abstract painting and ask each one what they see in it. You'd get widely diverse interpretations depending on the imagination quotient of each person. Can you develop a higher degree of imeagination? Yes, I think it's quite possible. As stated above, doing these picture prompts is one good way to increase your imagination. We're all familiar with stories about small children who live with a pretend friend or pet. My youngest brother kept 5 baby fire dragons and a mama fire dragon with him for a long time, blamed many of his misdeeds on them, and cautioned the rest of the family not to step on them. He's not a writer today, but I have a feeling that he'd have a good result with a picture prompt as he had that imaginative spark from early on. Doing the picture prompt exercise on a regular basis should help develop your imagination to a higher degree. 

So how about it? Give this picture a good look. Take time to study it top to bottom, side to side. Then start writing. Ask yourself where it is and what time of day it might be. Who is going to come to one of the boats? Add sensory details to let the reader know what it feels like to be in this place.I wish I really was teaching a class and giving this assignment. I'd love to see what the twenty people would write about.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Something New From Annette Gendler


What you see above is the banner of the very first issue of Annette Gendler latest project--a newsletter. Read it here. Annette also has a blog. She is a Writer-in-Residence at the Ernest Hemingway House in Oak Park, IL. Annette has also been a guest blogger here. Read her posts here and here.

Annette teaches Memoir Writing at StoryStudio in Chicago and has recently taught an 'mini-memoir' class at The Ernest Hemingway House. Now she is offering this same course online so that people anywhere can participate.

This first issue of the newsletter has details about the class for anyone who is intersted. The thought behind writing a mini-memoir rather than tackle an entire memoir book is that it's easier to write about a small slice of one's life and it's also much easier to achieve publication for a short piece than a book length memoir.

Annette is a former member of my online writing group. She'll be at our conference in mid-April and I'm looking forward to seeing her there. She's a fine writer and excellent teacher.

I was especially pleased when Annette was awarded the Writer-in-Residence at The Ernest Hemingway House because the famed author went to the same high school that I did--but at an earlier time. Every English teacher in that school mentioned that fact as well as ine other. It seems that Mr. Hemingway failed English in high school. Maybe it's true or it could be an Oak Park-River Forest High School legend. I've always wanted it to be true.

Take a look at the links I've provided above. It might prove to be some interesting reading this weekend.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Can Anyone Learn To Write?

Another taste of spring

Last evening, I was looking through the Wall Street Journal, when I spied an interesting half-page ad. The Great Courses was trolling for people to sign on for a course in writing fiction. Click on the link to get all the details of what they are selling.

What stopped me was what they said in one section. They tell the reader that writing great fiction isn't a gift reserved for the talented few. There is a craft to storytelling that can be learned,... They go on to describe what they term 'a master class in storytelling.' The course is taught via video, audio, DVD method.

I know nothing about this course, nor the professor who is teaching this 24 lecture course so I cannot tell you to run as fast as you can and sign up. Neither can I say run the other way. Looking at the lecture titles gives me reason to think that it is probably a course filled with good information for anyone wanting to learn the art of writing fiction. When you sign up for a course like this, you go on blind faith unless you have the endorsement of someone else who has taken the course already. 

I got my start writing by signing up for a correspondence course that taught people how to write for children. It served as the srpingboard to begin my writing journey. I had known no one who took the course. I went on that 'blind faith' and, for me, it worked out very well. My instructor wrote one final letter to me. In it, she said that she wished she could take credit for the writing ability I had after the 18 month course, but she told me that all she did was help me bring forth what was already there. A nice compliment indeed.

I do believe thst the craft of writing can be learned. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I frequently urge new writers to take classes and read books on writing. I also believe that some people have an inherent gift for storytelling. Put both together and you've got something grand.

I know a writer who writes great stories with wonderful messages and is able to bring out the reader's emotions. She also shuns reading books about writing, taking a class or anything remotely connected. She is the exception to the rule, I think. I sometimes wonder if her writing might be even better if she did some of the learning the craft end but she's happy with the road she's on. Isn't that the important thing? 

