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Monday, August 31, 2015

Write With Heart and Soul

Heart and Soul! Two key ingredients for a writer. When we write using both, we can create emotion in a reader. As a reader, don't you love reading something that makes you weep a bit, shiver in fear and anticipation, or laugh out loud? The person whose writing brought those emotions to the surface most likely wrote with heart and soul. 

The first line of the quote above reminded me that I had written an essay called I Write From The Heart a few years ago for a contest. It didn't win but writing the essay taught me something. I learned that most of the time, I do write from my heart. And also that my writing that comes from the heart I consider some of my best work. I guess that takes in the soul cited in the second line, too. 

The heart and soul comes through in the writing of someone who cares. Yes, you have to care about the stories you write. If you don't, then you cannot expect your readers to give a twit either. Anyone can put words on paper (or screen) but they don't mean much if the person doesn't care. If your attitude is that you're writing something to be published and reap the monetary benefits and that's all, then your heart and soul has taken wings and disappeared. 

Yes, I know that writing is a business for many but if it's all business and nothing else, eventually that's going to be evident and pretty soon the publishing/moneymaking well will run dry. 

Consider, also, that people come to know you through what you write. Do you want them to meet the all-business you or the one who digs deep and writes with heart and soul. Do you want them to consider you as a person who cares? 

Don't be afraid to bare your heart and soul to your readers. One of your goals is to give your readers something they will remember. If you hold back and write only surface things, you'll cheat your readers and maybe yourself, as well. It's not always easy to let your readers into your innermost thoughts and feelings. Learn to do it and you'll be a better writer.

The last three lines of today's quote give all writers more good advice. Make the best of your talent. You'll need to dig deep to be able to do that. Sometimes writers only skim the surface of their talent. To make the best of what you are able to do in the writing world, you have to work at it on a daily basis. The more you write, the better writer you can become. With continuous writing, you may end up surprising yourself.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Do You Have Favorite Books?

Looks like Snoopy is a big reader as well as a writer. I can relate to that double joy. I became a lover of books long before I started writing. Reading has served me well in my writing journey. I've read so many books and of many genres. 

I don't read sci-fi and I don't read horror novels. Neither one appeals to me. Give me historical fiction over sci-fi any day. And the horror stuff doesn't do much for me either. Add erotica to my forget it list, too. I don't mind a little sex in a book but don't need a blow by blow description from cover to cover. The movies in the 40's and 50's had scenes that ended with a smoldering kiss and the viewer was left to imagine the rest. It lent a bit of mystery to the romance. Not so today--bare it all. But I am getting away from my topic.

As the poster indicates, books feed our soul. They are the nutrition of the mind. They're the recipe for a good life. We are offered a variety of books and each of us leans to certain genres. We may have different tastes in genres but we have a common love of good books.

Do you have a list of your all-time favorite books? Most people do. Here are just a few of the ones that hold a cherished place in my memory bank. They are in no particular order. Find them at your local library or on Amazon.

1. The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

2. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (first in a series)

3. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

4. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

5. A Time To Kill by John Grisham

6. A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford

7.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

You'll see that I read fiction, much of it fiction aimed at women. I do read other kinds of books, too, but these seem to be the ones that I remember loving. Some, I've read a second time. 

Leave your own list in the comments box. We all like recommendations. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Pep Talk For Writers

Most of you have probably seen this delightful comic strip of our favorite writer. Snoopy has no qualms in letting the editor know just what he thinks. Note how polite he is in his letter of complaint. No ranting or raving, just a gentle reminder to the editor that he must have misunderstood Snoopy's intention.

We chuckle when reading Snoopy's letter but step back a minute and take note of the really important part of what this tells us. Snoopy has a positive attitude.

I've written many times about the importance of a writer maintaining a positive attitude. Writers live in a whirlpool of rejection so it's not all that easy to keep a happy face. Round and round we go with more rejections than acceptances. Someone remarked that writers all have a masochistic streak; they must like being told NO over and over. I can assure you that it's a rare writer who enjoys rejection.

With more rejections than successes, frustration sets in and often swells. We're disappointed. We're sometimes angry. We're hurt.

