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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Are You A Worrier?

 Writers never worry. Right? No, that's all wrong. Writers do worry. A lot! 

What do they worry about? Look at this list and you'll probably be nodding your head if some of them hit home. 

We worry that: 
  • we will never be a published author
  • we cannot measure up to professionals
  • we aren't up to writing with proper mechanics
  • other writers far surpass our abilities
  • we aren't growing as a writer
  • we don't get enough emotion in what we write
  • we don't hook our readers immediately
  • we aren't able to write a full novel
  • we don't have enough time to write as much as we'd like to
  • our vocabulary is not up to that of other writers
  • editors will hate our submissions
  • we aren't very good at revising and editing our first drafts
The list could go on and on but you get the idea. All those worries are definitely a waste of time. Writers have a lot of doubt and insecurity, especially in the beginning stage of the writing journey. Even those who have published a lot have some of the same doubts. You can probably add to this list with other parts of the writing life that you worry about.

I love this quote. It is so true. Worry gets us nowhere fast. It is a total waste of time. Instead of worrying, we need to step back and take a long, hard look at all the problems in the list above. Tackle them one at a time. Don't attempt to do it all at once. If you do, you will do more than worry. You might have a total meltdown. In all of our writing life, we need to tackle problems a little here, a little there. We can't climb Mt Everest in one day and we can't solve all these problems in one day either.

Push the worry bird out the door and keep moving on your writing path. Continue working on the positive things you've done and tackle those 'worrisome' things one at a time.

The Things That Happen to Us!

It's true that nothing that happens to a writer is ever wasted. Every place we go, everyone we meet, every situation we encounter all have merit for a writer.

Whatever we see or do is mentally filed away to be used when we write. Don't you sometimes wonder why your head is not three times the size it is, considering all the information we store in it? 

We do slip a great deal into our memory bank. When we write a story or a poem or essay, some little switch must come on in the inner recesses of our minds. The perfect thing we need for our project will pop out. 

We can't always will it to come out. It seems to happen without any prodding. We start to write a story about a place we've visited and as we write, mental pictures of the place flash through our minds like a film on a video screen. It allows us to use the best description of a place to give our reader a clear picture. 

Whether what happens to you, the writer, is joyful, exciting, or tragic. it stays with you and will be there for you when you're ready to write about whatever occurred. It can be the day after or twenty years later.

Embrace the things that happen to you for they will be the golden nuggets that help you write an outstanding piece. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Seeing Possible Stories in Lexington, Kentucky


We are spending a few days in Lexington, Kentucky this week. It's Horse Country and also home to the University of Kentucky. You've heard of all kinds of trails but the one in this area is the Bourbon Trail where you can visit one distillery after another.

The weather has been near perfect--sunshine and 75 yesterday. We are with two other couples who are ongtime friend and are enjoying time together. The men have played golf each morning and the women have shopped and enjoyed exploring the area. Today, we are meeting our husbands, after gofl, at the Horse Farm for a tour.

Evenings, we seek out interesting, local restaurants. Last night, we ate at Malone's Steakhouse where the service, atmosphere and food all deserve several stars. The night before we tried a local Soul Food place that did the southern food justice.

We've found the people to be very friendly and welcoming. They seem pleased to have visitors to their area and I can say that we are happy to be here.

I see story possibilities everywhere we've been. Just a few are these:

  • I noticed the hotel manager slipping his hands into rubber gloves. "Getting ready to operate?" I asked him. He grinned and answered "No, I'm going out to clean up the parking area." I was impressed that he was not delegating this job but doing it himself. 
  • In a department store, the clerk looked at my credit card and smiled. "My name is Nancy, too," she told me. Just then, another shopped chimed in with "I'm a Nancy, too!" We three discussed having this old-fashioned name. 
  • The steakhouse we ate at was filled with amazingly interesting diners. Any one of them could be used as a character in a fiction story or novel. A man eating his salad with chopsticks, rather than a fork, drew my attention. I wanted so badly to go ask him why! 
  • Getting lost in a strange city, despite having directions, is always a good basis for a story line. And yes, we did get lost as we tried to find our downtown hotel.
  • The people eating breakfast at the hotel intrigue me. Why are they staying here? Where did they come from? Where are they going? Business? Pleasure? Health issues (this is a regional medical center)? 
When you travel, use your writer's eye as you explore a new area and meet myriad people along the way. Make notes to use later. 

I'm looking forward to our visit to the Horse Farm this afternoon. There should be many story possibilities there.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Paddling Your Own Canoe

The quote above is attributed to Katherine Hepburn, movie actress of the '40's and 50's.  Awards and admiration followed her during and after her Hollywood career. I think she was a perfect example of her own quote.'

Writers can apply the quote to their own journey. Some writers complain that they never seem to get anywhere, that they aren't being published as often as they like, that they aren't growing as a writer. If you're one of those writers, take a step back and look at how you've been pursuing your writing craft.

  1. Have you made enough time to write?
  2. Have you done enough research to give you the background needed?
  3. Have you revised and edited until the piece shines?
  4. Have you researched the appropriate markets or picked the same old, same old?
  5. Have you tried writing something different than you usually do?
  6. Have you looked for possible contests to enter?
  7. Have you submitted at least one piece each week?
  8. Have you given your best effort to each piece you write?
  9. Have you done writing exercises to practice your craft?
We'd all like to answer yes to these questions. If we're totally honest, there are going to be some no answers. None of us is perfect but we do strive to be better. If you want to answer yes to many of the questions, it's going to take hard work. You'll to paddle faster and faster. There is no one else who can do it for you. 