A noble experiment would be for 10 people to take the same writing course, then follow their writing progress over a five year period. I am guessing that they will all be at different stages on the writing path. Those who learn the technicalities of the our craft but also have that special gift for storytelling will probably be much farther along. 

Whether we must be born with the gift of being able to write or we can learn it as a craft has been a debatable question for a very long time. I don't think there is a totally clear answer. Anyone care to comment? 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gift The World With Words

Have you ever given thought to how many writers there are in this world? Check out all the items in your home that require reading. It's a lengthy list:

Directions on foods to prepare
Church Bulletins
Newsletters from various organizations
Children's Books and magazines
Telephone Directory
Other organization directories
Directions on medicine and supplement bottles

I'm sure there are some I've overlooked. The point is that someone had to write all those things we read.

Consider the daily newspaper you read (if you read one). Estimate the number of writers it takes to produce the daily paper, then multiply that by the number of daily papers there are in our country alone. An astounding number of writers.

Go to your local library or bookstore. Guesstimate the number of books on the shelves. An amazing number of people wrote those books. Not every bookstore or library has the same books, so the number keep climbing as you determine the number of writers who produce books for us to read.

What about people who write advertising copy? Or who write all those directions we read. Or the ones who assemble directories for our use. That's a form of writing, too. As well as newsletters and yearbooks for groups. Then, there are playwrights, screenplay writers, writers who put the news reports together for TV anchors.

Add them up and there are thousands of writers in the USA. Add the ones around the world and it would be a number meant to make you dizzy.

You and I are writers but we're only a tiny dew drop in the rainstorm of numbers of people who write. Some earn their living writing. Some, like me, are hobbyist writers. It makes one wonder if one little writer in a group that big can make a difference to anyone who reads. I vote yes on that. We all give something to others through our writing, whether we have thousands of readers or a dozen. Each and every one is important.

Writers gift the world with words. Be proud to be a part of that.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Can Everyone Write Humorous Stories?

This picture made me laugh. Doesn't this little guy look like he's having the time of his life? Joy is written all over his furry little face. 

Laughter is good for us, or so say the many articles in women's magazines and newspapers. Laughter releases physical tension and stress, if even only momentarily. Read the health benefits of laughter in this article from Web MD.

Writing humor is a gift that not all of us have. One of the women in my online writing group is masterful when it comes to getting a laugh out of the printed word. Others try and try and just fall flat. 

Once again, showing what is funny seems to work better than telling. Also, sublte remarks can come across as humorous. People don't need to be hit over the head with a cooking pot to see the humor in what is written on the page. 

I recently read a novel where the author tosses in quip after quip. Somehow, it worked in this book. I found myself smiling or snickering at many of the tiny little remarks she made. 

There are varying kinds of humor from the purely slapstick stuff to the subtle little quips. You don't have to evoke a deep down belly laugh from the humor you write. A little laugh or a wide smile or a 'I feel good" kind of thing all work. 

Erma Bombeck made a career out of writing humorous essays about life and her own family. There are others who have walked on her path. Many magazines feature a humorous look at life on one page. 

Dahlynn and Ken McKowen started an anthology series that features a lot of humor. Their Not Your Mother's Book on... books have many very funny stories. Check out their website and see what titles they have already done and others that are to come. Their books are fun, not risque. 

If you enjoy reading humorous stories, why not give writing one a try? Before you do, google 'writing with humor' and do some reading. When I googled, a lot of articles popped up. Sift through and choose 3 or 4 to read. It just might inspire you.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Don't Stay With the Same Old, Same Old

Spring Flower Garden

I used this picture today because it made me feel happy when I first saw it. If you've still got snow on the ground, it should do your heart good, as well. Even if you already have some of these spring flowers blooming in your yard, I bet you'll still smile when you see them. The picture has nothing to do with today's post. I just wanted to share this.

Maybe the picture does illustrate today's topic. Notice that there are different kinds and colors in this flower garden. They all seem to thrive quite well side by side. You can do the same if you try different types of writing. It's not necessary to stay with only one. 

What if you've had some success in writing feature articles for magazines and newspapers? Should you stay with what has worked well for you? Or should you venture into the field of short fiction? Or perhaps a short memoir piece? Maybe you could try your hand at poetry. 

