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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

About Your Writing Journey

Many writers feel like they are in a constant competition with other writers. I prefer to think of writers as being on a journey from the first time they wrote something to this present day. I, too, like to see writers happy and experiencing success on their long writing path.

You start the writing journey with that first piece you wrote. Maybe it was a special high school essay. Or it might have been a story written by you, the fourth grader. That first real writing that marked you as a writer might not have occurred until well into your adult years. It doesn't matter when it happened. What is important is that you took the first steps on your writing journey. 

If it made you happy, that's wonderful. If you found success, even better. But from those first timid steps on the writing path to today has been a time filled with so many markers. Look at some of them
  • that first published piece
  • the reams of paper you've used when you wrote by hand or printed your computer copy
  • the inspiration received from everyday pieces of life
  • earning writing rewards
  • accumulating a readership that continues to grow
  • the writing conferences attended
  • the workshops taught as a published writer
  • fan mail
  • writing better over the years
  • gaining confidence in your own writing ability
  • book signings
  • interviews 
 Some of you have experienced all of the markers above and others can check only a few. Do you see
the end of your writing journey? I certainly hope not. I have a strong desire to see my own writing journey continue until they put me in a casket and say some nice words at my grave site. God willing, that's the way it will be. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

When A Story Isn't Working, Fix It!

Have you ever finished a first draft, revised and edited a few times but are still not satisfied with it? Do you like all of it except the ending? Do you perhaps hate the opening lines? Or feel that the story bogs down in the middle.

What if I lose my reader? What if the reader doesn't want to read on to the end? What if the editor laughs at the serious opening lines and dumps it before reading the rest? If you think things like the preceding on occasion, relax. It only proves you are a very normal writer. We all have concerns about our writing. Be thankful that you do have concerns, If you didn't, you might never go  back and do another revision or edit.

There are fixer-upper houses that someone turns into a very pleasant, livable home. Ever watch one of those TV shows that details the ways a sad little house can be made into a breathtaking home? You can do that with your piece of writing that is just not working right for you. How?

First, put it away for a few days--or even longer. Then, read it from start to finish with an objective eye. That is not always easy to do but try it. You'll see more places that need to be fixed if you do.

Then decide which parts satisfy you? Leave them alone! Now, find the areas that are problematic. There may be one or several. Ask yourself what bothers you about the ending or the opening paragraph. In other words, pinpoint the problem. You can't change it if you aren't sure what the problem is. Maybe your opening is just plain boring, gives too much info and doesn't have a hook. Perhaps your ending is lame, leaving the reader disappointed or shaking her/his head.

Once you have defined the problem, start your repair job. You might add details that enlarge the section. You could up the tension. Or rewrite the opening to hook your reader immediately. Add sensory details that make a bland area more interesting. Create an ending that brings emotion to you and it will do the same for your reader. There are times where you rewrite an entire section even though you have no desire to do so.

When you get to a point that you feel like you've improved the piece, put it away again for a few days. Read it later and see if you still feel satisfied. Hopefully, you'll feel you have a better piece of writing. What if you don't? You have two options: start the revision process once more or file it and forget it. There are times it's best to kill a story completely. If it isn't working for you, it probably won't for anyone else.

Writing is fun. Rewriting is darned hard work but almost always worth doing.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Little Time Away From Home

Riverchase Galleria - Hoover, AL, United States. Waiting by a gigantic flower

I'm later than usual today in posting as we are traveling. We met three couples who have been friends of ours for many years to spend a few days together. This is an annual event. The men play golf and the women shop, go to museums or whatever other attractions there might be. The place we meet is selected by whoever is the host couple. This year, we are in Birmingham, Alabama--Hoover to be exact which is a suburb that is home to the Galleria area.

We arrived yesterday and have been talking nonstop ever since. Even though we keep in touch via facebook, email and occasional phone calls, there is never a lack of conversation. The one thing we cannot control at these outings is the weather. This morning it showered off and on but didn't keep the men off the golf course. Tomorrow looks like thunderstorms and heavier rain so that might change the plan a bit. Or it could pass right on by. Now, that's the optimistic golfers prediction.

We four women went to the Galleria Mall and did some looking and shopping, lunch at a California Pizza Kitchen. I hadn't been to one in many years, and I was pleased to find they are still quite good.

I interacted with many people in the shops and restaurant today. It's those everyday people we meet who can become characters in our stories someday. Don't count out the butcher you frequent, or the clerk at Walgreen's, or the pharmacist at Target. If any of them particularly impress you, make notes. You might be able to use them someday.

I'm being called to a gathering of the eight of us for snacks and drinks and more chatter. Later, we'll go to dinner somewhere nearby and then watch the Packers football game on TV, or at least the last half.  More tomorrow on activities in Birmingham.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Write About Visiting Family History

Today's post is another personal essay about a place we visited. Yesterday's post was about a special hotel, this one is about a hotel and the town in Germany where Ken's grandfather grew up. You can use one small piece of family history and create a full personal essay or memoir piece about it. This piece placed in a contest and has been published.

Grandpa’s Town
By Nancy Julien Kopp

My husband wanted to go to Germany, rent a car and travel the scenic southern area. He had a yen to visit small towns and villages instead of big cities, which we’d already seen on earlier trips. Ken planned to drive the secondary roads and stay off the autobahn. For people who had relied on tour guides in the past, this was definitely an adventure.

In January, we started planning. I did multiple google searches on hotels, restaurants, attractions, transatlantic flights and car rentals. Ken’s job was to map out the route. He spread a huge map of Germany across our dining room table, leaving half of it clear for us to eat meals. He agreed to fold up Germany when company came.

Pointing to the map one morning, he said, “Here’s Lahr, the town where my Grandfather Kopp grew up.” His finger circled the immediate area. “It’s on the edge of the Black Forest. We could stay there for a few days and take in the surrounding area.”  

With that simple statement, our understanding and love for his grandfather grew tenfold, but not until we’d experienced Lahr.