But when an editor contacts us with an offer to publish our submission, we change our attitude in a hurry. What a great feeling. We can push away all those rejection emotions for awhile. We ride on a cloud as we savor the moment. Even if the editor isn't offering us $50,000 as Snoopy hoped for.

Then the inevitable happens. The rejections begin to roll in again. It's the natural rhythm of the writers' world. When you're up, then down, and repeating the same all the time, it's not easy to keep that positive attitude.

The thing I feel is most important is to believe in yourself. Believe in your ability as a writer. If you don't believe in yourself, you can't expect others to do so. You're the one who must lead the way. Don't let the whirlpool suck you down farther and farther. Swim out of it with a positive attitude.

I know that it's easier for me to tell you this than for you to accomplish it. I've been there many times myself. I know that you don't find a positive attitude once and that's it for life. Uh-uh! It would be nice but it's not the way it works. We must keep finding and refinding that positive attitude. Once you have done it, you'll find it easier each time you're feeling down and out because your writing life isn't going the way you planned.

You're still going to get rejections for some of your submissions--maybe for the majority--but if you've worked on your attitude, you will probably handle them better. You'll step back and look at the submission with an objective eye, then revise it and try again.

A key to all of this attitude business is to continue to believe in yourself as a writer. If any of what I've said today resonates with you, please share it with other writers you know.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Rich Vocabulary Is Vital For A Writer

A couple days ago, I critiqued a short piece on vocabulary. It made me think about how important it is for writers to have a rich vocabulary.  

I must confess that mine is not where I'd like it to be. We should increase our vocabulary on a progressive basis but it's one of those things that we intend to do, but....

Years ago, the Reader's Digest included a vocabulary list in every issue. Those who made the effort to read and learn those words were smart cookies. Way ahead of me. I usually bypassed that page to get on to the 'good stuff.' Looking back, I wish I'd spent a few minutes perusing that page and committing some of those words to memory.

You can read a pdf version of a word book that Reader's Digest has online here. It takes a little while to load so be patient. Spend some time working with the word exercises offered.

Some people set a goal for themselves to learn one new word each day. A worthy self-challenge. There are plenty of websites where you can find words and their meanings to help you with reaching your goal. Try this one. If it does not meet your needs, google to find others. There are lots of of sites to help us all learn new words. 

We shouldn't only look at a word and its meaning or try to commit it to memory. We also need to use the word. Write a few sentences or a paragraph that includes whatever your new word of the day might be. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Change Is A Part Of Life

Change is a part of life. You and I are not the same people today we were ten or twenty years ago. We've all lived through myriad experiences, ones that make a difference in who we are. Fifty-one years ago, I was a happy, carefree new bride looking forward to a lifetime of love with my new husband.

I had no idea then of the several places we'd live, of children we would have or of the children we would lose. I didn't know how the deaths of our parents woud affect us. I wasn't aware of how I would have to get accustomed to our empty nest when our children became independent adults. I had not even a hint of the writer I would be. I didn't know how my attitude would alter toward so many issues in life.

You've all experienced many changes in your own lives. Some were physical while others were emotional. You may have changed from a person who had little empathy for others to one that related strongly to problems your friends or family had. Perhaps you once had little tolerance for people who didn't try to help themselves. Then, some experience you had changed that attitude.

Change is what the characters you write about must achieve. The protagonist in your short story or novel must go through situations that bring about the change in the person they were originally. Otherwise, you aren't going to have much of a story. Sometimes those changes we see in the people in stories are subtle. Or they could happen as the result of one major event. It's you, the author, who must steer your character through the ups and downs of life so that the change takes place by the end of the story.

It's the same for those who write stories for children. The chld who is the protagonist must show definite change from who he/she is at the beginning of the story. You, the writer, must dream up a situation that brings about the change.

Next time you're in a group of people, look at each of them and know that they all have stories; they all have experienced changes in their lives that have made them the person they are today. You may know some of the people well enough to be aware of what some of those changes were--how and why they occurred.