If you attempt any of the other types of writing, it doesn't mean that you'll need to abandon the feature article writing at all. You can still make that your main type but experiment with some of the others now and then. You might find that you love writing memoir pieces or adore the process of creating a poem. 

If you write novels, it could be difficult to find the time to try shorter fiction or poetry or personal essays. But maybe it would be fun. You won't know unless you give it a try. 

If you're a poet who writes nothing but sonnets, try another form of poetry. There are several to choose from. 

I'm the kind of writer who would get bored writing nothing but creative nonfiction. I know that is where my greatest strength lies and I've had the most success in this kind of writing. Even so, I love to write occasional fiction, especially fiction for children of the 8-12 year old group. I also enjoy writing a poem now and then.Writing this blog five days a week is pure pleasure for me as it's a totally different kind of writing than I normally do.. Like the garden in the photo, I prefer variety. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Some Bloom Later Than Others

Spring Daffodils

My neighbor across the street has a bed of daffodils next to her front steps. We have dozens of daffodils at the base of a group of trees in ourfront yard. The neighbor's daffodils are in full bloom announcing that spring is here. 

Ours are nowhere near ready to bloom as we face north. My neighbor gets more sun with the south exposure. Lucky her. Poor us. On the other hand, whenever I look out the window, I get the pleasure of seeing her yellow daffodils. She's also put two pots of pansies on the porch steps. Glorious!

Writers are much the same--some bloom much sooner than others. We can't blame the sun for being the reason some writers make rapid jumps in their writing career while others move at a slower pace..

It's possible that those who have more success and more quickly are the ones who work the hardest. They are the writers who spend time researching markets that fit their kind of writing. They're the ones reading the reference books about writing. They're the ones that attend conferences, subscribe to writer's newsletters and join critique groups. They create that south exposure so theyll bloom sooner.

The writers who face north and are the last to bloom are the ones who isolate themselves from other writers. They're the ones who avoid social media to spread the word about their writing. The ones who never read a book about writing, don't attend conferences and shun writing groups. They prefer to do it all on their own. That's admirable in some respects but maybe they progress at a slower pace in their writing journey. 

The direction you choose as a writer is a personal decision. Some of the decision comes about because of the many differences in personality as well as the amount of passion you have for writing. There is no completely right method or all wrong method of approaching your writing path. I can give you tips and encouragement but it's you who much choose which kind of writer you will be. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

This Time It's Me Who Needs Advice


Both these people mirror me this morning. I mentioned here the other day that Chicken Soup has some new book titles. I thought of a good possibility for a story for one of the books. I mulled it over for a couple of days and last night decided to start writing the first draft.

I wrote the first paragraph, erased it all and started over. I did this three more times before I finally put the computer and myself both to bed. The main idea of the story is perfectly clear to me, even the conclusion but how to get there is proving a major problem.

I thought maybe that a good night's sleep would help. The answer would come to me in a dream perhaps. Didn't happen. This morning, I'm still puzzling over how to begin. Three incidents will be tied together for the one story. How will I begin and then bring in those three separate happenings? That's the question I still can't answer this morning.

Maybe I should write the middle and end and then go back and start on the beginning section. I normally have the bones of an entire story swirling in my head. Then I sit down and write the first draft. Granted, I often change things a lot in the revision. But I can usually get the whole story down in one fell swoop. Not this time!

I am the one who gives advice to other writers. Today, I'd like to have some tips from others as to how to solve my problem. I think that I need to let it mull in my mind a few more days and hope something pops up. Or maybe I should go ahead and write the middle and end and hope that a beginning presents itself to me. The beginning and ending somehow need to bring these three separate incidents together.

So let's turn the tables today. I'm asking for help from my readers. Send it in the comments section. I'm hoping one of you will have the magic pill I seem to need right now.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Are You A Hard Worker?

Thanks to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing for today's photo. How right they are in telling us that writing a book is hard work. So is writing an essay, a feature article, a short story, a poem or a children's story.

