Friday, July 31, 2015

Time To Confess

Month of August Summer

OK, so this is still July but it's the very last day of July and tomorrow we welcome the 8th month of the year--August. Hot, crammed with last of summer activities, schools beginning in many parts of the country and back-to-school shopping--that's what we think of.

For me, this August is going to be filled with something else. Submissions! I was looking at my Submission Record for 2015 yesterday and was startled to see that I had not submitted anything since early May. Me! The woman who is constantly hounding readers to submit their work. I've said things like It can't be published if you don't submit. Keep the submission ferris wheel going. 

I should blush a bit but I'm not embarrassed. Instead, I'm disgusted and a little bit angry with myself. I am the one who slacked off. Life's been pretty busy in the past three months, more so than usual, but I could and should have done a better job of keeping up with my writing and submitting. 

I let life get in the way of my writing journey. It happens to nearly all writers now and then. I kept up with writing the blog posts and my requirements in my online writing group so I didn't let writing go completely.However, I neglected to check markets and submit stories I had on file or write new ones. 

So what's the solution? I'm going to devote more time to writing and submitting this month. It will mean that I have to cut back somewhere else. Maybe my social life or maybe cleaning projects that can be put off awhile. I can get up a little earlier or go to bed a little later. Maybe I won't be reading as many novels as I have recently. There are ways to get snippets of time to use for writing. 

How about you? Do you find yourself slacking off a bit more in the summertime? If you have children at home, that's got to cause an increase in attention to them and a decrease in writing time. 

If you do less and less writing, is it easier to let it go than to pursue your writing goals again? Want to join me in spending more time this month on the writing path? 

I hope to have several submissions listed under August 2015 by the end of the month. Am I challenging myself? Absolutely! 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sounds Easy But....

Every writer has a dream of being published, maybe being the author of a bestseller. Dream a little more and you might see yourself as a household name someday. But the dream is only the beginning.

You must have faith in yourself with an I think I can attitude like the hero in The Little Engine That Could. Self-doubt has no place here so push it aside. 

By writing on a regular basis--your action--you make writing a part of life that you can no longer do without. It's you! It's your pleasure and it's your pain at times, too. 

Now, add that perseverance that I so often talk about on this blog. You've heard me say over and over that perseverance is one of the key actions a writer must always strive for. When you persist, your writing dream becomes a goal to be achieved. It's a longterm goal. Not gonna happen overnight.

You've also heard me say over and over again that patience is also one of the key actions in a writer's bag of tools. It's so easy to tell a writer to be patient but much harder to practice personally. Part of patience is time, for writing success rarely comes quickly. We clilmb the ladder to writing success one rung at a time. Sometimes it seems that ladder might reach above the clouds. Stay with it and you'll not be disappointed.

The last part of the quote goes right back to the dream in the beginning. Do all these things stated it tells us and we'll achieve our dream. It sounds so easy but you and I know that there is a great deal of heard work, disappointments, time and toil involved, as well. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Pleasure Part Of Writing

Truman Capote shares something we should consider. We talk day after day about the difficulties writers face. You know the ones--rejections, finding the right title, grammar and spelling, writing with emotion and more. 

We know all the problems we encounter as writers but what about the pleasures? What in your writing life makes you feel satisfied? Or happy? Or even thrilled? Or just contented? 

Some of the pleasures in my writing life are:

1. getting an acceptance from an editor

2. finishing a writing project

3. writing phrases that sing back to me 

4. finding an idea for a new story

5. hearing from readers

6. watching a story grow bit by bit

7. placing in a contest

8. getting a critique with more positives than negatives

9. knowing that my writing may be helpful to some readers

10. receiving comments on my blog posts

11. mingling with other writers at conferences

12. chatting with other writers online

13. doing something I love

14. stringing words together that make sense

15. sharing my experiences with others

Make your own list of the parts of your writing life that bring pleasure to you. Then, the next time the negatives rear up and hiss at you, read the list to remind yourself why you continue to write.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How Do You Relate To This Quote?

Maybe some of the poster quote today relates to your writing life.

1. You might be stronger because you've learned to accept constructive criticism from others. You have had enough rejections of your work to toughen your skin. You had to be stronger if you wanted to continue your writing journey.

2. You are probably smarter because you made mistakes. After making those errors in life, you know what to do when you meet the same situation again.

3. You're most likely happier because you've put the sadness of not making the kind of strides in your writing life that you had hoped to. Dwelling on the negative parts of your journey only makes you sadder. Learning to overcome that feeling will definitely help in the happiness department.

4. Are you wiser because of what you learned from your writing life? I'm betting that you are. The keyword here is learned. Three people might experience the same situation in life but not all will become wiser.

Are you a perfect person if you can say 'yes' to all four of the above? No, but you may be a better person. You may be a writer who pursues his/her goals with a positive outlook. You may be more successful in writing publishable work than the person who puts a not before those four special words--stronger, smarter, happier and wiser. Read the quote again and insert not before each of the four words noted here. Which person are you?  The positive quote or the negative? Some of us might fall in-between or we might be positive on two or three but not the fourth one.

This quote definitely gave me food for thought. How about you?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Should Writers Write Every Day?