We arrived in Grandpa’s town on a fine June day. We’d had good luck winging it as far as hotels went, but Lahr proved a different story. One hotel didn’t meet our standards. Three others were open but we could never get assistance. They appeared deserted, even though the front doors stood open. We began to wonder what kind of place we’d come to.

We continued to drive up one street and down another. Around a curve, we happened on a place I warmed to immediately. I sent Ken in to look and book. It proved fit for kings and queens, and that’s who could afford to stay there. Ken kept driving, while I had visions of sleeping in the car. Then I grabbed Ken’s arm.

 “There! The Hotel-am-West-End. It looks nice.”

I liked the all-white building and the big, leafy trees that lined the street. The open deck on the second floor, ringed with colorful, overflowing flower boxes beckoned. Ken went in and returned smiling. We had a room.

We climbed to the second floor reception area, and Ken introduced Dirk, the owner. Dirk must have lost his razor—either that or he liked the stubble on his face. His clothes were clean although a bit rumpled, but he gave us an effusive welcome, his smile warm and genuine.

Ken told Dirk that his Grandfather Kopp had grown up in Lahr. Dirk looked at the register where Ken had signed in. “Kopp? Ja, we got lots of them here.” Ken knew of cousins who had moved away but not of any other relations here. Apparently, our last name was a common one in this part of the world.

We ambled down the hall on oriental carpeting, dragging our luggage behind, mouths opened as we tried to take in the amazing antique art and furnishings that lined the walls
We learned later that Dirk ran the small hotel and dealt in antiques on the side.

After a quick look at our pleasant room, we met the Guest Relations Manager in the hotel restaurant. Schef was a short-legged, fat, amiable dog, who plunked himself next to my chair, hoping perhaps for a morsel of my wiener schnitzel to fall his way while we planned our agenda. We’d only been in Lahr for a few hours but already felt warmly welcomed.

Schef, the Guest Relations Manager

Lahr was not a tourist stop but had its own charm. The town was surely much smaller in the late nineteenth century when Grandpa lived here--where he went to school, played
games, and maybe gave a wink to a pretty girl now and then. Maybe some of these shops were the same ones where his mother sent him on errands.

Each day, we thought of Grandpa as a little boy, a teen, and then a young man. In this clean, working man’s town, he learned values and formed opinions that lasted a lifetime. His cheerful outlook on life had been cultivated here on these streets. Every letter we’d received from him in our early married years began “I am fine and dandy. How are you?”

We did venture to the surrounding area each day, visiting the Black Forest region and crossing the border into Strasbourg, France. After one of these daylong excursions, Ken went out for a walk by himself. He seemed a bit surprised that he felt so much emotion while visiting his grandfather’s hometown. He wanted to see as much of it as possible in the time we had, and he snapped myriad pictures to show his brothers when we returned home.

Ken in downtown Lahr, German

Wilhelm Kopf moved away from Lahr at age twenty to try his luck in America. He left mother, father, and baby brother as well as friends. More than fifty years later, he returned for a three-week visit telling Ken’s family in Illinois that he’d see them soon. Three months passed before he journeyed to America again. I have a feeling long-buried memories flooded back as he walked his boyhood paths and visited family and friends. He must have been reluctant to let them go again. But the pull of his family in America proved great enough to make him return.

Our visit to Lahr touched Ken deeply. Even more than a century after his birth, this was still Grandpa’s town, and a part of his own heritage. Ken’s connection may have once been a fragile thread, but by the time we left, it had strengthened considerably and had drawn me in, as well. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Write Personal Essays About Places You've Stayed

Have you ever walked into a hotel, spent a night or two, then fondly thought of it many times after you'd checked out? If a hotel impresses you, then you've found something to write about. The hotel above is in a small village outside of Munich, Germany. It did impress me and I did write about it and the essay placed in a contest and has been published.

It's such a small thing--a stay at a hotel--in the relative hugeness of our world. But if you write about the personal and the way things/places affect you, then you have a perfect inspiration. My personal essay and a few more pictures of this hotel are below. One suggestion is to write about the place soon after you have stayed there while the details are fresh in your mind.

A Hungarian Hotel in Germany
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 Our heads were fuzzy and our legs like jelly when we left the long, overnight flight from Kansas City to Munich, Germany. After clearing passport control and getting our luggage, my husband and I headed to the rental car area of the airport. Despite our fatigue, we managed the paperwork and check-out with only a minimum of frustration. An hour later, we settled into a Mercedes C Class sedan and made our way out of the city, Ken at the wheel and map in my hand. Our second job of the day was to locate the hotel we’d booked on the internet. I’d searched diligently for a reasonably priced hotel not too far from the Munich airport. I found many, but somehow one kept calling to me, so I clicked and clicked until we were booked for the first three nights of our three week stay in Germany.
The half hour drive to Hohenlinden turned into an hour, then another hour. We learned that German roadways are excellent but that German road signs leave a great deal to be desired.  We also discovered that the GPS in our rental car was programmed in German. Useless for us. Round and round we went, on highways and byways, roundabouts and little traveled pathways. I was near tears and Ken near eruption point when we somehow
 pulled into the small, rural village of Hohenlinden. Relief is far too mild a word to describe our feelings. Surely the Hotel Zur Linde would soon appear.
“I think it’s on the outskirts of the town,” I told Ken as he gripped the steering wheel more firmly.
“Not so,” he said slowing down in front of a three-story stucco building with Hotel Zur Linde painted  on the side, right in the middle of town. He pulled into the side drive and around the back to a minuscule parking area, and we walked wearily into the hotel. A small reception area appeared dark and rather uninviting, but a young girl in the office cubicle smiled and greeted us so warmly, our spirits rose like a hot air balloon on a sunny day.
All we wanted was to go to our room, take a shower and change clothes, but it was not to be.
 “Oh, I’m so sorry,” the young woman said in perfect English. “You cannot go to your room until 2 p.m. But you can have lunch first. Her smile erased any irritation we might have had as she led us to the outdoor biergarten surrounded by greenery, an arbor and sweet-smelling flowers. We could easily kill an hour and a half here.
A tall glass of the local beer and a bowl of Hungarian soup helped revive us. We lingered in the pleasant outdoor garden until 2 p.m. when we unloaded our luggage and stepped into a tiny elevator to go to our room. It was small but clean and nicely furnished. A big window looked out on a church across the road. The bed with the snowy white duvet, sheet and soft pillows looked so inviting.

