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Friday, April 29, 2016

Call For Submissions From Chicken Soup

I received a Call For Submissions letter from Chicken Soup today for an upcoming
book. No doubt, they'd like the word out to as many writers as possible so I thought
I'd share their letter on today's post. Be sure to read it carefully to see the kind of
story they are looking for. Deadline is not until June 30th so you have plenty of time
to write, revise and edit your story. Give it a try. You have nothing to lose and everything]
to gain.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident
101 Stories about Loving Yourself and Your Body
With Coauthor, Supermodel EMME

Women come in all shapes and sizes. We're all beautiful and the key is to be fit and healthy within the body type that we were issued at birth. Our new book is all about body image, self-esteem, and feeling comfortable within our own skins. We want to stress the mind + body + spirit connection, the rational consumption of foods that we like (no stringent dieting) and the pursuit of exercise that makes us feel happy and connected to the wonderful machines that are our bodies.
We want to be fit and healthy, but that doesn't mean we have to look like a traditional model, although these days that's changing too! Look at the new Barbie dolls, which come in tall, petite, thin and curvy! Or the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, featuring women of all shapes and sizes.
Society is changing and we want to be part of it. Curvy and confident — let's share our stories. We want your stories about loving your look and feeling beautiful. How did you develop confidence? Have you helped girls and other women get confident? How do you stay fit? What do you eat? How have you gotten to know your body? Tell us about how you became curvy and confident or stay curvy and confident. What advice do you have for other women? How did you learn to deal with the pressures society and the media put on women to be thin? What lifestyle changes did you make? What attitude adjustments did you make? And when you did decide to accept and love yourself just the way you are, how did that make you feel?
If you are a man, tell us what you think of the curvy and confident women in your life. Do you have your own story about your own body image or self-esteem? Does the curvy movement help you too?
We're excited to have the world's first curvy supermodel, EMME, joining us as coauthor of this book. She is an advocate for women to find happiness within the skin they're in — for women to nourish themselves emotionally, physically and spiritually by learning to eat nutrient-dense foods, get their bodies moving, choose friends and lovers wisely, carve out silence within their busy day to just be, and for once and for all to enjoy the diversity of their body types.
Please remember, we no longer publish "as told to" stories. Write your story or poem in the first person. Do not ghostwrite a story for someone else unless you list that person as the author. If a story was previously published, we will probably not use it unless it ran in a small circulation venue. Let us know where the story was previously published in the "Comments" section of the submission form.
All stories should be true — we do not publish fiction — and should be no longer than 1,200 words. If your story was already published in a past Chicken Soup for the Soul book, please do not submit it. We will not publish it again. If you submitted a story for one of our previous books and we did not publish it, please feel free to submit it to this book if you think will fit. That way we will be sure it is considered for this new edition.
If your story is chosen, you will be a published author and your bio will be printed in the book if you so choose. You will also receive a check for $200 and 10 free copies of your book, worth more than $100. You will retain the copyright for your story and you will retain the right to resell it or self-publish it.
SUBMISSIONS GO TO OUR WEBSITE. Select the Submit Your Story link at the bottom of the page and follow the directions.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

No Fools Category For You

In my opinion, this quote has pros and cons to it. Anne Rice is right in that, when we write something for publication, we risk having critics come down on our heads like a flock of angry pigeons. Perhaps even laugh at us. We also take the chance that there will be lots of readers who like what we've written.

We have all learned by now that it is impossible to please all people all of the time. Why even give that a second thought? Well, guess what? We often do. We want to write books or stories, essays, poems and more that give something to the reader, that bring pleasure to the reader, that makes the reader seek more of our writing.

To write something and have an editor/publisher accept it for publication is the first sign that maybe you have not made a fool of yourself. If our writing makes it past the gaggle of editors, it should mean it's great. Right? Probably but not a definite. Add to the mix that self-publishing is becoming more widespread and you know that some of those publications may not measure up to good writing.
Many are just plain wonderful, but I fear that too many beginners grab the first story they've ever written and attempt to self-publish, aiming to be the next John Grisham or Danielle Steele.

I would hope those writers would do two things:  1. Give themselves time to write several books or stories before publishing one. We, who have written for any number of years, know that we learn as we go and that, nearly always, our work gets better as we continue writing. 2. Seek out other writers to critique the writing. Look for ones that will be brutally honest because you should truly want to know if what you've written is publication worthy. (Close friends and family are not good people to choose for this job. They love you, so they will not say anything to hurt your feelings.)

If you're in too much of a hurry, you do risk making a fool of yourself. Regular readers here know that one of my keywords for writers is patience. I cannot stress enough how important that is in your writing journey. For a little self-test, go through your files and read several of the very first things you wrote. Then read your latest. What do you think? Did you cringe a bit when reading those early missives? Most of us would. It's a rare writer who is the perfect writer straight out of the chute. Most of us improve greatly as we write more and more. And that's the reason we are told to write on a regular basis--something every day if possible.