Maybe I could write 52 interconnecting short stories and combine it all into one large novel.I looked at this quote in a slightly different way. If one writes a story every week, it means he/she is writing consistently. I'm a firm believer in writing on a regular basis.

I'm sure there are people who can write nothing for six months, then sit down and dash off a story that is publishable. I also think that those people belong to a very small group. The rest of us need to write often.

Athletes work on their skills day after day. They exercise. They try new ways to hit a ball with a bat or get a basketball into the hoop or throw a longer pass. They work on their skills even in the off-season.

Musicians and singers don't play or use their voice only on occasion. They practice a lot. As do circus acrobats and long distance runners and artists. We writers are no different. To polish our writing ability, we need to practice it often.

One day last week, I was playing Bridge and my partner surprised me with a question out of the blue. "Do you write every day, Nancy?" she asked.

I hesitated a bit before answering because the question was unrelated to anything else we'd been talking about. I told her that I do write something almost every day. Writing this blog five days a week definitely counts. I might write a personal letter or a journal entry or a writing exercise. I also do several critiques of other peoples' writing and that counts as writing for me. Sometimes my writing for the day takes hours while other days it's minutes. But, yes, I do write nearly every day. Even when on vacation! I usually keep a travel journal so put my thoughts and the events of the day in writing on a daily basis while away from home or I write my blog in a hotel room when we travel.

One of the reasons I continue my blog is that it does require regular writing. I will admit that sometimes it takes time away from writing a story or personal essay. When I'm working on another writing project, I increase the time I write that day.

Hone your craft by writing something every day. Even if it is only 15 minutes. You won't regret it. You might even take Ray Bradbury's advice in the poster quote above. You may strike gold with some of those stories.

Friday, July 24, 2015

This Man Knew The Power of the Pen

“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” ― Martin Luther

Martin Luther, founder of the Lutheran Church, lived centuries ago. He was born in 1483 and died in 1546. He is a great example of his own quote. He penned the 95 Theses and nailed them to the church door when he could no longer tolerate certain happenings in his Catholic church. He didn't just think about it or sit in the local pub and complain to his cohorts. He picked up his pen and wrote!

You can do the same about anything that's bothering you. Our world is full of injustices, criminal acts, immigration problems, warfare on many levels, politicians who act for their own gain, abusive parents and so much more. If you have a strong feeling about any of them, what's stopping you from writing about it?

You can send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Or you can write an opinion essay aimed for publication online or in a magazine or newspaper. Nothing happens unless voices are heard.

Some do's and don'ts for this type of writing:

1. check your facts

2. write in logical sequence

3. address the problem but try to give possible solutions, too

4. give a reason why you're writing

5. write whatever you can back up

1. ramble on and on

2. rant

3. write on hearsay, do have the facts available

4. repeat over and over; state whatever once and move on

5. write what you cannot defend

There are many who try to change the world through protests and marches. Writers can help to change the world with words. They can do it from home. They can reach myriad groups of people.

Martin Luther knew the power of the pen. Even nearly 500 years later, that has not changed. Unless you want to exchange keyboard for pen!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

When A Story Doesn't Work

The poster above illustrates a situation I've been in more than once. If a story doesn't appear to work well while writing it. we often set it aside to work on later. This is a positive action unless it's buried in your files and you never go back to work on it. You can wait just so long.

Maybe you know what's wrong but it takes too much hard work to fix it. Everyone gets lazy at times and writers are no different.  Perhaps you have no idea why the story doesn't click. It might need other eyes on it.

I have been working on a fiction short story for a few years. I pull it out of my files every now and then and tweak it here and there. I've entered it in my annual state authors contest twice and it went nowhere. Back in the files it went.

I told myself things like Maybe it's a dumb story. I obviously cannot write adult fiction. I'd better stick to creative nonfiction. The characters are trite. The situation in the story is not believable. When a story doesn't appear to work, we dream up all kinds of reasons. Some might be true while others are a figment of a runaway imagination.

I saw a call for submissions that brought my old story to mind. I wondered if it might work if I spent a little more time on it. I did another edit, tweaking it in a few places. Then I subbed it to my online writing group for critique.

So far, only two people have critiqued the story. Wonder of wonders--they both had good things to say. One said it brought a lump to her throat. I loved hearing that I'd been able to bring out emotion in a reader. The second critter said "it reads beautifully and is filled with emotion and heart. I loved reading it."

Hearing the nice comments of two fine writers gave me a different perspective on the story. Suddenly, I no longer doubted whether I should submit for publication again. It didn't place in the two contests I'd entered, maybe because there were other stories that were better than mine. That doesn't mean it's no good. Only three can place and dozens are submitted.

The critiquers also pointed out a few spots where things weren't completely clear. The writer knows what happened but the reader needs it spelled out a little better. One suggested expanding on one area. Easy enough to do. The trouble spots they found were all minor things.

One more edit, and I'll submit the story to the editor I have in mind. Let's hope he likes it, too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Summer Reading Recommendations

Summer is often touted as being a time to read. Take a book to the beach. Take one with you on vacation. Airplanes and airports provide time for digging into that novel you've been neglecting.

Sure, that's true, but for serious readers like me, reading goes the year round. I've been doing more reading than writing recently which means that my wriitng is suffering a wee bit. Nevertheless, I've pored through some fine books.