Yes, change is a part of life. As a writer, you make the changes in your characters. You transform them as your story progresses. You create whatever it might be that brings about the change in your character. Doing that is challenging but often great fun.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Four Icelandic Sayings To Help Writers

Inch Worm
How fast does the inchworm move?

You will reach your destination even though you travel slowly.

I saw the quote above in a newsletter a cardiologist at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, MO publishes a few times each year. He always has articles of interest. The feature article in this latest issue revolved around a trip he'd made to Iceland. He included "Notable Icelandic Sayings." Dr. O'Keefe learned that Icelanders live long lives. One thing he attributes the long lifespan to is the Icelandic habit of using saunas. 

If you look at all the Icelandic sayings the doctor shared, you might get a good idea of what other things they adhere to add to a long and healthy life in this country far to our north. Besides the one above, the other three are:

God is with those who persevere.

A wise man changes his mind, a fool never will.

There seldom is a single wave. Good luck or bad luck is often followed by more of the same.

Have you figured out where I'm going with this? Yes, I am going to ask you to apply each of the four sayings to your writing life. Read through them again, one at a time. Then take some time to ponder and consider how it figures into your writing life.

You might feel that the last one is a bit defeating, but perhaps not. If you are concerned about the bad luck part---bad luck following bad luck, consider this. It's possible that is true does but it's also possible that you can make it change by adhering to the other three sayings. Of course, if it's good luck following on good luck, do nothing more than rejoice!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thinking About Theme

 The theme in fairy tales is often Good vs Evil

Note:  This is an article I wrote a few years ago that was published at a website for people learning to write. Even for seasoned writers, it has some points to consider. 

Writing is a gift given by God to only a few people.
The craft of writing can be learned by anyone with a desire to write.

Some truth rings in each of these statements. There are definitely people who seem to have a natural ability to write prose that sings, but with study and practice, along with a desire to learn the craft, anyone can write prose that is worthy.

It does not necessarily follow that because you can speak, you can write. Good writing comes down to identifying what tools you need to learn the craft and putting them to use. An understanding of theme is one of those basic tools.

Theme is often misunderstood or even ignored by the beginning writer and also by some who claim experience in the writing world. In her book Write Away, Elizabeth George says “…most novels are unified around their theme. This—the theme—is the basic truth about which you are writing, the idea you’re playing with..., or the point you are attempting to make.” This internationally best selling novelist goes on to say that even if theme isn’t addressed directly, the unification of the subplots will make it clear to the reader.

The theme in fiction and nonfiction is the central idea, or focus, that runs through the entire story.  For instance, most fairy tales use the theme of good vs. evil. We select a theme from both good and bad principles of life—guilt, greed, revenge, kindness, service to others, and unconditional love are all possible subjects for a theme in a story. Try making a list of conceivable themes for future stories.

The story you write should illustrate the theme without preaching to the reader. Few readers want to be told what the theme is. It’s much more fun to figure it out as you read. The theme should come through in subtle ways. If it doesn’t, it’s time to go back, rethink and revise. Ask yourself what message you want the reader to take away.

Some people confuse theme and plot. An author friend who writes historical fiction says that what your characters do in a story is your plot, but what they learn is the theme. The plot should illustrate your theme and leave a lasting impression on the reader.

Do you select a theme and write a story around it? Or should you write a story and see a theme emerge little by little? There is no set rule. Either way works, but you must be careful that you don’t scatter too many themes throughout the story. All that does is to confuse the reader who might think: What in the world is she trying to tell me? Pick a theme and stay with it.

When you pick up a book for your own pleasure, read with a critical eye. Look for theme in every piece you read. Search for the message the author sends and ask yourself if the plot of the story brought out the theme. With practice, you’ll find it easier to mentally critique the stories you read, and writing your own stories with a theme in mind won’t be nearly so difficult.

Some Points To Remember  

  1. Theme is the central idea, or focus, that runs through the entire story.
  2. The story should illustrate the theme.
  3. What characters do is a plot, but what they learn is the theme.
  4.  Let the theme come through the story in subtle ways; don’t preach.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sometimes Inspiration To Write Is A Gift

Jack London's quote brought a smile to my face but I can only partially agree with him. We often do have to use a club to find inspiration.We need to search high and low to find the urge and a topic on which to write. Other times, it falls into your lap and says Here I am. Now do something with me.