If you're a writer who thinks you don't need a critique group or a writing buddy who will read your work and offer honest feedback, think again. Doing either of these is one of the greatest benefits a beginning writer, or even an intermediate, can have. Others look at our work with objective eyes. They see beyond what we see when we read our own work.

No one wants to risk looking like a fool, so do what it takes to make sure you're not going to have that happen to you. You know that not every person will love what you write but that's different than having them laugh at you. Don't let the risk of being the fool stop you from writing. Just take careful steps along the way.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Thinking About Ernest Hemingway and Being A Writer

Ernest Hemingway's Home in Cuba

This morning's Kansas City Star had a fascinating article on the op-ed page by David Brooks. He wrote about Ernest Hemingway after having visited the Hemingway home in Cuba. The famed author lived in several places around the globe and he fought numerous demons along his writing path. I found the article of great interest, both as a writer and as one who has admired Hemingway's writing for many years. He also interests me because I went to the same high school as he did, although later years. 

If you'd like to read the article, find it here.  If you would like to see numerous pictures of the inside and outside of the house in Cuba, find it here.  Take note of the many, many books in the various rooms. Writers are urged to be readers and it seems there is no doubt that Ernest Hemingway heeded that advice. 

Sometimes we think of writers as meeting life with nothing to be concerned about except the words they put on paper or screen, how many words they write, where to find inspiration, finding a publisher and more. If you read the David Brooks article, you'll see clearly that writers have many other things in life to contend with. Perhaps those wide experiences give us things to write about.

It's the same with you and me. Writing is a major part of our lives but there is more. So much more. We have families--whether we are in the stage of raising children or being grandparents. We have homes to take care of, community functions to attend and perhaps volunteer for, health concerns to deal with on occasion. Maintaining our home, if we own it, or calling a landlord to maintain things if we rent. We have social lives, too. We have personal demons of one kind or another that interfere with our writing world. Hemingway's drinking had to be a detriment to his writing world. 

My point is that we are not just writers. We are people and writing is a part of who we are. It's up to us to decide how great a part our writing will take in our overall life. I know that there are times in my life when I write more than at others. A lot depends on what else is going on at the time. 

David Brooks brings out the point that Hemingway was not always a nice man. Even so, it had no bearing on the brilliant books he left to us. But hey, let's try to be good human beings along with our good writing. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Food For Thought From Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss said something very important in a mere smattering of words. We go through many moments in life that we take for granted while they occur. It's often later--sometimes much later--that we look back and realize the significance, or as said above, the value.

There are special moments in all our lives that I think take on greater value as time goes on and we reach into our memory bank to relive the moment.

Here's a partial list:
  • Graduation Day
  • Wedding Day
  • First day of college
  • First day of military service
  • A great first date
  • The birth of a child
  • The birth of a grandchild
  • A special anniversary celebration
  • A health issue that helps us learn
  • A high school or college reunion
  • A Sunday sermon that stayed with you
  • A new job
  • A vacation that stands out from others
When we pluck these things from our memory, we usually do so at a much later date than when the event happened. We're able to look with a new perspective than when we had the experience originally. Perhaps some of the people involved are no longer a part of your life and that memory brings them back for a short time. 

As writers, we use those memories in the memoirs, stories, personal essays, poetry and even fiction that we write. Many fiction writers use their own experiences at times within those made-up stories. 

When we look back at those special memories, we should ask ourselves what we learned, who was there that we treasure more today than at that time, how whatever happened affected our future lives. 

So stand back and take a look at some of those memories. Do you think differently about them now? I am guessing that maybe not all will be showing you the value, but perhaps some negatives, too; Hopefully, the value side will be the heaviest. 

As you ponder those old memories, put a check mark next to the ones you want to write about. Keep your list handy to use for inspiration when your muse seems to have gone off to a faraway land.  If you write a story from one of those memories, you might nod your head, give a wink of the eye and whisper Thanks, Dr. Seuss.

Monday, April 25, 2016

We All Quote Shakespeare Now and Then

Last Saturday was the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Celebrations of the noted playwright spread across the globe. I even heard about 3 women here in my community who went to lunch to honor his memory on Saturday.

This anniversary seems to have garnered more attention than marking his birth that occurred 52 years prior to his death. Did you know that he was born on April 23rd, 1564 and also died on April 23rd, 1616 in Stratford-upon-Avon, UK? Rare is the man who dies on his birthday. None by choice, most likely.

There have been all kinds of theories about his career as a playwright--that someone else actually wrote the plays for him. Never proven or he would not be as popular today.

I found a fun website that highlighted 10 phrases from Shakespeare's works that we still use today. Many of us have said them without ever realizing we are quoting Shakespeare. If you want to read the entire page with the source of the sayings, go here. Wouldn't we all love to think that the words we have written will still be read, heard and said more than 400 years from now? Just imagine!