Showered and clothes changed, we set off on a walk around the town. Quaint houses, small shops, and flower gardens brought smiles to our faces and cooled our blood pressure back to normal. In one front garden, a man wearing a long cotton coat, worked with wood using a standing saw. Seeing him thrilled Ken. He told me he’d seen pictures of men doing work like that and wearing the coat to protect their clothes. As we walked, we discussed our plan for the next day when we were to go back to the Munich airport to pick up good friends from South Africa, who would be traveling with us.
In the evening, we went to the formal dining room and enjoyed a leisurely and excellent meal served by a waitress who had charm plus. Several patrons ate with well-behaved dogs lying next to them. The girl who had checked us in that afternoon was gone, and her mother was the dining room hostess and hotel clerk for the evening. Mama was tall, slender and blonde, wearing spike heels and a low-cut blouse. We chatted with her and were a bit surprised to learn we had booked into a Hungarian hotel.  Good German beer and German food like roast pork, red cabbage and potato dumplings and a few Hungarian items on the menu, so not a problem, especially with the special way we’d been welcomed.
When our waitress brought our food, she asked what we would say in English to wish someone a good meal. “Enjoy!” I told her, “or even Bon Appetit!” With eyes sparkling, she called out “Enjoy!” as she hurried back to the kitchen. Our food proved to be as satisfying as the hotel itself.

We’d noticed the church across the street filled the summer air with its bells every hour on the hour--lovely bells which chimed for a couple of minutes. We strolled over to the church after dinner and found a small cemetery on one side of the building. Each plot was outlined in paving stones and perennial flowers, some with stone angels adorning the area where the marker sat. We were taken with the care each grave had been given and the gentle, dainty look the flowers and statues added. Hand in hand, we crossed the road to our hotel and bed. “I can’t wait to see Mike and Mavis tomorrow,” I said to Ken.
At 6 a.m., the church bells began to peal. Nice, I thought, as I pulled up the duvet and snuggled deeper into my feather pillow. But the bells went on and on and…. fifteen minutes worth! Enough to wake the entire town! Surely, no one in Hohenlinden needed an alarm clock.
After a pleasing breakfast, we zipped into Munich in less than half an hour. Amazing what you can do when you have the proper directions. We picked up our friends at the architecturally impressive airport and brought them to Hotel Zur Linde. Our innkeeper greeted them warmly as new guests and we as old friends, having been there an entire 24 hours.
 “Oh, what a nice place this is,” Mavis said to me as we helped them to their room down the hall from ours. We met in the biergarten for a tall glass of beer to toast the beginning of our time together. Living halfway across the world from one another, our times together are treasured. We ate outdoors that night with many of the locals who were having a good time if judged by the chatter and laughter.

The next morning I asked if there was a guest computer. “Oh yes,” the innkeeper said, and she led me to a folding screen in the breakfast room which hid the computer. I tried and tried to get onto the internet but could not find the @ on the keyboard. I finally gave up, and went to the office to ask for help. “That is a Hungarian keyboard,” the woman told me. “Come, I’ll show you what to do.” Hit Shift and q and the @ comes up. Success at last, but the y and z were in the opposite places of our keyboards. Otherwise, they were the same. I finally got it figured out and was able to check my e-mail.
We woke up each morning to the 6 o’clock bell concert. By the third morning, I was awake and waiting. Instead of being irritated at the early awakening, I looked forward to it, knowing a wonderful German buffet breakfast awaited us on the floor below. Fresh fruit, cereal, cold meats, cheeses, and hard rolls accompanied by strong coffee and a few pastries filled us to satisfaction as we lingered in the sunlit dining room.
Before we checked out of the hotel, we booked it again for our last night in Germany, negotiating a lower price for our return.
After touring the back roads, small towns and villages of southern Germany, for three weeks, we returned to Hohenlinden. When we pulled into the parking area, it almost felt like coming home. The four of us strolled into the reception area, and our Hungarian innkeeper came to greet us, three inch heels clicking on the tile floor, her face alight with a warm welcome. We were definitely home.
A rainy night meant dinner in the formal dining room with a fire burning to take the chill out of the air. Good food and drink and a recap of all we’d done while touring Germany gave us a lovely final evening in the Hotel Zur Linde.

The grand finale came at six the next morning when the church bell concert began. I lay in the comfortable bed, listening to the swell of the bell tones, pleased that I’d found this charming small hotel, or did it find me? With so many choices, why did this one keep calling out to me?

We checked out after breakfast and loaded the car, ready to go to the airport. The four of us made one last trip inside for a warm farewell from the Hungarian hostess of this special hotel. The church bells rang to let us know it was eight o’clock as we drove out of town. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"....a lump in the throat."

Who can resist a wonderful autumn picture like this? When I discovered it among a group of many seasonal photos, I was drawn by the sunlight slipping through the trees. I had the urge to write a poem or paint a picture. Since I can't paint worth a darn, I'll probably try a poem. 

As so often happens, that thought led to another--about poetry. A few weeks ago, I read a book titled The Long Way Home by Louise Penny, another in her series about a Canadian detective. One of the characters in the story is an old woman who is physically handicapped, bitter at times and poignant at others, even bitter but she writes poems. She states more than once in the novel "Poetry begins with a lump in the throat." Other characters also refer to what Ruth said. That quote has rolled around in my mind ever since. It pops up at the most unexpected moments. It happened when I studied this photo. 

I loved what the fictional character said. Author Louise Penny put the words in this character's mouth so we must attribute the wonderful thought to her. Lots to consider in those few words.

Poetry and emotion belong together. Oh sure, you can write a poem without feeling anything but guess what? Your readers won't experience any emotion in it either. It will be words strung together to show us something but it probably isn't going to bring a tear or that 'lump in the throat' or even a good laugh. 