Several days ago, an idea for a poem came to me out of the blue. The situation that brought this inspiration actually occurred last September. Months have gone by--no, almost a full year. Why didn't the urge to write a poem about where I was and for what reason come sooner? Why not that very day?

I have no definitive answer. Obviously, the topic has resided silently in my subconscious. What triggered it now? I can't remember a particular happening or something I saw that was the trigger. Instead, I'm going to appreciate the fact that it did happen and that a first draft has been written.

When I went to bed last night, I started thinking about ways to add to or revise the draft. Then, it came to me that it might work quite well as a prose poem. I should have gotten out of bed and gone into the office to write another draft. I didn't for fear of waking my husband, but the first thought I had on wakening this morning was the poem. Verses or a prose poem? Which one should it be?

I've decided to write two separate poems. The prose poem allows me to put more detail into it than the one in verse form. When I read the first draft last night, I felt like it needed more. Click! Prose poem. I'll write the first draft of that version later today.

I didn't have to invent inspiration for this writing project. Nor did I need to go after it with a club. It was a gift.

You can open a gift like this, too. When a sliver of an idea for a story or essay or poem slips through your mind, don't let it slide on by. Grab it, hold on, and do something with it as soon as possible. Wait too long and it will be washed away, never to be seen again.

Be aware, however, that you can't sit around your house all day and wait for a gift like this to be delivered. Sometimes, you really do have go after inspiration with a club. Jack London knew what he was talking about!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Create A List of Words To Save

I'm a word person. If you're a writer, so are you. Many people deal with words but writers do so on a deeper level than most. 

Because words are so important to our writing world, we need to have storehouses of them. When a writer wants to give the reader a visual image, he/she goes to that storehouse and pulls the best words from it. 

I saw a short writing exercise yesterday which I'm going to expand upon here. The idea given was to write as many words as possible that describe eyes. That's fine but why not take it a step farther and add more? 

For the exercise, make lists of words (or full phrases) that could be used to describe the following: 

  • hair
  • hands
  • ears
  • eyes
  • mouth
  • skin color
  • nose
  • clothing
  • feet
  • shoes
Try to do this exercise on your own. Use a thesaurus if you must. Keep a file of the lists you make. You can refer to the words when needed. When you make the lists, some of these words are going to remain in the recesses of your mind to be used when needed. You may want to add more words as they come to you at a later time.

The words I've chosen today are all for developing characters in your story or novel. You can do the same with places, too, and weather, buildings or transportation vehicles.Try my list above first and then create more lists to keep on file.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Writing From Life Experiences

Picture taken with a long selfie stick

We've had a great few days getting to know two new exchange students from the Czech Republic. Phuong and Veronika will be spending one semester at Kansas State University. Ken and I act as Host Family to new Czech students each semester. When they arrive, bleary-eyed from the long trip, we take them to our home for four to five days, orient them to the community, help them with buying essentials and then assist in moving them into their campus apartment. It's a bonding time, too.

This is our 16th year to act as a Host Family. We got involved because the man who started the exchange program with K-State and two universities in Prague was a close friend of ours. Little did I think that we'd be still doing this so many years later. It's been a joy to meet these bright and talented young people from another country. Many have kept in touch with us over the years. What a terrific experience we've had.

I think that it is also great experience for the students. Veronika is an outgoing young woman with a good sense of humor. Phuong's parents came to the Czech Republic as students and never left, so even though she is Vietnamese, Phuong has lived in the Czech world all her life. That, too, is an interesting experience. We're going to have a fine time this semester with these two young women as they study Economics at K-State.

All the experiences we have in life make us the people we are today. They also give writers a wonderful barrel of happenings to draw from when they create stories. I've written several stories about the man who began the exchange program here, about the young men and women we've hosted and more.

Our former students could all write stories about the days, weeks and months they have spent as an exchange student in a foreign country. When we helped Veronika and Phuong move into their apartment yesterday, we met some of their roommates. Two were Americans, one was from Thailand, and of the 3 who had not yet arrived, two were International students and one more American. Think of the experiences these 8 women will have as they learn about one another and, hopefully, establish friendships.