Monday, I finished Sara Gruen's latest--At The Water's Edge. She is best known for her novel titled Water For Elephants. I liked this latest book best. Some will describe it as a romance; others WWII story, still others a psychological study. Maybe it's a little of all three. Three socialites go to a small Scottish village in the waning days of WWII. The two men are determined to find and photograph the Loch Ness monster. These two men are as flawed in character as can be. The wife of one is a shallow woman who leads a life of a wealthy young married woman. We watch Maddie evolve into a better person when she sees what her husband and his best friend are really like. It's a story of loss, love and the downward spiral of two men. The contrasting personalities of the people they encounter in the village inn would be a psychologist's dream paper.

Other books I've read recently that I enjoyed and recommend are the following:

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

All The Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

The first two links will take you to reviews on this blog and the last one is the Amazon page.

All four of the books I've mentioned here today are classified as historical fiction. I must add one other novel I read this spring that kept me turning pages in rapid succession. It's not in this same category; it's a suspense/thriller book. One of a series about an Istraeli spy who's real life job is being an art restorer. Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva hooks the reader and holds onto to the person turning the pages to the very end. If you haven't read any of the titles in this series, google to find the list and start at the beginning, although it is not necessary to do so. You can read individual titles without reading the ones that preceded it.  I have the latest release The English Spy on reserve at the library.

Squeeze in some time for reading this summer or fall or winter or... Reading is a year round pleasure.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ideal Situations For Writers Might Be A Fairy Tale

I have been on Pinterest for some time but must honestly admit that I haven't done a lot there other than pin my blog posts on a few boards. I decided to spend a bit of time there this morning and found a treasure trove on a board that provides quotes on writing from writers. The poster I've selected for today was on a unique website that highlighted the work habits of successful writers. You might enjoy a visit to Maria Popova's interesting page on writers.

The quote above is by E. B. White, famed essayist and author of the beloved children's book, Charlotte's Web. He is also the White part of the Strunk and White who co-authored The Elements of Style, a book that should be familiar to all writers.

Let's get to the ideal conditions Mr. White mentions. Many writers think that they could write up a storm if they didn't have so many interruptions, if family life didn't interfere with writing time, if they could only run off to a mountain cabin for a month and do nothing but write. Wouldn't it be ideal if we could squirrel ourselves away in some remote spot with nothing between us and writing? 

Have you seen ads in writing magazines that offer accommodation in majestic surroundings that will afford you the privacy you need to write? Colorado Rockies, Italy, Adirondacks, a tropical paradise--there are all kinds of places to go . But how many writers can afford to do so? And just how remote do you want to be? 

Imagine yourself in a cabin in the Rockies? It's far off the main road, deep into a wooded area. Someone built the small cabin in a man-made clearing, furnished it, stocked it with wood for the fireplace and food staples. You bring in the perishable food items with you. So now, it's just you, your computer, the birds and butterflies, an endless blue sky and time to finally write to your heart's content. No TV to tempt you here.

You have your laptop with you but no wi-fi service in the woods, so you can write but you can't communicate via internet. But you do have your phone and you can be in touch with others, or so you think. No cell-phone service in this isolated area either.You convince yourself you'll get more done this way.

Then it happens--you sit down to write and you're blank. All the ideas you had at home must have stayed there. Your muse didn't come along on this trip. She stayed at home watching the family antics for ideas. You go out for a walk but the wind starts to blow and the rain comes down so hard you barely find your way back to the cabin. You change into dry clothes and go back to the computer as the storm rages outside. You decide to write about the storm and you come up with three great paragraphs. What next? Stuck for an idea again. 

All the above is purely imaginary. Some writer's retreat places may be great and writers do get something accomplished. But not always. 

The point is that there is probably no ideal situation for writing. When inspiration hits or you find something in your natural surroundings to motivate you, jump on it. If you wait for that ideal situation, you might grow old and have nothing published. Work with what you have. What is ideal for one writer may not be for six others. Writers are individuals. They work differently and under varied conditions. 

So don't use the excuse of not having an ideal situation in which to write. It is, after all, an excuse and not a valid one. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Do Rejections From Editors Get You Down?

This guy must have received another rejection from an editor. If you get them over and over, it drags you down. Sometimes waaaaay down! If you're a writer seeking publication, rejection is as sure as Christmas arriving on December 25th every year.

Some things to remember when the bad news arrives:

1. You are not alone. I doubt if there is any writer alive who has never received a rejection. We all know misery loves company so call a writer friend to have a shoulder to lean on. Nonwriter friends just can't understand it as well.

2. The editor who didn't buy your submission has sent the same kind of news to many writers. He/she doesn't enjoy making your life miserable. It's a part of the editor's job. It's not a personal vendetta against you.

3. Receiving that rejection is totally personal to, you, the writer, but it's objective to the editor. Even if he/she knows you from former submissions and maybe even work he/she has purchased to publish, the editor is still able to keep the emotion out of not taking your submission.

4. If you get a rejection with an editorial comment, rejoice! It means you're close. Once you get over the disappointment, take a hard look at your submission. Try to look at it with an editor's eyes instead of as  your precious baby, your treasured words. Then revise and edit.

5. Occasionally, an editor will send a rejection with an invitation to resubmit after some revisions. Time to rejoice again.