For those who want only the list, here it is: (note that all are actual quotes from the plays)

  • Good riddance
  • Break the ice
  • Wild goose chase
  • Love is blind
  • Naked truth
  • Brave new world
  • Green eyed monster
  • Bated breath
  • (Fight) fire with fire
  • Laughing stock
We've all used at least some of the quotes in the list, whether in conversaton or when we write. I'm quite sure that my critique group would mark some of them with cliche. No doubt they might be considered such having been used for more than 400 years. Even so, these are some very good sayings.

Shakespeare's Birthplace

Friday, April 22, 2016

Flint Hills Phtoto Prompt Exercise

Today's photo prompt exercise is going to challenge your imagination. This is a scene of the tallgrass prairie that surrounds our community. I've often thought that we could be a runner up to Montana's nickname of Big Sky Country.

Study this picture for awhile and use your imagination. Who or what is beyond the hill? What has happened here? What might happen later? What time period is it? What season? Ask yourself many questions before you begin to write.

Try more than one writing. Go in different directions. Remember that these exercises can result in a full story, essay or article that can be submitted to an editor. They are good practice but also used for inspiration.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Poem In Your Pocket Day

 Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day which is only one part of celebrating National Poetry Month.

National Poetry Month Poster for 2016

The idea behind the Poem in Your Pocket Day is to get people to share poetry with others.  Hopefully, many teachers will promote this day with a class project to allow children to select a favorite poem and read it to others in the class through the day. It might be a simple project or one layered with many possibilities. 

I love the idea of having that slip of paper with the poem in you pocket. It's kind of like you're saying I've got a secret. The best part is that you want to share that secret with someone else. When I was in a Brownie troop in second grade, we sang a song about having a secret in a pocket. In that song, the secret turned out to be ...a great big Brownie smile but why not make yours a favorite poem today? 

I also am pleased that the American Academy of Poets established the celebration of poetry in 1996 by choosing April of each year to spread the word about poetry. This, then, is its twentieth year--more cause for celebration. 

We recognize poets of old and contemporary poets, as well. Maya Angelou wrote a special poem which she read at President Clinton's 1993 inauguration. Read her poem On The Pulse of the Morning. Who are your favorite poets--both from history and those who write poetry today? 

In my community, there will be a Poetry Reading session in the Rose Garden at our City Park this next Saturday afternoon. All are invited to read a poem or to just come and listen to those who do. It's an annual event here and, I must admit, I have never attended. Maybe I'll give it a try this year, might even slip a poem I've written into my pocket before I go. 

If you do nothing else to celebrate National Poetry Month, spend some time reading a book of poems. If you're like me, you'll find something new when you read multiple times. Poems have far fewer words than prose pieces but they can say every bit as much, and sometimes more. 

Whatever you do, don't say I hate poetry! Maybe you did when you had to memorize poems for English class. Maybe you did when you were far more into playing football or soccer. Maybe you did when you weren't exposed to different kinds of poems. Maybe now is the time to find out if you can read and enjoy poetry and maybe even write some yourself. We change in many ways as we journey through life. It's possible poetry may suddenly have a great appeal for you. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Why Writers Are Willing To Travel Difficult Roads

Did anyone ever tell you that being a writer and getting published is a breeze? Did anyone ever say If Stephen King can do it, so can you and then smile and pat your hand? Did anyone ever laugh when you said writing is hard work? Did anyone ever ask when you were going to get a real job?

Those are merely a few of the problems writers encounter as they move through their writing journey. There are so many others. To name a few more:

  • looking for topics to write about'
  • finding inspiration
  • making time to write
  • organizing your writing life
  • making time for others in the rest of your life
  • learning the ins and outs of marketing your writing
  • selling yourself as well as your work
  • writing something new and different, not the same old, same old
  • forcing yourself to attend conferences if you're really an introvert
  • attempting to write in a genre you've never tried before
  • writing with clarity for your reader
  • being grammatically correct in all that you write
  • taking time to revise and edit before submitting
Yes, all the above are part of the difficult roads writers must traverse. And why do we keep moving along those roads, hitting bump after bump?

  • Simply because we are hoping to reach those beautiful destinations. 
  • We put up with all the problems, guff and turmoil because of the fact that we love to write. 
  • Putting words together for others to read brings pure pleasure despite the problem bubbles along the way. 
  • We have set goals for ourselves and we are willing to go down those difficult roads to meet them.
  • We have a passion for writing

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

When Should You Write?

I'm a very organized person and my life runs on a relatively regular schedule. On Mondays, I do laundry and put clean sheets on the bed. I have little jobs that tend to fall on the same day of the week for the other six days, as well. If I miss doing them, my world does not shatter into pieces but it does bother me sometimes. I'm definitely a creature of habit. My mother lived much the same and I guess I got it from her.

I have a close friend who laughs at me for being so regulated while she does her household tasks whenever they seem to need attention, when she feels like doing them. I'm more of a free spirit. she recently said. We both get our work done; we just approach it in a different way.