The 'lump in the throat' indicates to me that emotion in the poet is essential for good poetry. It's one reason that poems about our own experiences can show emotion. We lived it, we know what it felt like. I've referred many times to Ronda Miller's poem Moonstain. This one most definitely would have begun with the 'lump in the throat.'  I know that I had it when I finished reading the poem for the first time. 

If you're a writer who has trouble baring your soul in your writing, be it poetry or prose, it's time to work on getting over it. If you hide your own emotions, your readers won't get nearly as much from your words as they will if you let the emotion flow throughout. No, I don't mean getting sappy and overdoing it. Like all things, there is a fine line to what is done well and what is overdone. So, tread with care.

I know that 'poetry begins with a lump in the throat' is going to stay with me for a very long time. Maybe it will help trigger writing with emotion. I hope so. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A New Short Story Anthology--Free For A Short Time

Sonny collins belongs to the Kansas Writers Association (KWA). He sent an invitation to submit short stories for an anthology he hoped to publish. I am one of the 18 authors featured in the book. I have never met Sonny personally but we are facebook friends through the KWA. 

You can have the ebook version free today and through this Friday, September 25th. Look for it here and click on the Buy link to be sent to your own ereader or pc. The price is $0.00 these four days but will go to $3 for the ebook and $10 for the print version after that. Read my interview with Sonny Collins below to get more info on the book. I have not read it yet so cannot give a review but hope to do so in the near future.


Me: How did you get the idea for By Invitation Only?

Sonny: I decided to do a collection of short stories to help people who haven't had a chance at getting published the opportunity to do so without having to enter a contest or being rejected.

Me:  How did you decide whom to invite to submit stories?

Sonny:  I decided to just invite people from my 3 facebook pages, but I did tell them they could invite others as well. It was pretty much open to anyone who wished to submit a story.

Me:  Why didn't you open it to everyone to submit? 

Sonny:  I figured there would be enough responses from my facebook pages to have a decent sized book.

Me:  Were you pleased with the quality of the stories?

Sonny:  I was a bit nervous about this, but in the end, I think all the stories represented the best the authors had to offer and it gives a variety of styles and genres. 

Me:  What genres are the stories in the book?

Sonny:  Seems like we got a bit of everything, but I did notice most of them leaned toward the sentimental.

Me:  What is your own writing background?

Sonny:  I studied to be an English teacher in college, but life took me an entirely different direction--restaurant management for 26 years. It was only about ten years ago I decided to delve into the writing business and with mostly lucky circumstances, I was able to launch out and now have about fifteen books published.

Me:  What will the ebook and print book cost after the week of free ebooks?

Sonny:  The ebook will be $3 and the print book $10 at Lulu Press.

Me:  Have you compiled other anthologies?

Sonny:  I have done this before for KWA-Kansas Writers Assoication--a short story collection called "The Big and Small of Us All" and a poetry collection called "When Words Bloom" that can both be found as ebooks at Amazon or or print books at Lulu Press.

Me:  Are all the authors of "By Invitation Only" from Kansas?

Sonny:  Most of the authors are from Kansas, but at least two are from Oklahoma, that I know of. 

Sonny concludes with this:  Thanks for a chance to let people know about this book. And one question not asked, but I think some would like to know--all profits from all three of the books mentioned goes to KWA (a nonprofit organization) that nurtures and encourages writers from pro to beginner. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Benefit of Reading Your Writing Aloud

One of the things that can help your writing a great deal is to read your work aloud. Preferably not in a crowded room but somewhere you can be alone. Employ listening skills to critique your own work.

Some people might feel silly reading their writing out loud in an empty room. After all, they figure that they wrote it, they should know what it says. Right? Yes, but only to a certain extent. I guarantee that you will hear your story or poem or essay differently than when you just read over your edited copy.

You'll catch typos and misspellings and improper punctuation. You might find yourself breathless after reading an especially long sentence that has no commas in it. Those commas give us a natural break spot. You might spot a missed period or end mark of some kind on an occasional sentence.

Another thing that will suddenly be very evident is the flow and rhythm of your piece. You'll see the places that need work in that respect. There will be spots that appear to bog down. Something like that shows up better reading aloud than if you just silently read it to yourself. You'll see places that need a short sentence to break up a series of long sentences. You'll see where you need a break or a where there should be two paragraphs rather than one.

It is especially beneficial to read poetry aloud--for many of the same reasons pointed out above. It may sound totally different from a version you read silently.

In summary, read your work out loud to:
Catch mechanical errors
  • Look for natural break points
  • Check the rhythm and flow 
  • Find places that slow down the entire piece
  • Find places that need a short sentence between long ones  
Go ahead and read aloud whatever you're working on now. Don't feel like a crazy person. Feel like a writer who is covering all bases before submitting to an editor.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Autumn Picture Prompt Exercise

It's Friday and a good time to finish the week with an autumn picture prompt exercise. I'm going to provide two pictures for you today, both autumn scenes. The first one allows you to look through a window into a natural area of trees and leaves falling where colors abound. Use your writer's imagination. 

  • What do you see out the window?
  •  Who are you waiting for? 
  • Are you going to venture outside or stay inside the house?
  • What do you smell? Hear? 

Here's another picture to prompt your imagination and inspire you to write. Study the details in this picture, then ask yourself a few questions. 

  • Who lives in the house?
  • Who will come to sit on the bench?
  • What is that big log doing there?
  • Is the light fog going to get better or worse?
  • Do you hear or smell anything?
Picture prompts are a great way to boost your imaginative powers and can get a story started that might beg to keep on going. Or it might just be a good writing exercise, one to get you going on another writing project. Whichever, enjoy the seasonal pictures and put them to good use this weekend.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Write From Your Heart

Heart Graphic clipartI have a coaster on my computer desk that says a lot in a few words. Words are the voice of the heart. I bought it several years ago while browsing in a gift shop. When I spotted it, I stopped to contemplate the saying and it moved me, so, of course, I bought it.