When you were a kid learning to ride a two-wheel bike, you fell off now and then. What did you do? You got back on the bike and tried again. Now, you're a grown-up but you can tackle rejections in the same manner.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Book Series For Kids--I Love Them!


Do you remember reading a series of books when you were growing up? I was an avid Nancy Drew fan and must have read nearly every one of the many titles in the series. Girls in my class read and then traded the books. It seems there was always a Nancy Drew mystery on someone's desk. I'm not sure if the boys did the same with the Hardy Boys books or not. My husband told me he read them all.

Another series I loved glamorized the life of a nurse. I followed Sue Barton from student nurse to senior nurse to staff nurse to neighborhood nurse to rural nurse and more. Did it make me want to become a nurse? You bet it did! That is, until I found out chemistry was a necessary course. I didn't like science and didn't get straight A's in it like I did my English classes. Even so, I didn't stop reading about Sue's adventures.

Noel Streatfield wrote a series of books for girls that I also read. Shoes appeared in the title of each one--Theater Shoes and Circus Shoes and Ballet Shoes are ones that come to mind. What a painless way to learn about the world of a ballet dancer, a budding actress or a circus performer. Of course, it made young girls dream of following in the footsteps of the young heroines in each book.

At an earlier age, I devoured The Bobbsey Twins books. It was, I believe, my first introduction to the concept of a series of books featuring the same characters. That's not counting the Dick and Jane series of readers used for reading instruction in many schools decades ago. I felt bad when I found out my grandchildren did not learn to read with Dick, Jane, Baby Sally, Spot and Puff. As a first grader, I considered them my special friends. Maybe I still do! 

How could I write about a series of books for kids without mentioning the Little House books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. These books also made the trade-one-for-another rounds at my grade school. The books were a wonderful way for children to learn the pioneer history of our country. 

One thing I learned from reading the various series was to recognize an author's name. When I went to our local library and scanned the shelves, those names popped out and I stopped to look at the book to see if it might be one I hadn't read. 

I doubt that any of the authors of these deeply loved books ever became wealthy from royalties received.  Even so, something kept them writing about the same characters, devising new adventures for them, coming up with challenges and hurdles for their characters to meet and conquer.

Happily, the concept of a series of books for kids has continued. A few that are popular now are the Narnia books, Imagination Series, Betsy-Tacy, Boxcar Children and of course, Harry Potter. I'm delighted that children are still finding a hero/heroine to love in a series of books like I did. I'm also pleased that some of the series I loved are still being read today.

What were your favorite series of books for kids?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Writers Use Memories and Life Experiences

I was reminded of this quote when I read a new submission from one of the women who belongs to my online writers group.She wrote a wonderful piece on moving that was filled with emotion and painted a fine picture of all that comes with moving from the safe to the unknown. 

She wrote about this life experience because it is a memory from decades ago. Her husband had just finished graduate school and now they are retired folk. The life experience was filed away in her memory bank, then drawn out to write the story. 

I attended a workshop on memoir a few years ago. The leader, Carolyn Hall, said something in reference to memoir writing that stayed with me. We write to taste life twice. and another quote from the same person is also memorable for me. Go into the attic of your mind. 

We do taste life twice when we write memoir or even when writing fiction or a personal essay based on a life experience. Or a poem. The poems in Ronda Miller's fine book of poetry, Moon Stain, which I reviewed here recently, are about her life experiences, good and bad. In fact, I used life experience in the title of that post. 

Why do we want to go back and relive an experience? If it's a good one, there's not much doubt as to why we want to relive it. If it's a darker event in our life, we may need to look at it again from a different perspective--years later. Writing about a bad experience sometimes helps us understand it better, as well as ourselves.

I definitely loved the quote about going into the attic of your mind. What a picture that gives us. Our life experiences are stored away at the uppermost part of our mind, just like the old photo albums and special dresses safely put away in trunks in your grandparents' attic. They reside there without bothering anyone. One day you suddenly feel a need to visit the attic and look at your life experiences. They formed you into the person you are today, both good and sad happenings. 

Fiction writers often use a snippet of their own life to add to their novel. They let a character experience something they had done in their growing-up years or college days. Poets do the same at times. Some do it subconsciously while others are perfectly aware that they are dragging something from their past out of the attic of their mind. 

Your life experiences and mine are completely different. It's one reason we write stories or essays or poems that are worlds apart. Our memories can be the fuel that ignites our creativity. 

Take time to visit your mind's attic and see what you find. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Are You A Nocturnal Writer?

Why the photo of a bed? Because that is where I do some deep thinking and planning. We received word of the death of a very dear friend last evening. When I went to bed, sleep eluded me. I started thinking about Mike. Memories of good times came flooding back and they served to remind me of what a wonderful man he was. We traveled with Mike and his wife many times, often 3 weeks at a time. You can't help but get to know a person well in those circumstances. I started to mentally list his personality traits and with each positive on the list, my admiration for him grew. 

I have also planned writing projects while in my bed. The quiet, dark room allows my mind to run free. If I've been stuck in the middle of a story I leave my computer and go do something unrelated to writing. Sometimes that helps. Other times, it's not until I'm in the unlighted bedroom that a solution comes to me. 