Writers are much the same. Some of us have a set routine for writing times. One of the often-asked questions when an author is being interviewed is When do you write? The answers vary greatly. Some spend a certain number of hours every morning writing without interruption while others say they work long into the night and sleep late the next mornings. We read about authors who say they write whenever inspiration hits. No two writers are exactly alike in their work method just as none of us who are running a house do so exactly the same.

We're individuals and as we move through life, we find what works best for us. You might admire Writer A but could never adopt the same work methods. You could criticize Writer B for the haphazard way she writes as you know you'd never be able to produce anything credible if you tried to do as she did.

If you are able to write and submit your work and have some of it published, it doesn't matter what your writing schedule or method is. Write mornings, afternoons or late into the night--choose the time that is suited to you.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Truth In Dialogue In Memoir Writing

A question that comes up fairly often among those who write memoir pieces is one that gives us pause for thought. The question? When you write dialogue in a memoir, how exact must you be?

Look at this logically. The woman above may be writing about something that happened when she was 12 years old, something that influence her in a big way. Maybe it was something a teacher said to her. It's doubtful she will remember the exact words but she will know the gist of what was said. There are times, however, that words spoken many years ago remain in our memory bank exactly as they were uttered. 

As long as she knows the meaning of what was said, this writer can create the dialogue to come as close as possible to what the teacher said. We want to get the meaning across to the reader and showing it by using dialogue is going to be better than telling us what the teacher said. If we can see the teacher saying those words, they will be of greater importance.

There are times you can paraphrase instead of giving exact words. Write something like I heard Grandma say that my father was a poor provider. You would not want to use this technique exclusively throughout the memoir, however. It might become distracting. Use it, but sparingly.

If the dialogue is something you heard frequently, you are going to get it exactly right. I cannot tell you how many times my dad said to me..."That's right, you didn't think!" Always used in response to my explaining that I hadn't thought before I acted. Oh come on, some of you were there, too way back when. Those five words are the ones he used and I've never forgotten them. So, if I'm writing about my growing-up years, I am most likely going to use those exact words of his rather than paraphrase. And I'd also better add something to show the way in which he said it, too. 

There are writers who prefer to avoid the issue by eliminating dialogue completely. If I don't use it, no one can fault me on its validity. True, but you'll lose some of the personal feel to the memoir. 

Do not embellish what was said to serve a purpose--to up the tension or or some emotion that might not have actually been there. In other words, don't use made-up dialogue to make the writing easier for yourself. Remember than memoir is not fiction. It is something that actually did happen.

Don't fret if your memoir dialogue is not word for word exactly as spoken long ago. Stay as true as you can to the meaning and move on. The truth in dialogue is only a small part of writing memoir. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Can Readers See What You Write?

When we write a memoir piece or a personal essay--creative nonfiction of whatever type--, we have a definite advantage over the reader. The story is true, We write it as we remember seeing it happen. We were there; we know exactly what went on, what the setting was and more.

Your reader, however, can see the story only through the words you give them. If you write a sentence like I loved being in Grandma's kitchen., you see her kitchen in vivid detail in your mind. You know that she collected rooster paraphernalia and that she loved the color blue, dotting it here and there around the room where she spent most of her day. You know exactly the smell of that kitchen, the way the light came through the two big windows and the warmth from the oven that always seemed to be baking something. Your reader was never there. You have to bring him/her into Grandma's kitchen. 

Don't do it by making a list and calling it a paragraph to show the kitchen. Weave the sights and sounds and smells into your writing so that the reader begins to see that kitchen almost as well as you do. Sounds like a good idea? Sure--but it takes some practice to do it well.

If we write something that we experienced in the past, we know the details but it's all too easy to gloss over them. They are then lost to your reader. When I write that my first grade class marched in line, two by two, to the playground across the street, I know that the teeter-totters were at the north end, near the WWII Memorial, that the swings were on the opposite end of the playground and the trapeze and rings were directly across from them. I know that the building at the far south end was where after-school tap dance lessons were given and I know where the water fountains are located at each end of the playground. I know that the high-flyers and the monkey bars are in the center area. I know that when my class crosses the street to go to the playground, we can see a church on the corner across the street from the playground. I was there. I went there a zillion times, but my reader didn't  If I want to give them a sense of place, I need to let my reader see what I already know is there. But I also do not need to tell them absolutely everything.

A word of caution--don't get carried away with giving so much detailed information that you lose the story itself. Too much and you end up boring your reader. Like so many things, there is a fine line drawn and we want to stay close to it, not fall off to either side.

Dinty Moore, author of Crafting The Personal Essay, says that it is our job to transfer what we've seen to the reader. We don't want to leave them with a white page filled with black symbols that mean nothing to the reader.