I am amused when I hear people comment that at least a childlren's story or a poem doesn't have that many words so is a lot easier than for writers of lengthier projects. In some regards, perhaps so, but writing shorter is not easy. Writing poetry is not easy--it takes a great deal of skill to put in 20 lines what a story writer says in 2000 words. It's mighty hard to tell a children's story with a beginning, middle and end, that also entertains and/or delivers a subtle message in 750 words, sometimes fewer than that. Believe me people--that's hard work! 

If hard work has no appeal for you, then I suggest you skip the writing world. If you're willing to push yourself on writing projects and make them as polished as possible through rewrites and several edits, you just might become that successful writer. 

For each writer, success can be measured differently. Are you a successful writer if you write a column in your monthly church newsletter and nothing else? If you are satisfied with that amount of writing, then you are successful. If you have short stories published in a dozen magazines, are you a success? If that was your goal and it makes you happy that you schieved it, then count yourself a success. If writing and selling six novels is your goal and you've attained that, you're also a success. You can call yourself successful if you have achieved what you set out to do. 

Do all writers reach their goals? Of course not. Sometimes we need to adjust our goals. Beginning writers have dreams of glory dancing in their head. They start writing the novel they've thought about for years. Then they discover that it really IS hard work. They end up quitting and starting several times. Nothing seems to work right. Maybe then it's time to step back and look at the goal that you set. Maybe you're starting too high. I've said many times in this blog that it's wise to start with the small writing projects and work your way up to the larger ones that prove more difficult. 

It's also smart to study your craft. Read all you can about writing. Attend conferences. Take classes. All these things will help you attain your goal of being a successful writer.

I doubt that a contractor builds an entire house for his first project. He usually starts working for another contractor and concentrates on one small area of building a house. He moves up to larger things, learning as he goes. To be a contractor takes years of experience, just the same as the writer. Build a house. Write a book. Both require hard work and time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Place We Call Home

For a writing exercise, write a poem or a few paragraphs about the place you call home. Whether city or small town or rural, show us your memories. Do you still love it or are you glad you left and never want to return. It can work both ways, depending on what you see in your home place. It's possible that we see it differently when we look back many years later than we did when we grew up in what we possibly considered a 'boring' place. Show us the physical characteristics and the people. Show us what part of the place draws you back. 

As a good example and because it's St. Patrick's Day, I've featured a poem by Yeats, the Irish poet. It shows his love and yearning of a place of long ago.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Monday, March 16, 2015

New Call For Submissions From Chicken Soup for the Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul has probably been the best market for my stories over the years. It's a good thing they keep coming out with new titles so that I can come up with stories that might fit the theme.

It pays to check the possible books page on the Chicken Soup webiste now and then. There are new books added off and on. I checked the page yesterday and found four new ones. Go to the page to read what the editors are looking for in the new book titles listed here:

1. Angels and Miracles (yes, one more angel book--they must be very popular)

2. Military Families

3. Random Acts of Kindness

4. The Spirit of America

For #2, they are looking for stories written by soldiers and their families. That includes spouses, children, parents, siblings. So, this topic is a little more limiting than the other three.

Note the deadlines for submitting. I've been told that the earlier you submit the better. But then we hear stories about people who submitted on the final day and got in. I tend to think the earlier the better because those last minute subs that accepted are probably in the 'very few' category.

Before you start writing a story to send to this anthology, study the guidlines page. Note that I said 'study' not 'read' because the guidelines given are lengthy and pretty explicit. Check them out here.
When you finish writing and editing your story, go back to the guidelines and do a check to see if you have followed the requirements.

If you go to the home page of the Chicken Soup website to find the guidelines and book topics and submission form, scroll down to the list at the bottom of the page and click on Submit Your Story.
You'll find the possible book topics, the guidelines and the submission form on this page.

Writers tell me that they have submitted stories to Chicken Soup and all were rejected. Remember that this is a very competitive market--thousands of stories received for each title--but you'll never get in unless you keep writing and keep submitting.

As for me, I've already thought of a story I can write for #3 on the list above. I've let it swirl in my mind for a couple of days now so it's time to get the first draft written this afternoon.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Take a Deep Breath and...