I keep it where I see it every day for a reminder of one of the reasons I write, and many of you, as well. I write what I feel and what I believe in. Our best writing comes from our heart. If you're only pounding out letters that become words that become sentences that have no heart behind them, you are less likely to have that work published.

If writing a memoir piece and all you do is report what happened, your memoir is not likely to win a contest or be published. Not will it move readers.

When we write from the heart, connecting with readers is much more likely. If we put some emotion into what we offer to readers, there is a better chance they they will also react with emotion. If our writing comes from the heart and shows feelings--note the show not tell--we're far more apt to get into quality publications.

I think readers love reading words that come from the heart, words that make them laugh or cry or feel warm and cozy. People read to be informed and to be entertained but they also like experiencing the emotions of the characters in fiction or the ones in memoirs or personal essays. When I read a book that appeals to my emotions, I usually remember the book for a long time. Sometimes forever!

In the newspaper world, writers must stick to the facts. They are to report an event, a crime, or a financial crisis without putting their own emotions into the story. The stories I enjoy most in the newspapers are the ones that are more akin to a personal essay where the reporter can write from the heart and include feelings. There was a great sports writer who worked for the Kansas City Star who could write a story about a player or a game or a series that appealed to the personal side of sports fans. Joe Posnanski let other sports writers give the facts of the game while he appealed to the human side. I don't remember those other sports writers but ones like this who write from the heart stay with me.

There is one small problem with writing from your heart. It's not always easy to bare our soul to others. As writers, we need to get around that. We must be able to dig deep into our emotional piggy bank and spend some of it by incorporating our feelings into our writing. The more we write this way, the easier it will become.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Five Traps Writers Fall Into

I have been thinking about an article I wrote some time ago that has been published several times, in different versions. It came to mind because I find that lately I have been doing all kinds of writing-related activities but not writing a new story or essay or poem. I allowed myself to fall into some of the writing traps. I pulled up the article to read this morning and I'm going to share it here today. I apparently neglected to follow my own advice! Maybe it will be food for thought for some of you, too.

Watch Out For These Five Traps
By Nancy Julien Kopp

Writers are urged to write often, write voraciously, to write, write, write. Even so, we know that to win the prize—publication—there are myriad things we must do besides putting words on paper or our computer screen.

Each of the following writer-related items is beneficial, but if we aren’t careful, they become traps. We can become caught in a spider web of good intentions which eat into our writing time. Let’s consider them, one by one.

Reading About Writing:  We buy or borrow dozens of books that give us the keys to good writing. We immerse ourselves in one after another. We might become so busy learning that the application part is forgotten. Read books on the craft of writing but be selective and limit the number.

Websites and Newsletters for Writers:  The editors of both offer articles to read and classes to take. They present markets and contests, writing prompts and exercises. Seldom satisfied with one, most writers subscribe to several, sometimes many more than several. They do have some excellent information but take precious time to read. Pick the ones you like best and unsubscribe from the others.

Critique groups:  A face-to-face critique group offers constructive criticism and praise for our work, as well as an opportunity to network with other writers. We can profit greatly in a group like this. They also take time. Ask yourself if it’s worth the precious hours you might otherwise spend writing.

Research:  This is a necessary part of writing for many as well as being pure joy for some writers. We can get so involved in the process that far more time is spent than is needed. With practice, a writer can determine the appropriate amount of time to give to the research end of a story or article.

Organizations for Writers:  Joining a local, state or national group offers networking possibilities with other writers, leads on markets and publishers, and a way to keep up with the latest trends in your field. All of them require officers and committee chairs and members who will serve on the committees. Keep your membership in a select number of these groups and limit your participation to what you can handle.

All of the above are worthwhile endeavors. The key is to maintain a healthy balance. Review your writing activities occasionally to make sure you aren’t falling into a trap. When you produce fewer and fewer pages, it may be time to step back assess the reasons.

Financial experts advise clients to take the savings out of the paycheck first. Writing is no different—those thousand words a day must take precedence over all the other writing-related aspects of your life. You know what the traps are, and by practicing self-discipline, you can avoid all of them. Your greatest benefit will be more time to write.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Is Writing For Self-satisfaction Enough?

Publication! That's our goal as writers. You and I know that having a goal and achieving it can be miles apart. We must work diligently, a step at a time, toward that twinkling star in the sky.

Meanwhile, consider this. Your audience doesn't have to number in the thousands, or even hundreds. You can write for one or two and still be a writer. That one might be you and you alone.

There are writers who don't give a twit about being published. They write for family. Perhaps a grandmother, who is also a gifted storyteller, writes childrens' books for no one other than her own grandchildren. Wonderful! What a longstanding and personal connection there will always be between her and the grandchildren. Others write family stories meant to be read by the people they claim as relatives. For them and no one else. That's not only fine, but commendable.

We also have writers in this great big world of ours who write simply for an audience of one. Themself! They write for self-satisfaction. There is something within that urges some people to write. It's no different for the writers who don't strive for publication. They have achieved something whether published and read by thousands or read by one. If it's the actual writing that brings satisfaction and joy, I applaud those writers. The rest of us look for those two qualities but want more than that.

Look at this sweet little boy playing for the little black and white cat. There's some satisfaction on both sides. It reminds me of a program that we have at our library and many other libraries. It's Read To A Dog every Sunday afternoon in our library's children's department. I believe the dog involved is a service dog. A child sits down with a book next to the dog and reads to that small audience. It's the perfect plan for children who are poor readers, who are self conscious when reading aloud, who fear failure. They know the dog is not there to judge them as another human might (teacher, parent, schoolmate). The fear a poor reader has melts away with his/her audience of one four-legged, furry, non-judgemental dog. And before you ask--yes, children who are good readers enjoy reading to a dog, too.

Some writers also harbor fears of showing their work to others. Maybe there should be a Write For A Dog program developed. We know that submitting our writing for publication may be a goal but it might also be a goal fraught with fright. What if the editor hates it? What if it gets published and the readers give nasty, horrible reviews? What if no one ever purchases my book? Writers who write only for family or only for self-satisfaction never have to deal with these difficulties.