Be conscious of what your reader needs to be able to see and understand the story you write.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Visit Your Local Library

This is National Library Week. Have you ever written a memoir piece or personal essay about the libraries in your life? Have you shared with your readers your first adventure at a library? Have you written a character study about a librarian who crossed your path? 

I have always considered the library my second home. One of the first things I do when moving to a new community is to visit the local library and get registered for a card.

Delve back into your memory bank during this Library celebration week and see what you find. Some trigger questions to help you:
  • Who took you to the library for the first time?
  • What did the librarian look like at your local library?
  • How did she interact with you? 
  • What did you think when you found yourself in a sea of books?
  • Did your school have a library?
  • Did you use the library for studying and doing homework?
  • Did you spend much time in your college library?
  • Did you continue using the library as an adult?
  • Did you introduce your own children to the joys of the library?
  • If you're a senior, do you still frequent the library?
  • Did you have any bad experiences at a library?
  • Do you have a truly treasured memory of a library experience?
Most of us use our local libraries but have been able to see some very special ones in our travels or just through photos like these below. No matter the beauty or the plain look of these library interiors, they all act as home to the treasure of books. 

Oxford University 

Pratt Free Library in Baltimore

Melk Abbey Library in Austria

Sir Duncan Rice Library Aberdeen, Scotland

Marin County California Library of yesteryear--just as special as those above

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Appreciating Poetry

April is National Poetry month. I'm pleased that an entire month to celebrate this medium is given rather than the one day that many others receive. Why?

There are so many facets to the topic between reading it, writing it, sharing it or attempting to have it published. Add the fact that there are many who say they can't stand poetry, that teachers made them hate it by requiring memorization or some other flimsy reason. Perhaps it is just that many of those people were not ready to appreciate poetry and never attempted to try reading or writing it on their own later in life. They have probably missed a lot. 

We were first exposed to poetry when our parents recited nursery rhymes to us when we were small children. Children like the sing-song rhythm Mother Goose gave us. My son loved Little Boy Blue so I often recited it while bathing him. One night, when he was about 3 1/2, I realized that he was really listening to the words and the story within it. That night it went something like this:

Little boy blue, come blow your horn,
The sheep's in the meadow, the cow is in the corn,
Where is the little boy that tends the sheep?
He's under the haystack, fast asleep.
Shall I wake him? No, not I
For if I do, he's sure to cry. 

When I got to the question Shall I wake him? my son, with eyes dancing with mischief, hollered Yes! Before I could manage to think of a good reply, I just had to laugh. But it was obvious he knew the story of the poem.

I never thought much about poetry in my school years. It seemed part of our classwork and I can't say I either loved or hated it. It took me many more years to develop a true love and admiration for poetry and those who write it. It wasn't a revelation on one day. The appreciation of this form of writing grew slowly. I found poets whose work I especially admired and then I attempted to write a poem on my own. 

I started with free verse because it seemed the easiest, no rhyming, no particular rhythm, no meter pattern to follow. I still write mostly free verse but have done some rhyming poems, as well, and even a narrative poem that was published in Boys' Quest magazine. I tried haiku after listening to a fine poet at a writer's conference. Recently, I have worked on a prose poem. Are my poems great? Not by some standards. They did allow me to express what I felt in fewer words than a 1500 word personal essay might. 

Two of my poems have placed in a contest, two more have been published. The rest sit in files where I work on revisions now and then. That old revise and edit thing works the very same way in poetry as it does in fiction or creative nonfiction or article writing. We can always make something we've written a little bit better. 

I've had the pleasure of getting to know some of the poets in my state author's group. As a result, I've increased the amount  of poetry that I read. I've purchased the books they've put out with collections of their poems and I've read them all more than once. There's pleasure in reading poems many times for a reader might see something new or from a different perspective on multiple readings. 

Give poetry a chance. Don't attempt to drown yourself with it all at once. Try a little here and a bit there. Learn what type you like and search out more of the same kind. I will admit that there are some poets who write words that have meaning for themselves alone. Anyone else reading it might not have a clue what was meant. That's alright. Move on to something that you can understand and enjoy. 

So, this month, check our some poetry websites. Browse the shelves of the poetry section at your local library. Pull out those poetry books on your own bookshelves that have been there a long time and read them again. You might even try to write a poem yourself. Aww, go ahead and try it.

Here's the poem for kids that was published in Boys' Quest back in 2004.

Chinatown Cat

                                          Ling Po had a ginger-colored cat,
                                          not a very pretty one at that.
                                          Near a window he oft slept by day.
                                          Nights he went out and far away.

                                          Where in Chinatown did he go?
                                           Ling Po really wanted to know.
                                           Night after night Cat went
                                           As if on a mission he’d been sent.

                                          One warm and moonlit night,
                                           Ling Po followed on Cat’s right.
                                           Cat slid by cans for trash,
                                           then Ling Po padded softly past.

                                           He stayed a bit behind,
                                           while Cat continued down the line.
                                           Cat didn’t even seem to slow
                                            when sirens began to blow.