I've had opening lines of a poem pop into my mind while trying to go to sleep. For some reason, the beginnings come swiftly while the next lines are more difficult. More thinking, no chance of going to sleep while searching for words that work with the ones that I have found so easily at first. 

Should you get up and write while the ideas are fresh in your mind? Will you stay up half the night if you do? I did leave my warm bed one winter night and spent an hour at the computer writing the story that had come to me right after lights out. Once I had that first draft done, I climbed back in bed and drifted off immediately. When my mind was at rest, my body soon followed. 

I don't write in the middle of the night very often, but I do occasionally jot down notes on a pad I keep on my nightstand. Keywords are enough to trigger whole thoughts the next day. When I don't make short notes, I can remember some things the next morning but not all. 

One big drawback of mentally writing after you get in bed is that you could end up with fewer hours of sleep and wake up groggy. If you have something you can continue to work on in the daylight, maybe it's worth it. A short afternoon nap could help. On the other hand, if you lay down in the middle of the day, you might start thinking about the next story you'll write. I wonder if we nocturnal writers look tired all the time. Sometimes, it's tough to be a writer! 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Be Careful Not To Repeat Words

This woman looks puzzled and why not? She might have written a great story or essay but there are so many little things to be checked on before she can think of submitting to an editor.

One of the little things I notice when I critique the submissions in my online writing group is the unconscious repetition of words. We all do it--especially in first drafts.


Susie punched the time clock and hurried down the narrow hallway to her workspace. Her workspace was a jumbled mess but it was hers to do with whatever she wanted. At least, she told herself that whenever guilt threatened to creep in. She could scatter papers all over this workspace as long as she could sort things out enough to get her work done.


Susie punched the time clock and hurried down the narrow hallway to her workspace. The small area was a jumbled mess but it was hers to do with whatever she wanted. At least, she told herself that whenver guilt threatened to creep in. She could scatter papers all over the desk as long as she could sort things out enough to complete her assignments.

Repeating words when we write is part laziness and part not paying close attention. It's often done in a first draft because we're concentrating on the story we're writing. That's the star of this production. When we edit our work, we should consciously look for possible repetition of words. Read the example paragraph aloud. The work/workspace repetitions become a bit tedious, a little boring.

If you notice that you've used one words two or three times in one or two paragraphs, do something about it. Rephrase to use other words that get the same meaning across to the reader.

Pronouns are almost always repeated and it's not easy to get around that. One thing you can do is to use the proper name (Susie) in some parts and the pronoun (she) in others. Be careful not to start multiple consecutive sentences with She... If you write a paragraph that has six sentences in it and five begin with turns out to be pretty boring. You might have to rearrange some of the sentences to correct that problem.

The repeating of words is a very small thing in the great world of writing and submitting your work. Even so, too many little items done poorly will result in multiple rejections. Write a great story but also concentrate on the little parts that make the mechancs of your writing impressive, too.

Monday, July 13, 2015

This Is Why You Write Family Stories

The photo above is our family. Ken has a significant birthday--number 80-- in September so I wanted to get the family together for a celebration. This past weekend was the only time it worked for all of us.

To Ken's right is our daughter with her husband and children in back. On my left is our son and his family is behind him. They live in the Dallas area and our daughter's family lives in Louisburg, a small town near the Kansas suburban side of Kansas City. Getting us all together is a feat!

Ken had no idea they were coming and, believe me, it was no easy task to get ready for 8 house guests and a party without letting him know about it. He said later that he hadn't had a clue. The two families arranged to meet for lunch when they got to town so they'd all arrive at our house at the same time. Wish I'd gotten a picture of Ken's face when they walked in.

They'd texted me that they were finishing lunch and ready to come over. At that point, Ken got his billfold and car keys. I asked where he was going. "Over to see Doc," he said. His friend had recently moved to an Assisted Living home. Thinking fast, I said, "Oh, I bet he'll be taking a nap so soon after lunch. Why don't you wait?" "No," said Ken, "last time I went at 3 and he was asleep. I'm going now." So, off he went and I texted the kids to hold up for awhile. Ken returned an hour later and I then let them know he was home. That's when they finally all got to walk in and surprise him.

We went out for dinner Friday evening and had a lot of laughs. Then birthday cake back here after we ate. Saturday, I had a tee time set for the 4 guys to play golf. The girls planned lunch and shopping. But as we all know, the best laid plans oft go awry. The sewer line backed up in our lower level just before the golfers were leaving. I won't go into the nasty details but we could not use any water or flush until a plumber came to unblock the line.

Sent the golfers on their way. There was nothing they could do here. I called 3 plumbers before I had any success in getting one to come out. He made it at 2 p.m. Meanwhile, I sent the girls on to do the things we'd planned despite no one being able to shower. We all brushed our teeth outside like campers!

By 4, the plumber had found the blockage and we were back in business. I kept thinking all day Why this? Why now? We booked hotel rooms for the family as the lower level where 6 of them were staying was all wet. They headed to the hotel to shower and change clothes while we waited for a carpet restorer to come over to look at the damage. He checked it out and promised to come back Sunday afternoon to start working on it.

We met the family at a favorite place to eat Saturday evenng and asked the waitress to take a picture of us. Rare is the day when we get that done. Seems there is always one missing! We came home for more birthday cake.