Look back over your lifetime experiences. How much do you draw from them for the stories, essays and poetry you write? I think many times we do so subconsciously. If you're an older writer, rejoice! Why? Because you have far more experiences in life to pull from.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Perplexing Comma

I do a lot of critiques as part of the requirement to belong to my online writing group. There is one punctuation error that I note over and over. It involves the use of a comma after an introductory phrase or clause. 

If you use an introductory phrase, place a comma after the phrase and prior to the independent portion of the sentence. Note that I did so in the preceding sentence. Here are a few examples:

1. While Molly picked tomatoes, Sam carried buckets of water for the garden. 

2. For instance, I use only the best quality meat when making this recipe.

3. When Jill came to town, Jack remembered the fun they once had running up a hill. 

Note that the red part of the sentence can stand alone. It is totally independent from the blue words. Using the comma after the blue section sets it off from the main sentence. It also gives a reader an automatic pause instead of having to breathlessly read the full sentence. Try reading each one aloud with and without the comma. You'll soon see the difference. 

Some of us learn the punctuation rules in school and then promptly forget or ignore them once we're grown-up writers. You might write a wonderful story that an editor could reject because it is filled with improper punctuation usage. OK, being realistic, if the story is good enough, the editor might either ask you to polish it and resend or offer some editing help. The latter is less likely in today's writing world. 

Another situation could be that the teacher presented the rules day after day in your English grammar class but you never really 'got it.' Not to worry. Not everyone is a grammar guru! If you didn't learn the rule way back in school, you can still master the comma rules today. 

There are a whole lot of those punctuation rules and one huge section is the comma.  A comma after an intro phrase of clause is not the only one we need to be cognizant of. But it's one that people forget more than any other. 

There is a new school of thought on to use or not use the comma when connecting two independent sentences when there is a conjunction word between them--ie and, but, or, nor. The old rules tell us to put the comma prior to the conjunction. The newer method is to eliminate the comma. I have adopted the newer usage but it's been difficult to relearn this rule. I also think that, when reading aloud, it makes it more difficult to read the full sentence. That comma is a natural resting place. 

A few examples of this rule showing both ways to write the sentence:

1. John and Mary were longtime friends, but they fought like cats and dogs.
    John and Mary were longtime friends but they fought like cats and dogs.

2. I wanted to ride my bike to the store, but the tire looked totally flat.
    I wanted to ride my bike to the store but the tire looked totally flat.

3. Susan aced the test Monday morning, and she flunked the one on Tuesday.
    Susan aced the test Monday morning and she flunked the one on Tuesday.

Whether you use a comma or not doesn't make a huge difference in these compound sentences. It's a matter of style. 

Yes, there are so many piddly things to learn when you want to write. Even so, it's well worth your time and effort so that you acquire the mechanics of good writing.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Short Stuff

Trends in writing come and go just as they do in the fashion world. One of the recent trends in our writing world is Flash Fiction. There is no specific definition for it but you might describe it as short stuff. That's right. It requires you to tell a story in a very minimal amount of words. 

There is no set amount for word count. Each publication or contest determines what that should be but the max is probably going to be under 1000 words. Under 1000? That's not so hard, is it? Most will be way under that number.

Try to tell a story in 50 words or less. I've even seen one call for submissions for a 6 word story. Not impossible. It can be done but the author of that story probably puts as much thought and effort into it as one who writes considerably more. Imagine how many times she/he rewrites the story!

More often, you'll see calls for Flash Fiction at 500 words. Even that is a tough assignment. Some writers are just getting going with 500 words. 

There are some things to be remembered when writing Flash:

1. Skip the unnecessary words 

2. Forget those long descriptions

3. Don't worry about creating a sense of place

4. Keep the characters to a minimum

5. Use a simple plot

6. Limit adjectives and adverbs

7. Be sure you have a beginning, a middle and an end

Try your hand at the short stuff sometime. You'll end up appreciating those who write it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Write Life Stories

Yesterday, I had the joy of listening to a set of twins tell their life story at a meeting I attended. They are 66 years old, were both teachers, and they still live together and often dress alike but not always. We laughed at many of the questions that people have asked them over the years about being twins and looking so much alike.  One was "Do you know which one you are?" The twins had pictures to show as they told their life story from infancy to today. 