                                            On through dark and eerie streets,
                                            Master and pet moved on silent feet.
                                            Farther and farther, past store upon store.
                                            Ling Po could not take much more!

                                            Now, beyond temple and pagoda.
                                            This Chinatown boy needed a soda.
                                            Then, Cat stopped, looked all around
                                            and crouched down close to the ground.

                                            He lay there, green eyes peering
                                            at an ancient man now nearing.
                                            “There you are, my friend,” he fretted
                                            “Come close to be petted.

                                             Ling Po waited behind a car.
                                             Was this the reason they’d come so far?
                                              The Old One bent, pigtail swinging,
                                              from Cat’s throat, a purr like singing.

                                              Now Cat belonged to the pair,
                                              for Ling Po knew he would share.
                                              This cat who loved both young and old
                                              was surely worth his weight in gold.
                                              With patience, Ling Po watched the two,
                                               no more than that could he do
                                               until Cat turned to take his leave
                                               and Ling Po followed him home with relief.
                                                                                             --Nancy Julien Kopp




Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Photo Prompt Writing Exercise

How about trying a Photo Prompt exercise today? I love this picture. When I first saw it, my mind began to swirl with memories, thoughts, and hopes. Yes, hopes as I would love to be there with nothing needing my attention. 

Study the picture. Note the details. Ask yourself questions. Who lives here? Is it a house or an inn? Is it in a foreign country or our own? Who left the book open? And why? What is the weather outside that window? What kind of boats are in the distance? Why are you there?

Then start writing. Do a paragraph or several. Write a slice of life or a full story. Your choice. Make sure you use active verbs, sensory details, show rather than tell so that you bring some life to what you write.

Some writers say they can't be bothered with writing exercises; they consider them a waste of precious writing time. I think they miss something by never doing them. The old cliche of Practice makes perfect could be applied here. I've found that another benefit is that inspiration can burst forth through a writing exercise. Try it; you might like it. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Ironing and Writing? Huh?

The woman in front of me at church yesterday had on a pretty, plaid blouse. It appeared to be all cotton but had not been ironed. I thought that it would have looked so much nicer had the wrinkles been pressed out. The collar would have laid straight rather than curled up. The cuffs on the short sleeves would have fit her arms better. Lots of people don't iron anymore. A lot of our clothing is non-wrinkle but we still have those items that would benefit from being ironed.

Those who do not iron all have reasons that are understandable. They don't have time, they don't really care how clothes look to others, they don't know how, or for a few, it's a form of rebellion. My mother made me iron; now I don't have to. Or I never should have bought an all-cotton item in the first place.

Ironing was something my mother taught me to do from childhood. As a small child, I had my own collapsible wooden ironing board and small electric iron. It was my job to iron my father's handkerchiefs. I graduated to pillow cases and a bigger ironing board as I grew older. Then, she showed me how to iron my blouses and my dad's shirts so they looked crisp and fresh. When I helped with the ironing during school vacations, Mom and I listened to soap operas on the radio. Today, when I iron, I turn on the tv but I also use the time for mulling over a problem or concern. I find I do my best thinking at the ironing board. More than one story idea has popped up as I do the mindless task before me.

I iron because I want my clothes to look nice; I want to present a finished appearance; I care. 

I try to polish my writing drafts for much of the same reasons. I want the editor to think my piece looks finished and well done. I want my writing to have a crisp, polished look. I try to take extra time to achieve those things. I avoid hurrying through, skipping the 'ironing of my story' so I can submit to reach a deadline. 

Even if you don't iron the clothes that emerge from the dryer with wrinkles galore, I hope you work on your writing drafts until they look like a fresh white shirt right off the ironing board.

Friday, April 8, 2016

We Write Because...

There are so many fine quotes attributed to Maya Angelou. The one above can easily be about the reason we write. Have you ever given serious thought to why you write?

One of the main reasons is that a writer is a person who has something to say. Being able to put our thoughts down in words that others will read is a gift. At least, I think that it is a gift but there are some who would dispute that. I've read more than once that, given the right tools, anyone can learn to write.

I suppose that has some truth to it but I have a feeling that the people who become writers via the giving of tools and instruction don't necessarily write from the heart. They don't always find a voice that is unique to them. There may not be passion in their writing. Will their readers feel the emotion?

Perhaps it is those gifted writers who bring us the fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry that entertains so very many readers. These people write because they care; sometimes they write because they are driven to by some inner feeling or need. I remember reading a quote by an author whose name I cannot remember right now, but the quote was "I just can't not write!" Not grammatically perfect but the idea comes through loud and clear. These 'gifted' writers have a way with words that others do not. If you're one of them, be proud and keep on writing to share with others.

Even when a writer has a gift for writing, he/she cannot ignore acquiring those tools and instruction. They're important for all writers and will help refine whatever gift for writing he/she might have. It's kind of like that old argument as to what makes us who we are--genetics or environment. It's some of both and so it is with we who write.