Is it wrong to write only for yourself? Not at all. Is it wrong to want to be published and widely read? Again--not at all. Writers are like other humans. Each one is unique. Each has different goals. Each takes different steps to accomplish the goals. If you are in a writing group of any kind, you know that every individual in the group has different goals, works toward them in different amounts of time and kinds of work, You do not have to use the same methods or achieve in the same amount of time as the others. Do what you are capable of. Do what you want to the way you want to. Do move at a pace that is comfortable for you. Do what satisfies you. If that happens to be writing for an audience of no one but yourself, go for it.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Reunion With A Czech Exchange Student

The picture  is of me and Ivo Trnka, taken Sunday evening. Ivo stayed in our home the first several days he was in Manhattan, KS as an exchange student from Prague.That was about 3 years ago.  He spent a full school year in Manhattan and did a lot of traveling around the USA during that time. He saw more of our country than many of our citizens do in a lifetime. He went home at Christmas wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat purchased when he visited Dallas. I wondered what his mother and father thought when they met him at the airport in Prague.

After his year here, he went home to Prague to finish school and find his way in the world. With his outgoing personality, I think he has a great future. He's working for an American tour company now. We had the joy of seeing him in Prague in August of 2014. This past week, he and his girlfriend, Karoleena, have been in Manhattan to attend a wedding. The groom was a good friend he made while studying here.

His other Host Family invited all the new Czech exchange students and Host Families to their home for dinner last evening. Young people around the world have one thing in common--they love to eat! And eat we all did, the young and the not-so-young. The table nearly groaned with the many hot and cold dishes it held plus another dessert table. There was as much chatter as there was food!

The highlight of the evening was being able to spend time with Ivo and Karoleena. Always the thoughtful person, he brought gifts for Ken and me and for our two youngest grandchildren. When Ivo and another nice exchange student, named Veronika, stayed in our home that August of 3 years ago, we were also taking care of our two youngest grandchildren for a few days. I was a bit concerned about trying to do both at the same time. Shouldn't have worried as the two college students and the two children, aged 6 and 9, took to each other in a flash. The little ones followed the older students like puppy dogs. And the older kids were so kind and attentive to the younger ones.

Ivo has kept in touch with us and so has Veronika. She is now married to one of Ivo's American friends. Another story.

The emails are great but to be able to sit and talk, face to face, and to give and get a hug is the best. Ivo is a part of my own story in life.

And that is what this post is really about. The wonderful stories that are right in front of us all the time. It might be the boy who bags your groceries every time you shop. Or the young woman who does your manicure. Or the mechanic who fixes your car. Or the young man who sits near you every Sunday in church. They all have a story and they are all a part of your own story.

Look around you the next few days. Look at the people you meet in your everyday journey as ones who could be a subject for a story you might write. Engage these people in casual conversation and you'd be surprised what you learn about them.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Memories of 9/11

Today is Patriot's Day, a day to remember the 9/11/2001 tragedy and honor the victims. We also send our thoughts and prayers to the families of those who were lost on that dreadful day. Many have written poetry and essays concerning the many facets of that day. Writing about tragedies allows us to release overwhelming emotions.

The story below is one I wrote a number of years ago. You can listen to me read it aloud at the Our Echo website or read it below.

The Saddest Birthday

Birthdays are special in our family, celebrated and recognized all the waking hours of the specific day. Not only a cake and gaily wrapped gifts mark the occasion. Extra smiles and hugs come the way of the birthday person, as well. Treasured memories of other birthdays seem to pop up during dinner table conversation. Daily chores might be cancelled for the honoree. In short, the birthday person reigns as the star of the day.

But in recent years, my husband’s birthday has been clouded over with a sense of sadness and grief. His special day happens to be September 11th. Never again will we celebrate without remembering that ill-fated day in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. 

That morning I’d greeted the birthday boy with a kiss and a hug and presented him with a card and gift. He smiled broadly as he fingered the purple and white shirt with the Kansas State logo gracing it’s front, and I knew thoughts of wearing it to Saturday’s football game ran through his head.

After the gift-giving we settled into our usual routine. Since Ken had retired, we spent our early mornings reading the newspaper from front to back and keeping an occasional eye on the Today show on TV. We both looked up from the newspaper at the urgent sound in the broadcaster’s voice as she narrated film showing a plane flying into a skyscraper in New York City. In less time than it takes to sneeze, the tragedy repeated itself. And we knew immediately that it was no accident.

The remainder of the day found us tuned into further reports of the devastating occurrences which are seared into the memories and hearts of all American citizens. I never made the cake I’d planned on. The birthday greeting calls our children made to their dad were not filled with good wishes and teasing remarks. Instead, these adult children of ours were as overwhelmed with the day’s happenings as we were.

Late in the day, we received word that a baby boy had been born to one of our daughter’s childhood friends. Shadows of grief surrounded the joy we felt for Jen and James and their new son. As evening fell, it occurred to me that the birth of this baby and all the other babies born on this day might be taken as a sign from God that no matter what had happened, life would go on. These new lives became seeds of hope sown in sadness.

The American people banded together on that tragic September 11th. They picked up the shards of their lives and soldiered on. Hearts shattered, but prayerful resolve pieced them together again.

This year we celebrate another birthday for my husband on September 11th. We’re back to those special celebrations once again. I’ve been mulling over cake possibilities and worrying about what to give him to commemorate the day. Even so, we’ll take time to remember the saddest birthday he ever experienced and to honor those who’ll not have an earthly birthday anymore.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Chicken Soup Call For Submissions


I recently checked the Possible Book Topic page on the Chicken Soup for the Soul website and was pleasantly surprised to see 10 calls for submissions there.

This anthology series has been extremely popular for many years and it doesn't seem to diminish as the years go on. The more books that this publisher puts out, the more stories they recieve. Writers send stories but so do ordinary readers who feel they have a good story to tell. Do writers have an edge over the ordinary people? I tend to think they might. Their story might not be any better than some of the non-writers' stories, but they know how to present it in a more professional way perhaps.