This is what family stories are made of. Saturday evening at dinner, I commented that I knew that someday I'd look back at the disaster and laugh. I'm sure this weekend's events will be talked about at holiday dinners for a long time to come. It's the people in the photo above that I write my family stories for. When I am no longer a presence in their life, the stories will have been written and saved to be passed down to my children and grandchildren and maybe future generations.

If you haven't started writing your family stories, make it a project to begin soon. Start with one story and keep adding more, one at a time. You'll never regret it and neither will your family.

Friday, July 10, 2015

How Far Back Does Your Memory Take You?

I read a most interesting article the other day about being able to remember events, places and people far back in your life--even to your toddler years. You can read it here. The article was posted where members of my online writers' group could read and discuss. I found it quite interesting that some could delve very far back with memories while others could not. There seemed to be two distinct groups.

When my first Chicken Soup of the Soul story was published, more than one person asked me how I could remember that far back. For me, it was easy. I was seven at the time the event took place and when I thought about it as an adult, I could see where it happened, see my dad working on my Valentine box, see the boxes lined up on a wide windowsill in my classroom. As time went on, I realized that I've been blessed with the ability to remember long-ago events quite clearly, even in my very early years. I often cannot remember what I came to the grocery store to buy but my memory of years back is quite fine.

Memoir and life stories are quite popular now. To write them, you do have to reach far into your memory bank to come up with the actual happenings. Not made-up or written the way you wish they'd occurred but the real thing.

One of the best ways to do that is to use memory triggers. I googled and found that there are many articles about using this technique to help you write memoir stories. Read a few of them for more detailed information.

I've often posted lists of memory triggers--questions about long ago-- when posting about writing your family stories. A discussion at the holiday family dinner table can bring back something that happened long ago. Looking through old photo albums or scrapbooks is another way to bring you back to times gone by. Reading a historical fiction novel can spark something that happened to you in your childhood. Or a movie might have one scene that brings you back to your own childhood.

When these memory triggers pop up, take advantage of them. Jot some notes, or if you have time, write a paragraph or two. Quite often, when we see a sliver of a memory, the door opens wider and we are treated to a whole host of memories. Maybe 'treated' is not always the case as some of our memories are sad or tragic ones but perhaps we do need to revisit those times, too, for a better understanding.

I urge you to read the article linked in the first paragraph. You will find it most interesting. The article itself might act as a memory trigger for you.

Even fiction writers occasionally use realtime events in their lives for the basis of their made-up  story.  So memory triggers are of use to more than just memoir writers.

One more point--you may not remember dialogue word for word, but you'll remember the gist of what was said. It's alright to then write the dialogue following the main idea of what had been spoken by each person.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Go Ahead--Toot Your Own Horn

Don't be a show-off. Don't toot your own horn. Don't brag. 

Most of us heard our mom or dad say one, or all, of the above as we grew up.

Show some humility. Nobody wants to hear what you've done. Don't lord it over others.

There are a lot of ways to tell a child how to behave. We're social beings and there are unwritten rules as to the way we interact with others. Our parents tried to teach this to us in hope of making us a nice person, one that others warm to rather than turn away from.

As writers, we need to reverse a lot of what we were taught. We do have to toot our own horn. We do have to tell others what we've done. We do need to show-off a bit. We must let others know what has been accomplished in our writing life and/or that we have a book to market.

How in the world are you going to sell those books or gain followers for your stories and poems unless you tell others about YOU? It's not a bad thing either. If it helps, I hereby absolve you of all guilt.

Even though you want to let the world know about your writing, you can do it without being abrasive. Pick and choose the time and place to toot your horn. If you go to a school board meeting to give support to an issue in your community, it's not the time to try to sell your book. If you belong to an organization and toot your horn at every single meeting, you'll turn people off in a hurry. Occasionally is fine. Constantly is not.

Take advantage of social media. Most of us know about Twitter and Facebook but there are many others to use. Google using keywords like social media sites like facebook or social media sites. Play around with other keywords related to social media. Try some that you are not already affiliated with.

Create your own website so that readers can learn more about you and what you write. There are places that allow you to create a website for free with step by step directions. Again, use a search engine to find them. Some writers hire an expert to design a website for them. Free or pay--your choice.

Don't hesitate to contact your local radio and TV stations when you have a new book out or have won a writing contest. Many are delighted to do interviews but if they aren't aware of what you've done, they can't ask you to be on a program. It's up to you to let them know. Toot your own horn!

How could I write a post on ways to connect with the world without encouraging you to start a blog that highlights your writing? My blog is about my writing world with tips and encouragement for writers, so I have a two-fold base here.

The methods I've listed here are certainly not the ony ways to let the world know about you and what you write. There are others. My main aim with this post is to encourage you to market yourself. You can tell your mother you're not bragging, you're working!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Two Things To Consider When Writing Essays

There are two things we should consider before we begin writing an essay:

    A. Subject--what is your essay about? What is the topic?
    B. Meaning--what message/lesson/conclusion do you want to give to your reader?

The subject is pretty easy. You've decided on that before you ever wrote a word. I should add that there are writers who don't settle on a specific topic before they begin to write the essay. They have a kernel of a thought and off they go. If a writer doesn't consider both A and B above, the essay becomes a rambling exercise and makes little sense to anyone but the person who wrote it. However, most writers can pinpoint the topic.