And like the bird in the quote, we may not have all the answers in what we write but we write because we can.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Are We In The Fog?

I pulled aside the heavy draperies of the motel room window, hoping to see sunshine. Instead, I found a misty rain and light fog. “Fog again!” I said to my husband who stood before the mirror shaving.

We’d driven in fog the morning before when we set out from home to travel southeast, in hopes of finding a pocket of warmth during this winter month. As we crossed the hills of south central and southeast Kansas, we ran the gamut from a little fog to heavy curtains of it, blocking the view of the tall grass prairie we normally enjoyed when driving this route.

I searched the road ahead for tail lights of any vehicles and the headlights of those approaching. At times, one would rise up from the fog, seeming to appear in only an instant. I watched the side roads, worrying that a truck or car would pull out in front of us before they realized we were there. Ken kept watch as he drove, and I offered one more set of eyes to help him. Fog frightens me almost as much as icy roads.

What upsets me the most on a foggy day is the number of people who drive through it with no lights on. “What kind of idiot drives in fog without any lights on?” I’ve repeated this statement on many an occasion, never receiving any illuminating answer, other than some smart remark from my husband.

We left the motel on this second morning of our trip, feeling relieved that the fog appeared to be very light. Euphoria lasted only a mile or two, as the arms of heavy fog wrapped around us and held on tightly, as though a lover who would never let go.

Sometimes we move through years of our writing lives fighting fog, never being able to see clearly to our goals. We let that vaporous air surround us while we sit and wonder why our writing journey doesn’t move faster or rise to a level we’d hoped for long ago.

Sure, we set goals at the beginning but how hard did we work to achieve them? Did we give the ultimate to reach our goals? Or did we take it as slowly as those cars driving through the fog? Did we drive ourselves hard enough and fast enough? Did we search for reasons that we weren’t accomplishing what we’d set out to do? All good questions for which you may or may not have answers.

Maybe we should set another goal to add to our earlier list. Let’s move out of the misty fog to see our previous goals more clearly. Then work at each one with a new attitude. Trade the I can’t for an I can. Let’s move through our list of goals with a new fervor.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

If You Want To Write In The Political World

It's a national election year and we read about both parties and all the candidates on a regular basis. Often, it's many times a day between our newspapers, facebook, tv, or magazines. We all have our own opinion about the parties and the candidates. 

 Those of us who write do so because we have something to say. In an election year, we are very tempted to voice our opinion through our writing channels. That's our constitutional right and we read myriad op-ed pieces which are meant to sway us or make us feel our decision is the right one. So why not write one?

Go ahead and write about this topic but make very sure you check your facts. Far too much is spread on hearsay. Don't take everything you hear as gospel truth. Check your facts. If you don't and you're found to be lacking in the absolute truth department, consider the humiliation you might have to endure. If you write what you know to be the absolute truth, be firm and stand behind it no matter what kind of hate mail you might receive. Many of you will consider that you think the politicians say things without checking facts, so why not you, too? Some do but many end up in big trouble after doing so. 

No doubt that those who write about politics are going to get some hate mail along with the letters that praise their opinion from those who happen to agree with it. If you think rejections from editors hurt, I can only imagine how it feels to get put downs from those whose political opinion differs from yours. Most of them don't do it politely. Lots of nastiness involved. If you don't like that kind of thing, then don't write about politics. 

Weren't most of us taught that you should never argue about religion or politics? I'm not going to convince you to join my side and you're not about to convince me to join yours. When it comes to political opinions, most of us have strong ones. Even the Independents tend to lean to one party or the other. I once had someone tell me I was 'stupid' for belonging to my party. Her opinion and she has a right to say it, but I've never felt quite the same about the person knowing that was her opinion of me. 

The one thing I ask of others is to respect my opinion. No one has to agree with me but please respect my opinion. Disagreeing is fine but do it with respect. We all have reasons for choosing one candidate over another. I wonder sometimes how can people vote for this person or that person, but they will and there is little I can do other than cast my own vote. 

There's been enough hate to last a lifetime in this primary season. I shudder to think what it will be like when we have two nominees. When I was in junior high, we held class elections. The candidates gave speeches before the election. The teacher instructed the students to tell the classes why she/he would be a good choice. Do not put the other person down. Focus on the positive, not the negative. It sounded right to me and I've continued to hope for that approach through the years. But it seems to have been lost long ago. Now, it's "put the other guy down to make me look good."

So yes, go ahead and dive into the political writing tank but try to be a step above some of the people who write the nastiness. Be fair. Be respectful. Be truthful. Be careful 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

An Online Magazine For Personal Health Issue Stories

Many of us have gone through serious illnesses or have had a family member or close friend do so. Hearing the stories of others often helps people who suddenly find themselves overwhelmed after a diagnosis. We seek comfort from the tales told by others. 