As a result, the competition gets more intense with each passing year. I read in the foreward of one book that the editors had received more than 6,000 submissions. From that number, they must select 101 stories to put in the book. Do the math and you know how many disappointed people there were. But don't let that stop you from submitting. Yours could be one of the stories chosen. It's happened to me 17 times so I know it is possible for you, too.

Here are the books listed on the website along with deadline dates.On the webpage, each one has a paragraph or more to let the writer know what type of stories are being sought for a particular title. In looking at the list, it seemed to me that there is something for everyone. Check the list on the webpage carefully for suggestions and inspiration.

1. Alzheimers and Dementia Family Caregivers  10/30/15

2. Angels and Miracles  11.30/15

3. Blended Families  6.30/16

4. Dreams and Synchronocities 3/31/16

5. Military Families  11/30/15

6. My Very Good, My Very Bad Cat  9/27/15

7. My Very Good, My Very Bad Dog  9/27/15

8. Stories About Teachers and Teaching  6.30/16

9. The Joy of Less  10/30/15

10. The Spirit of America  11/30/15

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Writing Mechanics Change And So Must Writers Who Use Them

Change! It's a fact of life as well as a pain in the neck at times. We are comfortable just where we are. We don't like to change our ways, do we? Change means effort and hassle for writers. One of the changes in recent years popped up yesterday when I was doing a critique on a wonderful memoir piece for a member of my online group. I noticed that she used two spaces after each sentence instead of the one space suggested, or sometimes required, by editors 

I hesitated to point it out to her because she is close to my own age and I knew she'd been taught the two space rule way back in school. Just as I learned. I haven't heard from her regarding my critique yet and I'm hoping she won't tell me to mind my own business. She's a lovely person and I know she wouldn't do that, but she might feel like it. 

What's the big deal about whether you use one space or two after a sentence? You are probably thinking that you are interested in creating a good story and you don't want to be bothered by these nitpicky mechanics of writing things. Think again, O Good Writer, think again! Knowing and using the mechanics of writing in the best way can only aid in your quest for publication. An editor today doesn't want to spend time correcting those things which seem so small but can create space problems.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I was reading the monthly Chicken Soup for the Soul newsletter sent to those writers who have had stories in the Chicken Soup books. Under a section called "Editor's Tips," I found the very same topic--spaces after a sentence--addressed. It is good advice with a reason given. I like advice that also shows me the why. I've copied and pasted the advice below:

Did you take typing in high school? We did, and we were taught to add two spaces after a period. It turns out that is very “old school.” Everyone over 40 was taught to add two spaces; many people under 40 were taught to add only one space after a period. Here’s why: In the old days, we didn’t have word processors and fonts that automatically spaced themselves nicely, so it sometimes wasn’t clear that there was indeed a space after a period. Now, with most fonts it is crystal clear. And that extra space at the end of sentence wastes space, spaces that add up over the course of a newspaper article or a 400-page book. No matter what you were taught, and how diligently you put two spaces after every period, stop doing it! We have to go through all the stories and remove those extra spaces. AP style, Chicago style, and every other up-to-date source will tell you the same thing—put one space at the end of a sentence! Thank you

Note that the editor did not only suggest you stop using two spaces, she emphatically stated it. She even used an exclamation mark to be sure it caught your attention. The reasoning given for using only one space makes perfect sense, doesn't it? 

I was one of those who learned in typing class to use two spaces after a sentence. And I diligently used them for years and years. Then, one day it was pointed out in one of my submissions to the writing group. The person who was critiquing my work told me the new rule and suggested I adapt it. I had a hard time doing so at first. It might be a cliche, but old habits do die hard. What previously had been an automatic response--my thumb hitting the space bar twice--now became a task that needed my concentration. Hit that space bar once and no more. That's what I had to think each and every time I reached the end of a sentence. It didn't take long until I was doing it without even giving thought to doing so.

The mechanics of writing do change from time to time and writers must adapt to those changes. I read frequently that learning something new is good for an aging mind. Heck, it's got to be good for any age mind, don't you think? 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Writer's Satisfaction

As a writer, you're a unique person. You have the ability to do something the majority of people cannot do.

Oh sure, they can put words on a paper or screen but they can't make those words sing like you do. They can't weave a story from beginning to end like you do. They can't write a poem that finds its way into print. They can't create memorable characters or write something that brings tears or a hearty laugh to the reader.

Nope. Most people cannot do it. You, the writer can, so don't ever put yourself down. Those pluses just mentioned above that writers have don't always come easily. None of us plucks the good stuff from the bottom of a closed box. Oh, if only we could!

On the contrary. We work hard at our craft. We revise and edit over and over until we feel the project is finished, or mostly so. I say that because it seems to me few writers are ever 100% happy with what they've written. Aim for 98% and you're good to go.

Consider all the positives in your writing world and pay little heed to the negatives. I know they are there but you needn't dwell on them. It's a fast track to depression if you do so.

Wouldn't we all like to have a lengthy list of our work that has been published? Of course we would. If you've published anything, even if it's only been one time, you have more than many others. Look in the mirror and say out loud, Lucky me! On the other hand, it's not a matter of luck, it's talent and ability. So look in the mirror and say I've done a good job.

We attended a wedding this past weekend. A young woman at our table mentioned in conversation that she's written and published two sci-fi books. The other seven people at the table, including me, sat up a bit straighter and gave her their full attention. None of us has accomplished that. She earned their admiration with one simple statement.

I'm not suggesting any of us go around bragging to others about our writing accomplishments. The young woman above let it happen naturally in the course of a conversation. That's fine.

Wear a writer's satisfaction with pride. Let it out when the opportunity arises.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Writers--Pump Up Your Passion

The Bill Snyder Family Stadium
Manhattan, Kansas

This is where Ken and I will be tomorrow afternoon/evening. We're diehard K-State football fans and have been for 40 years. We were fans when K-State was dubbed the worst college football team in the nation and we've continued right on through the glory years with Coach Snyder. College football fans are passionate in their support for their team. When our team wins, we're ecstatic. When they lose, we grumble but still support them. They're ours! We're fervent in our feelings for our team.