"A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new." ~Albert Einstein

The poster and quote above comes via the Chicken Soup for the Soul facebook page. When I saw it this morning, I thought Isn't that the truth? We shouldn't stay in our comfortable little slot just because we fear making a mistake if we venture into unknown territory.

If you have written only textbook material and have a dream of being a novelist, try it. You'll have to leave the safety of the beach and move into deeper and deeper water. It might be a little scary, stressful or even terrifying.Then again--it might also be very exciting and satisfying. What if you try to write that novel that's been in your mind for years and it's a big, fat dud? But what if it turns out to be a great book? You'll never know if you don't take the first step and try something totally new to you. 

How about the essayist who loves to read poetry but has always been reluctant to try it herself? She knows she can write essays that sell. But poetry? That's a whole new country to explore. The only way to find out if she can write a poem is for her to try. Like any kind of writing, the first draft will be in need of some editing and revision. I'm working on a poem that I've revised at least 5 times. It is getting better but I'm not sure it's quite right yet. If the essayist writes one satisfying poem, it will encourage her to try another. 

Maybe a fine poet would like to write a memoir piece but he doesn't have a clue as to how to go about it. He thinks it's a nice idea but much safer to stay with what he knows--poetry. If he's a good poet, he could also be a fine prose writer. He needs to step into new territory. Will he make mistakes? Of course, he will. The good part is that he tried something new.

The positive thing about making mistakes as we move through our writing journey is that we can learn from our errors. Very, very few people can start a new project without making some kind of mistake along the way. When we note the mistakes we've made, we seldom repeat them. We learn a better way and move on. 

If trying a whole new kind of writing leaves you doubtful and a little shaky, take a deep breath and move into a whole new world. If it is a successful effort, that's great. If it isn't, you know you've tried and that's important, too. I think it's invigorating to try new things. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Why Do I Like The Number 17?

Earlier this week, I received my box of 10 copies of the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul book that has one of my stories in it. I loved the cover design of the Thanks to My Mom book. It's light and spring-like. Cheerful!

The release date is March 17th, just a few days from now. You can find it then in your favorite bookstore or preorder it now at Amazon. You can order either a paperback or kindle version. Filled with 101 stories about reasons we are grateful to our mothers, this would be the perfect Mother's Day gift for your mom, your daughter who is a mom, a friend or just for yourself.

My story in the books is titled "Mom's Recipe For Life" and is about how I came to realize that my mother gave a little bit of sunshine to everyone she met through a kind word or just a big smile. When I was a young girl, it embarrassed me that she spoke to everyone and was so outgoing but I came to see that this was one of her finest characteristics. And now--like mother, like daughter!

I liked the fact that the book will be released on the 17th because this is the 17th Chicken Soup book with one of my stories in it. It's still a thrill when I receive my acceptance letter and the books. Somehow, I don't think it will ever become ho-hum. At least, I hope not.

Have you checked the website to see what books the Chicken Soup editors have in the works? Maybe you have a story that will fit or can write one geared to the theme. Check out the page that will give you information on the upcoming books.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Decisions A New Novelist Must Make

Have you ever felt like this woman? Most of us have had such moments. Recently, I've been having an email conversation with a woman who wrote and self-published her first novel. She had kindly sent me a copy and I read and enjoyed it. 

Naturally, she wanted my opinion on the book. Then she asked me if I thought it worth her time and money to try to get an agent. She is already working on book number 2. We chatted about it and she remarked that the marketing of her book was a big job and that there is so much to learn about the publishing world.

How right she was. If being a writer only involved the actual creating a story or essay or poem, we'd all be happy. But it involves so much more--that is, if we want to sell what we've written and if we would like to be represented by an agent or publishing house. 

One of the things a new novelist needs to do is to read as much as possible about the things listed here:

1. self-publishing vs selling to a publishing house

2. how to find an agent

3. ebook vs print? or both?

4. how to write a good query letter 

5. marketing the book 

6. how to find reviewers other than friends and family 

Another thing to do is to talk with other novelists who have been successful in finding an agent and/or marketing their book. I don't mean a 2 minute conversation but to spend some real time with an experienced writer. 