As the quote for today indicates, no one could have told the twins' story any better than they did themselves. I hope that someday they write their story for future generations, especially for any twins nieces and nephews might have. The highlights they gave yesterday made me think that they would have many wonderful incidents to put into a full written story.

You don't have to be a twin to tell or write your story. Telling is fine but writing will allow it to be shared by many over the years. My childhood of the 1940's and '50's was completely different than that of my four grandchildren growing up in the 21st century. I want them to know what life was like when their grandfather and I were kids. 

The thrill we got with our first television set, one with a teeny tiny round screen set in a big console is something they would most likely laugh about, But maybe it would help them appreciate their own 48 inch flat screen TV a bit more. Our grandchildren all live in houses but I grew up in a large apartment building. With over 60 apartments, we had our own little city. Our play place was concrete, not the grass they know. The minuscule freezer in our small fridge held one tray of ice cubes and a pint of ice cream. Theirs? Well, you know how today's freezers hold.

When my grandchildren go shopping with their mothers, they get in the car and speed off to the mall. My mother and I used public transportation--bus or elevated train--to get where we needed to shop.

I have written multiple stories about me and my family that I send to my children and grandchildren. I write the stories for them and for whatever children might come later. I could tell them the stories but if I write them, they are preserved forever. I do tell them the stories sometimes but I make sure they are also written.

Don't make it a I should do that sometime thing. If you haven't started already, set a goal to write one a month. You might enjoy it so much that you'll soon aim for one a week. Even if your grandchildren, or your own children, are still infants, write those stories now and you'll have them ready when they are older. When something triggers a memory, jot down a few notes so you can write the story later.

Write your own story but include your family members--parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins. They're all a part of your very own story. You don't have to be a professional or published author to write stories about your life. Anyone can do it.

The Our Echo website has a motto at the top that I've always liked. It says Everyone has a story. What's yours? This website for people to post their stories is not as active as it was when it had a strong leader but you can still read lots of good stories by people who are writers and people who are everyday folk wanting to preserve their family stories. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Writing About Smells, Scents, and Aromas

Hold your nose when something stinks! Inhale deeply of a scent that is pleasing. Smell is one of the sensory details we should include in our writing. It's something your readers can relate to--both the good aromas and the nasty ones. 

Try writing a paragraph or few sentences using some, or all, of the items listed below. They're meant to trigger your memory. Some might bring back a full story while others may be only a shred of a memory for you, or perhaps none at all. Show the smell rather than tell if you can.

1. the food you hate the most

2. hot apple pie

3. a fresh cut Christmas tree

4. an outhouse

5.newly made popcorn

6. school paste

7. ink

8. roses

9. bubble gum

10. a baby's diaper

11. a turkey roasting

12. burning leaves

13. cooked cabbage

14. bleach

15. gasoline

Monday, August 10, 2015

Hook 'em Fast

All these people had to come up with an opening line to the story they are writing. Be it a novel, a personal essay, an article, or a poem--all need an opening line that grabs the reader. Anyone who thinks it's easy to do that is not a realist.

Far too many writers begin with a description of a place. Nice but not usually something to hook the reader. Others try giving unimportant information in trying to set the scene. Some use dialogue immediately which has its good and bad points. Some open with background information that might have gone into a prologue or dispensed with altogether or woven into later chapters. Others open with factual bits that most readers will slide by.

When you're editing, do you pay close attention to what your opening line says or does? You should. I fear that when writers edit their first draft, they tend to slip right on by that all-important first line.

A first line should do one of these things:

1. make the reader curious

2. startle the reader

3. make the reader want to move on to the next line.

4. make the reader laugh

5. shock the reader

In summing up the five things in the list, the writer must aim to make the reader sit up and pay attention. Immediately!