Awhile back, I submitted a story to an online medical ezine about a year in the life of a close friend who had breast cancer--her reaction to it and mine. You and Me publishes stories regarding illness of many kinds. They don't want a story that covers a lifetime of a chronic illness. Instead they prefer a small part of what the patient or family has been experiencing. You do not have to be a professional writer to submit.

They receive queries on certain health issues more than others--like breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes. To have a story in one of these categories accepted, you'd have to have a different angle. They don't want a medical information article. They are looking for the personal side of health issues. They want to know how an illness afftected you or your loved ones. And it does not need to be a serious illness; it might be something considered trivial--trivial unless you have to experience it yourself. They specify that they do not want all sad or all happy endings. Your story can have either one.

Go to their submission page to get a better feel for what the publisher seeks. Note that they do not want you to submit your finished piece. Instead, they ask for a query letter first in which you will tell them about the article/essay you are proposing to send. To be honest, having to write a query letter is one of my pet peeves but I understand why an editor prefers it. I would much rather write the story and send it on speculation. As writers, we have to bow to the submission guidelines if we want a chance to be published in a particular magazine or anthology or whatever. What they want in a query letter is spelled out toward the bottom of the Submission page. It says: 
   Your first contact with us should be a "query" i.e. an email describing the nature of your work, how
long it is, and any other details you feel are important (such as whether or not you have photos with the text). You may want to include a brief excerpt from the work. 
I suggest that you read several of the stories to get a feel for the type of work the publisher uses. 
My story was published several years ago but is still on the website. Read it here.  A page with hints for contributors would be worth looking at, also. Find it here.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Make Sure You Revise and Edit Your Fiction

Working on Revisions

Friday's post addressed revisions and editing in nonfiction works. Today, let's look at revising your fiction. Whether it's flash fiction, a short story, novella or full novel, no first draft is ever going to make it. Revision is in order along with editing the mechanical parts of your writing. 

We need to aim at making the story tighter and stronger. Some things to consider are:

  • Consistency on POV--make sure you use the same Point of View character throughout.
  • Dialogue--does it sound real, or is it forced? Have you tried to show the character's actions and way they speak as well as the actual words?
  • Structure--variation in length of scenes, chapters, even sentences. 
  • Pacing--how does the story move along? Are paragraphs too short or too long? What about the kinds of sentences used? 
  • Word Choice--redundancy has no place in your story. Do you also use certain words too often? Ones you especially like and tend to lean on.
  • Avoid overwriting details--have you added unnecessary details? We don't need to know when a character stands up and walks across the room. Those actions are understood by reader. 
  • Imagery--have you used it throughout your story? Metaphors and similes add to your story.
  • Listen to your story--either read it aloud yourself or have someone read it to you. You'll catch an amazing number of problems when you 'hear' your story.
Editing your fiction is sometimes a pain in the neck (or any other body part you choose to name!) but it's quite important. No matter how good a story you've written, if you have poor grammar, pathetic spelling and other mechanical problems. an editor might not give your story a second look.

A short but not complete list of things to consider in editing:
  • Active verbs rather than passive
  • Complete sentences
  • Perfect spelling
  • Avoid long, complex sentences
  • Make sure every pronoun has an antecedent
  • Cut down on adverbs
  • Don't overuse adjectives
  • Use quote marks correctly
  • Use punctuation correctly
Some writers hire professionals to edit their work. That's fine if you can afford it. If you do it yourself, don't try to tackle it all at once. Take short sections like a scene or a chapter. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

What's The Difference Between Revising and Editing?

I love turning the page on the calendar to a new month. It feels like a fresh start and each month has its own special feeling. April is springtime in the northern hemisphere. Quite often, Easter is celebrated in April. We consider April showers that bring May flowers, April Fool's Day (today!) and Tax Day on the 15th. For the past 20 years, April is National Poetry month. 

Today's post is about none of those things mentioned. I speak regularly here about revising and editing your writing. Why two words? Why not one that covers all? There is a difference. And there is also some difference in what you do for fiction and nonfiction to revise or edit. I'll address nonfiction today and fiction at a later time. 

Nonfiction (credit to Diana Parsell who discussed the following at a writer's conference I attended and am sharing with you)

  • Meaning and clarity--what is it about and what deeper message do you want to convey?
  • Form--does it need another form to make it more clear or is minor editing OK?
  • Structure--the organization and presentation of the information, including transitional devices and balance of multiple elements
  • Balance--do you give equal amount of attention to each aspect, or are some heavier than others? 
  • Variety--this covers both sentence construction and sections of your piece.
  • Economy--have you used efficient presentation and use of language?
  • Exactness--have you said exactly what you meant?
  • Vividness--have you used techniques to make your writing come alive for readers? 
Another day, I will go into more detail on some of what we do in revision and editing in nonfiction. Much of this will apply to fiction but that form of writing also has its own specifics to be considered when revising and editing.