Give some thought to the matter of producing more books once you've found an agent. It's an ongoing process. One book is not going to do it. Are you confident that you can keep writing new books?

Think about the amount of time all this is going to take. Do you have the time, or are you willing to make the time? Is your passion for writing and publishing more books great enough? 

The poor woman in the picture may have taken on too much. Or she may love to write and hate all the other things that are part of the writing world. She definitely needs to sit down and sort it all out! 

The person I had the email conversation with wrote a book that kept me turning the pages. She's heard a similar reaction from other readers of this first novel. There are things in her first novel that might have been done better and I'm sure she'll be cognizant of that in the second book. I've heard successful authors say that your first novel should go into a drawer and stay there forever. It's the one you learn from. I don't agree with that 100% but there is some merit to that thought. Now, she must decide how much more she is willing to take on. No one else can make that decision for her. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Who Is This and Where Is She Going?

Where is this young woman going? Why is her bicycle basket decorated with flowers. And what are the balloons for? Where is she? Who is she and what will she do when she arrives?

All this can be answered if you do a writing exercise today with the picture prompt above. Play the What if...? game as you study the photo. That should trigger some creativity in your Tuesday brain.

Share your paragraphs or stories with us in the comments section. I'm thinking 20 people would have that young woman going 20 different places to do 20 different things. 

Don't brush writing exercises aside. Many a good story evolved from a Random Word exercise or a Picture Prompt. You know that walking five miles a day would be very beneficial to your overall health. Doing the writing exercises will also bring benefits into your writing life. 

Awww, go ahead. Give it a try! 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Writers Need Readers

Yesterday, Ken and I went to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City to attend a symphony performance. It's a magnifcent building opened in 2011. An hour prior to the performance, the Symphony Director and two other men held an informal talk and question & answer time. To listen to a symphony orchestra director, a solo clarinetist and a composer talk about the music we'd hear was informative and quite interesting. 

One of the things that Anthony McGill, the principal clarinetist for the New York Philharmonic, said stayed with me. He told a story about an audience member saying to him, "I'm no musician but..." Mr. McGill said that he stopped the man at that point and told him that, yes, he was a musician. That a musician requires an audience to hear his music. There would be no reason for him to play over and over only for himelf. So both the man making the music and the one hearing it are musicians.

I thought about what he said and decided that we can apply the same principle to writing. As writers, we need readers. Most of us write so that our words will be read by someone somewhere. Oh sure, a few people write only for themselves but they are in a definite minority. 

When I write a children's story, I aim for a large audience of kids. I hope that the story I write will entertain them, help them see certain aspects of life, and make them want to read more stories. When I write a personal essay, my goal is to bring something to my readers that might be of interest and also remind them of some universal truth that the essay illustrates. I also write to give my readers pleasure in some way.

I write this blog to help other writers--to give them tips of the trade and to encourage them to keep on writing. What good would this blog be without you, the reader? 

Just as the musician needs an audience to hear the music, we writers need you, our readers. 

Back to the symphony performance. We were entertained by some fine classical music and a new composition by Richard Danielpour whose Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, "From the Mountaintop,"  The performance afforded us a rare treat. In the same vein, I hope that some of the things I write have provided a rare treat for some of my readers. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Encouraging Words From A Guest Blogger

Ellen Ritscher Sackett

Meet Guest Blogger Ellen Sackett. She thinks becoming a writer is pretty simple. After reading what she has to say, you might agree. 

Writing as My Second Career

By Ellen Ritscher Sackett

One day I decided to be a writer. It was pretty much that simple. This decision came about following a painful transition in my life away from my previous career after many years of severe burnout. I needed a new passion. At that time, I wasn’t yet clear on where my next path would take me, but I figured I was smart. Something would work out.

The natural next step of perusing job ads turned up big fat zeros. My two college degrees were in music, for Pete’s sake. My education didn’t prepare me for anything else — or did it? Those thousands of dollars in tuition and years of crafting term papers had to count for something.

At least I can write, I thought.

So just like that, I decided I was a writer, and I would do what professional writers do. I bought a bunch of books that would tell me how to go about it. I also took a few online classes and joined a writer’s group. I didn’t say to myself, “Someday I am going to be a writer,” or, “I hope I can do this.” Nope. I was a writer. It was a fact.