How many times have you heard someone describe a book as slow to start but gets better later on? With the time constraints people deal with in today's busy lives, most aren't going to keep going until the story gets good. It's your job to hook 'em fast.

I found an article that lists 50 of the best opening lines. Take a look at the list. You'll recognize many but others will be new to you. Don't just skim them. Study them. Ask yourself why each one is listed in this group of 50.

Now, go into your files and read the first lines of your own stories, poems or essays. How do they measure up? How might you change them? How many really please you?

We're talking about only that opening line today. The sad thing is there are so many more to write after you perfect that initial sentence.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Writers Give So Much To Readers

If you love to read as much as I do, then you'll agree with today's poster. We can sit in our living rooms, on the beach or in our beds and be taken on fairy wings to somewhere in the past or the distant future. While reading a book, we are allowed to experience myriad emotions of others. We have the ability to go on an adventure and  learn what it's like to sail an ocean, fly in a helicopter, go on a safari or be a pioneer. We might  even find the answers to our own problems while reading a book.

Yes, as readers we go through many doors to places beyond our wildest dreams when it comes to our own lives. Most avid readers began the magic journey as children and have continued right on to adulthood.

But what if you're the writer of the books that transport readers to other worlds? Power-hungry people have no idea what command and authority lies in the hands of a writer. If they did, we'd have many more writers than we do now.

Of course, it goes without saying that the writer must offer an entertaining and well-written book. If so, the writer should bask in the joy of creating a little magic in the lives of their readers.

I think this idea extends to shorter pieces as well as books. The writer who pens a superb memoir piece or a personal essay that does that reach out and touch someone commercial proud can also be pleased with what they give to their readers.

Writers who write for children's magazines or produce full books for kids start the magic ride for so many children. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on the wonderful children's book series many of us devoured as kids. What a great service the authors of those books gave to us.

If you are a writer, be proud of what you have given to your readers. Be happy that you were allowed to enter the lives of so many others through the words you've written. Be inspired to keep on writing to bring more magic to readers.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Writing Exercise

Let's do a picture prompt writing exercise today. I love this picture. It raises all kinds of questions in my mind as I look at it. Things like:

1. Who is she?

2. Why is she barefoot?

3. Where is she?

4. What time of year is it?

5. What might the temperature be?

6. Why is she running?

7. What sounds come to mind when viewing the picture?

8, Where is she going?

9. Who is she meeting?

To do this exercise spend some time studying the picture. The longer you look, the more you'll see. Make a list of questions that come to you as you study the picture. Then begin to write. Let it be a paragraph or a whole story. Hopefully, once you write a beginning, you'll be able to go on and expand your story.

An exercise like this is a good one to develop your observation abilities. The longer you look at the picture, the more you'll see. It also sparks creativity.

When you finish, you may have the beginnings of a new writing project. Then again, you may have only the paragraphs you've written today. Either way is alright.

I once heard a writer turn up her nose at writing exercises like this one. I don't bother with exercises. I want to write something I can get published.

Have you ever heard of an opera singer who did not practice? Ever watched an award winning football player who skipped practices? Ever known a college basketball player who shunned practices? Ever heard of a trapeze artist who never practiced? Writers are no different. We need practice, too.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Writing That Hurts Others

The scripture verse in today's poster has a powerful message given to us in a few words. One of the first thoughts I had was that the pen is also a small thing but it, too, can do enormous damage.

A writer I know wrote a wonderful personal essay--lyrical prose at its best with a strong message. But she mentions a few of her family members in a negative vein. Her question to a group of us was whether or not she should show it to said family members prior to submitting it for publication or should she submit it and let them see it after it was published. Her aim was not to hurt these people but she knew they might take it as such. The general consensus among the group of writers she polled was that she should submit it without showing it to the people who are indicated in the essay. She does not use specific names just a general description such as 'my cousin.'

Many writers face a similar dilemma. We want to tell the story as it happened but we also don't want to hurt members of our family or close friends. I know there are writers who go ahead and write what they want to about anyone they know. They have an I don't care what they think! attitude. It's obviously their choice but I wonder how many friendships they lose or family members they never hear from again. There's a quote moving around the internet that says something like we should have lived better lives if we didn't want someone to write about us. Nothing like reversing the blame!