The meaning is more difficult and probably more important. If you have no meaning--message/lesson/conclusion--to get across to the reader, your essay is merely anecdotal. A proper essay should have a specific message or payoff at the end. 

You want to convey a universal experience or universal truth, something readers can relate to.

After you write an essay, you might want to quiz yourself with A and B above. It's similar to checking yourself on the guidelines that a particular publication gives writers. Did I do this? Did I do that? Your answers might surprise you. 

Even in a personal essay, we should have some reason for writing it--a lesson, message of some kind. It doesn't always have to be spelled out word for word. Your message can be inferred. A fine essayist I know said that meaning can be implicit rather than explicit. 

When you write an essay, or a personal essay, consider what it is that you want your reader to take away. What is it that you want them to remember? It isn't most likely to be the topic itself. Instead, it will be the meaning of what you've written. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Worthwhile Writing Exercise

I was going through some stacks of this and that in my home office yesterday. Doing that every now and then yields some hidden treasures on occasion. A writing exercise I'd done five years ago reached out to me and I'd like to share it with you today.

It came originally from my writer/blogger friend, Annette Gendler. Annette is a writer but also teaches memoir writing classes in Chicago. Perhaps this is one she uses in her classes. When I found my results of the exercise, I read through each section and realized that I had the bones of a personal essay or memoir piece in what I'd written. How and why it got buried is a mystery but I'm pleased that I unearthed it and can share with you, Not my answers but the prompts for your own responses.

My thanks to Annette who shared this exercise with me and other writers. I felt quite amazed at what I'd written for each of the following prompts. I think I must have started to answer and then let the words flow. I would be able to use this guide to write 7 personal essays. Now, isn't that worth taking time to do this exercise yourself?

Writing Exercise

What is the travel or life experience in which you...

1.  ... were the most frightened

2,  ... were the most frustrated

3.  ... experienced an outcome that surprised you

4.   ...felt the most exhilarated from afterward

5.  ... waited the longest to achieve/experience

6.   ...learned the most from

7.   ...didn't really want to do but were glad you did afterward

Monday, July 6, 2015

Write A Little, Read A Little

Snoopy has the right idea about books. Books nourish our souls. Books feed our thirst for knowledge. Books enrich our lives just like a fine meal does.

I've said, and many others have said, that all writers should be readers. I know of only one writer who doesn't like to read. I mean of the writers I know personally. The fact that this one writer dislikes reading but loves writing is a bit shocking. Esepecially since she is such a fine writer. But she is in the minority.

I find that reading the work of other writers has helped me learn and grow as a writer. While I'm enjoying a suspense novel, I'm subconsciously taking in all I can about the way the author has written, the kind of phrasing he/she uses and word choice. I also note the things that I do not like. I do this when reading other things, too--short stories, essays, memoir, nonfiction articles, newspapers, and poetry.

I don't want to copy the style of these other writers because I want my own voice to come through when I write. I do aim to study the different methods of other writers for some direction.

I have a feeling some of the writers reading this are going to say something like When do I have time to read? I hardly have time to write! I hear you loud and clear. I often read very early in the morning because I can't seem to sleep past six anymore. Or I read while eating lunch or finishing the cup of tea I generally have with that meal. I read part of the evening because I find very little to draw me to watching TV. Oh, it's on because my husband is addicted to TV, but I usually have a book in hand. I also spend part of my evening writing, so I'm not devoting an entire evening to one activity.

I have the benefit of being in a household that is just the two of us. I don't have small children in need of my attention. I realize that reading time is a lot harder to find for busy parents of young children. But try to squeeze it in where you can. Set aside a family reading time when you all read. It might not be every day but even once a week would be helpful. Not only do you get to read but you are teaching your children the joy of reading.

What if you're a student or working fulltime? It's not easy to find reading time, but try to sneak in half an hour a day. It's a wonderful way to unwind.

Yes, writers should also be readers. So squeeze some time out of your busy schedule. Write a little, read a little, write a ittle, read.....

Friday, July 3, 2015

Use A New Approach

This is a repeat post that still has information you can use now. 

Most popular tags for this image include: eyes

This little poster should serve to make you sit up and pay attention. There's something about looking into another's eyes, or maybe 'eye' in this case, that commands your presence. The reason I selected it today is that time and again, I see a call for submissions asking for an original look at at an already covered subject.

Editors receive so many submissions that make them heave a huge sigh and think This has been done over and over. Give me something fresh. How many times do we read a book review in which the reviewer tells us that the story is well-done but predictable? 

What a successful writer does to combat either of the above situations is to use an original approach, to write with fresh eyes like the poster advises us. Sounds so easy, doesn't it? Sad to say, it's far more difficult than most people realize. Especially readers. They're the ones wanting that more original slant but it's the writers who must come up with an entirely new approach.

Children's magazine editors often put out a plea for stories on holidays like Halloween and Christmas that offer somethng new. If it's been done before, they don't want it. New writers, in particular, tend to copycat stories they liked themselves as children. No, they aren't plagarizing, but those older stories stayed with them and they write what they may think of as a different approach. In reality, they're right back to Susie and Nellie and the creaky door in Grandma's house. Or whatever story they happened to like a lot when they were kids themselves. 