Around that same time, I had a date with a sweet guy who dreamed of being a writer. He spent big bucks on a weekly meetings and attended weekend retreats with a writing coach.”She is just wonderful,” he said. “The best.” So I asked him, “What kinds of things do you write about?” He stared at me for a moment, looking perplexed. “Why, nothing,” he said. “That’s why I talk to her. To figure that out.”

Purging myself of awful prose that could be easily erased or deleted later seemed better than therapy and, in my opinion, was time better spent. Reading books, taking classes and seeking advice is important — I get that — but in their proper time and place. Nothing can replace the actual physical act of getting thoughts out of one’s head and forming them into words.

Here’s a not-so-secret secret: Writing is much easier when one has something to say. Initially, food was my favorite subject. I started a blog and wrote restaurant reviews. Food writing as a profession piqued my interest, but I discovered that most food writers worth their salt also know quite a bit about food preparation. While I’m not a highly skilled cook, the blog served my purposes well. It gave me a creative outlet and a way to share my writing. The ultimate compliment was when readers would say, “Boy, that really made me hungry!” Then I knew I had made a connection with them through my words, and that was more satisfying than any meal.

My second career path has been far from straight. Fast forward through several years of freelancing, working for newspapers, improving my skills and shouldering many, many disappointments. It all added up to experience, and I eventually got there. I mean, here. 

Mind you, I didn’t achieve my goals of becoming a professional writer and magazine editor without lots of support, for which I am deeply grateful. There were also some genuinely concerned folks who expressed doubts about my choices, and I thank them, too, for giving me additional perspectives to consider. But I never once doubted myself. As corny and as cliché as this may sound, faith and determination have kept me on track.

I’d be lying if I said being a writer is easy because it’s not. But for me, deciding to be a writer really is as simple as that.


A little about me: I’m the executive editor for Dallas and Houston Hotel Magazines and a special contributor for The Dallas Morning News. I served on the staff of the Guide, The Dallas Morning News’ weekly entertainment magazine and was a part of the paper’s digital team, I’m a former member of Writers and Critters (WAC), an international online writing group for women where I became friends with Nancy Julien Kopp. In my spare time, I take care of my menagerie of four-legged, furry and feathered friends and try to come up with pithy and sometimes amusing Facebook posts. Thank you, Nancy, for the opportunity to share a few words on your blog. Feel free to email me at

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Accentuate The Positive

Do you remember that old song that has lyrics that say: you've got to accentuate the positive, elminate the negative, and latch on to the affirmative. Don't mess with Mister In-Between.

Harold Arlen wrote the music and Johnny Mercer came up with the lyrics in 1944. There's a YouTube video of Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters singing the song. View it here.

The song was very popular during my growing-up years. I wonder if it had anthing to do with me being positive in my outlook on many things. I wouldn't say it was solely responsible but most likely did have some influence on me at the time.

In regard to our writing life, the poster is right on. A bad attitude is not going to take you very far. The writer who sends a sub to an editor but thinks to him/herself that it is really dumb to send this in because it's going to be rejected does him/herself a real injustice. Of course, a great deal depends on the quality of the submission but if a writer drags him/herself down with every submission, it won't be long before there are no more submissions.

Similarly, if you think everything you write is a piece of junk, you'll soon stop submitting. In everthing we write, whether story, poem or essay, there will be good things and crummy parts. Don't dwell on the bad parts, work on them and make them more like the good sections.

A negative attitude can easily destroy self-confidence and can drag you down to a place where it's hard to get up again. So what can you do to overcome having a bad outlook on your writing life?

Make a list, whether mentally or actually written, of the pros and cons of whatever is happening in your writing life. Which side has the most items? I'm guessing it's the con side. Ignore that side! Instead, concentrate on the pro side. And don't say There's nothing on that side because there is good and bad to everything. You might have to ponder it for awhile but I know you can come up with some positives in your list.