What you write can do damage if you don't get the facts straight. If you think you know something happened and write about it but then someone questions your stance, you might end up in a lot of trouble, even a court of law. Check and recheck to make sure you have everything correct.

Some writers tell stories about family members without any intention of hurting them. But we don't know how someone else might look at what we've written. It's all in the perception. When you write about people you know, step back and try to read it as objectively as possible before you decide to submit for publication.

My father was a very difficult man to live with, even though he had many good qualities. Some of the hardest times of my life happened because of his reaction to a situation. I had a love/hate relationship with him from childhood on. It's confusing when you're a child and it's frustrating and aggravating when an adult.I felt the need to write about many of the unhappy events but I refrained from doing so until both my parents had passed on. I could not take the chance of hurting them by publicizing family matters. That was not my intent but they might have taken it that way. I needed to write about it as a release and a healing process for myself. So, I waited.

Think about who you might offend with what you have written before you submit for publication. In my writer friend's case cited above, most of the respondents urged her to submit without showing the essay to the family members. They mentioned that it was unlikely the people would read the publication it lands in anyway. Unless the author chooses to show it to them after publication. Another dilemma!

Keep the power of the pen in mind. It can change the world. It can warm the heart. It can damage relationships. It's in your hand.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Writers Need A Special Set of Tools


Carpenters may carry their tools in plain sight but writers keep theirs hidden away deep within themselves. Go to a book signing or a lecture by an author and you won't see that person's writing tools in a bag next to them.

Some writing tools we either have or want to acquire are:

1. Good sentence structure

2. Use of action verbs more often than passive

3. Organized thoughts

4. Transitions between paragraphs when needed

5. Clarity

6. Memorable phrases

7. Use of sensory details

8. Showing time and place

9. Good dialogue

10. Emotion

11. Development of characters

You can't run to Home Depot to purchase these tools. You can't borrow them from a next-door neighbor. You can't rub the magic lamp and ask for a full set from a genie. A writer acquires this set of tools little by little.


1. By reading books on writing

2. By reading books by other writers

3. By writing on a regular basis

4. By doing writing exercises

5. By having writing critiqued by others and paying attention to what they say

6. By attending workshops and classes on writing

It is evident that a writer does not acqure a full set of tools for his/her trade in a short space of time. Instead, a writer gathers these tools little by little. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Not All Writers Pen Novels

When we are beginning or new writers, we nearly all want to write a book. The Great American Novel! It's a wonderful goal to set but not everyone reaches it. Many don't even come close. It's perfectly alright.

Why? Because there are many other forms of publication for writers who write shorter pieces. I've shown a couple above next to the book. Newspapers buy from freelancers. Magazine editors are always looking for good articles and essays.

Ezines online need content. There are many kinds of internet sites that are looking for fiction, poetry, personal essays as well as nonfiction articles. Some bloggers pay for posts written by others. Some online publications pay, but many do not. It's up to the writer to make the decision as to which they will submit to. Then, it's time to sift and sort.

Technical articles are used in trade magazines. Small presses look for material for anthologies or a short story collection.

What kind of writing should you pursue for your shorter works? Here's a partial list.

1.  short fiction for adults

2. fiction and nonfiction for kids

3. creative nonfiction

4. memoir

5. essays of all kinds--personal, technical, opinion, and more

6. nonfiction articles

7. How-To guides

8, crafts and recipes

I believe in starting out with short pieces and working your way up to the full book. Your odds of being published with this type of writing are much better than in selling your novel. I don't mean to put down the novelists at all. I truly admire anyone who can write a complete book. But I do want to emphasize that writing shorter things is just fine, too. Besides that, it's very good pracatice for the bigger projects.

A man I know asks me on a regular basis if I've published a novel yet. To him, that is the ultimate goal. And no, he is not a writer himself. Maybe someday, I can answer yes to his question but in the meantime, I'm very satisfied to have shorter pieces published now and then. We who are not novelists shouldn't ever feel like a second fiddle.