Writers, too, should be passionate about their craft. If you have no passion, maybe you should reconsider being a part of the writing world. You can acquire the skills needed to be a writer, but that's not enough. You have to have spirit. you need to be fired up about what you're writing. You need to pump up the passion. 

Easy enough to say. Right? But how do you become one who writes with passion? First, I believe you must care about your topic. I can research a topic and write 10 paragraphs giving the facts, but it's going to be a cold, factual piece. If I truly care about the topic, I will add more to the article to let the reader see an undercurrent of caring. You don't need to state boldly I care! somewhere in your article, but you do need to let the reader feel that you care. 

Many fiction writers base their made-up stories on something that has touched them or something they care about in real life. If so, their passion will come through in the story. 

Another way to increase your own passion for writing is to let loose of your emotions. We're often too quick to cover up our real feelings on a face to face basis. When you write, you can and should let your emotions rise to the top like cream in the old milk bottles. It will be the richest part of your writing if you can do that. In reading critiques made in my online writers group, many times I've noted that the critiquer will tell the writer that the story is basically good, but it's more like a blow by blow report; they go on to say that there is no emotion coming through. Let the reader know how you feel.  

You also need to love what you do. If you hate writing, there won't be much passion involved. It's a job and that's all. No one can instill that love for writing in you. It has to come from within yourself. 

Football players and their fans have goals to meet to become winners. Each goal met is one more step toward ultimate success. Players must be passionate about the game and fans must support with passion. If they don't, it's just another game, nothing special. In our writing world, it's no different. We set our own goals and have a better chance at reaching them if we strive toward them with passion. The support of our readers pushes us into pursuing those goals with passion, too. 

Enjoy this Labor Day weekend and jump back into your writing world on Tuesday. Write because you love it and your readers will sense it.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Learning Is A Never-Ending Process

When I teach a writing workshop on any topic, there is one statement I always make. You're never too old to learn. I usually see heads nodding in agreement.

The poster for today refers to all of life but on this blog, we concentrate on the writing life. If the advice spills over into the rest of your life, it's a bonus.

As a writer, you've probably done many of the things mentioned in the quote. Writers run into myriad roadblocks--not occasionally but on a regular basis. Meet each one head-on and deal with it as best you can. When you've gotten to the other side of that roadblock, ask yourself one question. What have I learned? If you have no answer, you'd better retreat several steps and work your way through the roadblock again. Then repeat the question.

Even writers who have attained multiple successes can still learn more about their trade. I don't think anyone can ever claim to know everything about the writing game. Writers who publish books on the writing craft can learn new things as they move down the writing path. They don't stop learning either.

There are often new ways to accomplish old tasks. As technology progresses, so must we. We read the classics but we know that our contemporary method of writing differs from some of those great authors. What would happen if a writer today wrote the amount of description that Charles Dickens used? With the great emphasis on keeping things short because of readers' lack of time, his books would probably be passed by today. Contemporary writers learned to keep it short. We've learned to hook our readers fast and keep them hooked. We've learned to cut the unnecessary words that tend to float happily into our prose.

We've learned that we must look for markets on a constant basis. We've learned that we must submit our work if it is to be published. We've learned to accept rejection. We've learned to create interesting characters that aren't stereotypes. We've learned how to put conflict into a story, even a children's story.

Yes, we've learned a lot but there is never an end to our writing world education. As long as we are putting words on paper or a screen, we should be learning. With each new writing project that you finish, ask yourself once more What have I learned?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Worry Is The Enemy

More writers might be classified as worriers than those brimming with self-confidence and 110% positive thinking. Painters, sculptors, musicians and anyone in the creative arts would probably nod in agreement to being a person who worries. It's one reason I write so many posts that I hope will give some encouragement and hope to writers.

It appears to be human nature to worry or to have self-doubts. Am I good enough to win this literary contest? Can I write well enough to get published? Is my poetry of a caliber for readers to praise? Can I write as well as the successful authors? How many rejections will I get this month? Am I ever going to make any money as a writer? On and on it goes. I know because there are times I've been there myself.

Today's poster is full of wisdom. It might be a good one to enlarge and print, then keep it in your writing place. Why waste time worrying when you could be writing? The worry doesn't change a thing but your writing can change your life a lot. 

The more you write, the better writer you will become. The better writer you become, the greater chance you have of being published. When you're published, you have credits that editors like to see. Those credits push you up a few notches when an editor considers your submission.I know what you';re thinking--editors should take each submission as a stand-alone; they shouldn't judge on previous publication history. I agree but many editors do let your writing history come into their decision and there's not much you, the writer, can do about it. 

There are some publications that look for submissions from new, or beginning, writers. They're willing and eager to give newbies a chance. If you don't have a publication history, seek them out when you do a market search. But submit to the others, too. Submit often. You cannot become published if you do not send your work to an editor or publishing house.

Stop worrying and keep writing and submitting your finished work. No matter how many rejections you receive! Think of worry as the enemy and writing as your friend. Avoid the worry and embrace the writing.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Write About September

I haven't turned the page on my calendars yet, but it's here. A brand new month. September! For a writing exercise today, delve back into your memory bank and write about Septembers of the past and September today. I once had a short essay published called Summer Then and Summer Now. You can do the same thing with this glorious month that brings an end to summer and propels us right into autumn. 

To help you, here is a list of things that we think about in September. Maybe some of them will trigger memories for you, both good and not so hot. Write about both.

  • Back to school
  • First day of school
  • Favorite teachers
  • Labor Day activities
  • End of summer 
  • Grandparents' Day
  • First day of Autumn 
  • Changes in scenery
  • Family birthdays
  • 9/11
  • Household changes 
  • Clothing changes
  • Foods
  • Weather
  • Yardwork
  • Flowers
  • Songs