Don't read the list once and toss it. Uh-uh! Keep it where you can see it on a daily basis. Keep reading that pro side and add to it as time goes on. Is life suddenly going to become all roses? No, it most likely will not be an overnight miracle. It took a long time to develop the negative attitude so it will be awhile before you can change it to the positive side. And like most things that are worth pursuing, it's hard work. No magic wand here.

Key to changing a negative attitude is to truly want to do so. It's like wanting to be a successful writer--you must have a deep desire and the passion to make it happen. It's no different with an atttitude change. I'm not a psychologist nor a person with a PHD in writing, but my aim here is to encourage those with poor attitudes in their wriitng world to move to the other side.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Don't Be A Lazy Writer

Tell me what emotion your character is experiencing and I'm gonna be unhappy. I don't want you to tell your readers that Mary is excited, scared, shy, silly or angry as the women in today's poster are labeled. Show me! 

If you write Mary was angry, you're conserving words. Oh my,yes! A three word sentence conveys what you want the reader to get. You've saved room for lots of other words in your story, creative nonfiction essay or even a poem. Do it all through your project and you'll get labeled a 'lazy writer' for that is exactly what happens when a writer tells the reader what the character feels. It's the easy way out.

Using the 'tellng technique' instead of 'showing' throughout your project will result in a boring piece of writing. The last thing you want to do is bore your reader. 

Show your reader Mary's anger as in this sample:

Mary grabbed the nearest object and hurled it at the wall. The book fell with a thud. She tore across the room, snatched the book and this time, she aimed for the window when she threw it. As the glass shattered, she kicked the ottoman twice before speaking to her trembling sister.

Yes, the writer used a lot more words but isn't it more interesting? Don't you get a visual image of Mary's anger? It's action but you could also show her breathing hard, screaming as she throws the book. All these sensory details result in showing your character's emotion. Nopwhere in the passage did you see the words Mary was angry.

As an exercise, use each of the emotions shown above and write a simple telling sentence using the emotion. Then write a passage, or even one sentence, that shows the emotion. Keep the sensory details in mind as you write. 

Peel off the Lazy Writer label. You're more likely to find an acceptance than a rejection if you do.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Should I Enter A Writing Contest Or Not?

Three simple words--Enter to Win--gives writers good advice about contests. If you don't enter, there's no way you can win. Simple, or so it sounds.

A lot of writers are reluctant to enter a writing contest. They might think their writing is not good enough to compete with others. They procrastinate until the deadline for entering is past. They can't come up with a good idea for the contest theme. They waver--yes-no-yes-no--until no decision gets made. 

I know, and you know, too, that it takes a bit of courage to enter a contest. Sometimes, it also takes some cash you may not be willing to part with. No problem--there are plenty of contests with no entry fees. As a general rule, the ones that do charge a fee to enter also give larger prizes. Some of the contests that are free to enter promise publication to the winners and no more. For beginning writers that is prize enough. Some will debate that putting it in the same category with writing for pay vs writing for no pay. 

There are plenty of places to find writing contests. Ask your old friend Google for a list. Specify 'no fee' if your prefer. Subscribe to newsletters for writers that offer news of submissions needed and contests to enter. Visit with other writers for news about contests. Watch your local newspapers for announcements of contests within writing groups in your state or region, or the paper itself. 

Consider what you will send to a contest. It only makes sense that you will enter something you've written that is your best work. If you wrote something that multiple editors have rejected, then it's probably not the one you want to enter in a contest. What about taking that piece that has been rejected and polishing it until it sparkles? Then enter it! 

You need to have a positive attitude when entering.. The odds of winning are not the greatest when only three prizes are given, but somebody is going to win and it could be you. You  will never know if you don't enter.

I'm reminded of one of the first poems I wrote, then entered in my state authors group annual contest. What do I know about poetry? Won't there be lots of entries from seasoned poets? Should I pay the fee or not? It's probably money down the drain. But I did pay the fee and entered my poem which won first place and a nice check. What if I'd listened to my doubting self and shied away? I'd never have had the joy of being a winner.

Will you win every contest you enter? Most probably not. Will you become wiser about the kind of contest you enter and what the judges look for? I think you will. Entering writing contests is good experience. Go ahead, give it a try.