We tell new writers to avoid writing phrases that are cliches. That goes for whole stories as well. If it's a tried and true subject but has a fresh approach, an editor is going to sit up and give it a second look. It's the same with essays and articles. Magazines don't want to keep printing stories or articles that all run in the same vein. Maybe a subject is very popular and you run across an article on it in several magazines. The one with a new approach is going to capture your attention and make you read to the end, isn't it? 

As writers, we want to avoid the same old, same old in what we submit for publication. That old story about the editor who told a reporter that Dog bites man is not newsworthy, but man bites dog definitely is puts it in a few but important words.

Another thing to avoid is to try to write in the same style as an author you admire. Don't do it. Develop your own style. Be an original. 

Write something new. Write an original approach to an old story. Write with fresh eyes. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Aim For The Heart For This Anthology

I'm a big fan of Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I've submitted stories for many of the titles in this anthology series. And I've been very fortunate to have my work in 17 of these books. I've also had plenty of submissions there that have not made it. Competition is fierce with sometimes thousands of stories submitted for one book.

One reason I've had success is that I keep up with the latest book topics on the Chicken Soup website. Every now and then, I go to the Possible Book Topics page to see what new topics have been added and what others are gone because of the deadline being past.

Another reason is that I follow the guidelines. There are quite a few do's and don't's so I check the guidelines page before submitting a new story to make sure I've followed the guidelines and that there have been no changes made since my last submission.

I also revise and edit the story I send several times before hitting that Submit button on the submission page. I never write the story and submit it right away. I let it simmer for a few days before revising and editing. It helps me submit the best story I can write.

I try to make these creative nonfiction stories full of sensory details and attempt to bring emotion to the reader, whether it is a laugh or a tear. Aim for the heart might be a good motto when writing a Chicken Soup story. I know that the editors also like to see some dialogue in the stories so I include it in my submission.

Looking at the list of possible book topics today, I found a real variety and numerous titles. You can read more details for each by looking at the Possible Book Topics page. On some, there is a list of suggested topics for a particular theme. Even reading through the suggestions might give you an inspiration.

The main themes and deadlines for the present book topics are:

1. Alzheimer's and Dementias Family Caregiving   October 30, 2015

2. Angels and Miracles   September 30, 2015

3. Military Families November 30, 2015

4. My Very Good, Very Bad Cat  August 31, 2015

5. My Very Good, Very Bad Dog  August 31, 2015

6. Random Acts of Kindness  July 31, 2015

7. The Joy of Less October 30, 2015

8. The Spirit of America  November 30, 2015

Don't be afraid of submitting to this anthology series because of the competition. You might have the perfect story, one that touches the editor's heart. You won't know unless you try and if your first story doesn't make it, don't give up. Just remember to aim for the heart.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How Can Writers Stay Calm?

Welcome July

I found the perfect poster for today. It welcomes this seventh month of the year and gives a piece of good advice for writers. Actually for everyone, but let's concentrate on writers for the moment.

How often have you let yourself get upset over something in your writing life? I've done it many times and I'm betting you have, as well. The list below highlights a few things that cause me to have need of calming influences.

1. I sometimes become a worry wort when I don't hear about a submission for a lengthy period of time.

2.  I get frustrated when a story I'm writing doesn't work well. 

3. I reach the boiling point when a submission gets rejected more than once.

4.  I am nervous when my To-Do list grows ever longer and my time to work on it becomes shorter. 

5. I get upset with myself when I've procrastinated and then write under pressure.

When we get frustrated, upset or angry about situations in our writing life, we need to take a step back and calm down. If you look at my list again, you'll see that being upset is not going to change any one of the items listed. If anything, that reaction only creates more turmoil in your writing life.

What can you do to find that preferred state of calm

1. Get away from whatever upset you. Take a walk. Head for the beach. Go see a movie. But remove yourself from the irritation.

2. Talk to yourself. That's right--talk to yourself. Mentally, not aloud or people will stare. Give yourself the advice you'd give some other writer who is facing problems.

3. Consider what other writers go through. How many articles have you read that tell you about successful authors who had a book rejected umpteen times before it was finally published? If famous names get rejection after rejection, why can't you? It's all part of the writing game.

4. When you've procrastinated and are short on time, do the best you can with what you have and vow to never get in that spot again.

5. If a story is not going well, step away from it for a few days or have another writer look at it and give suggestions. Rare is the story that writes itself or runs smoothly from word one to the end. 

6. Find a mantra that you can repeat whenever things go wrong in your writing world. It might be the well-known I think I can or something you make up that has personal meaning for you. Repeat it when needed as many times as it takes to bring a bit of soothing. 

7. Call a writer friend and vent a bit. It might release the tension you've built up and when you're finished, you can move on in a calmer way.

Please note that in the first list I used myself as an example. Even though I post tips and encouragement for writers here five days a week, I often need to heed my own advice. I have to admit that the items in the first list happened more in the early days of my writing journey than they do now. I'd like to think I've learned how to handle those situations a little better as I've moved along my writing path. Maybe we do get wiser and calmer as we get older. 

On this first day of July, my advice is to carry on with your writing life in the calmest way possible. It's you who will reap the benefit of doing so.