Mark the questions that are most important to you or ones that you feel needs work. Then make a list of what you need to do to improve. Pick up your paddle and move at your own pace. But do move!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Writers--Think About This

How long ago did you start writing? 20 years? 10 years? 1 year? More or less? No matter the number of years, you have made progress. Don't shake your head and tell me that you feel like you're stuck in a rut, have achieved little or nothing. Sure, you tell me, look at all the rejections I've gotten. Look at the frustrations I've lived through. Look at the writing friends who have surged ahead of me.

Even so, I am going to ask you to look back at your writing career. Think about the day you started. Think about the first time you worked up the courage to submit something you wrote. Think about the first rejection you received. Think about the melange of emotions you experienced then. Think about the very first time you were published and the effusive joy you had. Think about the many positives in your writing life.

And then, I am going to ask you to stand up tall and straight and be proud--so very proud--of what you have accomplished. Scratch the bad times. Consider only the good parts. You've worked hard. Now reap the happiness and surge ahead.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Rejections and Apples

It's apple picking time in many areas of our country. When I look at this basket of apples, I have visions of apple pie, apple cobbler, apple cake, applesauce, apple dumplings (my husband's fave) or just the goodness of a fresh, raw apple. 

In our writing world, we can compare our submissions to the basket of apples. We send our precious words to editors with the aim of being published. Our hopes are high but we are realistic enough to confirm the thought that chances of being rejected are higher than of being accepted. We fill our apple basket with work that has been published and we toss those worm-eaten apples, our rejections, into the trash. Usually in disgust.

Don't trash the rejections. Like the not-so-good apple, we can salvage something. We cut away the bad part of the apple and use the rest. Why not cut away the bad part of the rejected piece and use what is left? Take the remainder and build upon it to make it a better piece of writing. 

Take a good hard look at the rejected submission. I would suggest doing this a few days after getting the bad news. The same day you have emotions spinning through that wouldn't allow you to look as objectively as you can later. If you are lucky, the editor sent a note with the rejection saying why they did not accept it. But that happens only occasionally. If you get a note from an editor, pat yourself on the back. It means they did like something about your writing and perhaps they hope you'll submit again to them. Any editorial comment is encouraging. 

Mark the areas that are of importance to the piece in one color. Choose a different color to mark the places that could be cut--maybe redundancies, rambling away from the topic, poor grammar, boring dialogue--whatever it might be. Go line by line to check relevance. Essay writers sometimes forget to include that all-important 'universal truth' which is most important in essay writing. The fiction writer might have left out information the reader should have. There are any number of things that can either be omitted, changed, or expanded upon. 

When you go apple-picking this fall, or buy them at a roadside market or the local grocery store, think about those rejections. When you peel and slice apples for a pie, consider those rejected pieces in your files, the ones you kept. Take that first bite of a warm apple cobbler and remember that you're going to work on those rejected treasures of yours. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Ways We Write

One of the most repeated pieces of advice to writers is to write every day.  A worthy goal but not always possible. Life tends to get in our way and we have to answer the call to which situation takes priority any given day.

However, writers write even when not at their keyboards tap-tapping away. Let me list just a few of the places writers are thinking about writing:

  • in the shower
  • checkout line at the grocery store
  • in bed
  • filling the dishwasher
  • riding the commuter train to work
  • filling the gas tank
  • changing the baby's diaper
  • in church during the sermon ( oh yes, it's done quite often)
  • walking for exercise
We have story ideas swirling in our heads long before we sit down to write that first draft. Lines of a poem come to us at strange, and often inopportune, moments. A solution to a problem in the plot of a fiction story pops into our heads when we least expect it. 

We're writing when we do research for a story or interview someone that we will write about later. We're writing when we jot down notes to be used later. 

Even if you don't write something at the keyboard, or with pen and paper, every day, don't fret. I would bet that you're still writing in one of the ways pointed out above. Just don't stay away from the keyboard too many days in a row. Writing every day can become a habit but the reverse is also true.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Piano Guys--A Show Worth Seeing

Last night, we had the great joy of seeing The Piano Guys, an internet sensation, at the auditorium on the K-State campus. If you aren't familiar with the group, they mix classical music with pop in a very unique way. The show was just plain wonderful. Should they come to a place near you, do take advantage of the opportunity to see them perform.

I noticed many children in the audience of the 'sold out' performance. One of the men onstage said that one of the goals they have is to teach children and young adults to appreciate and enjoy classical music along with the pop. They obviously achieved that goal if the enthusiasm of the kids I noticed is an indicator.

One number they performed is brand new and just released. What a wonderful inspiration to young people and old about handling problems in our lives. You can see and listen to it on YouTube. There are several other YouTube performances of theirs on the same page. The video presentation of marvelous areas of our world is worth seeing along with hearing them perform. The video of some of their songs was present last evening, too. Some good chatter during the show, lots of lighthearted comedic bantering, and some spiritual offerings, too. Add the terrific talent of the two main performers on piano and cello and it is WOW! time. Check out their website to learn more about them.

As I sat in the theater, totally enthralled, possible lines for a poem kept dipping and diving through my mind. Wherever I go, writing comes to my mind in some way. I talk here on the blog about motivation and inspiration. Believe me, these guys can definitely motivate and inspire. I didn't have a pad and pen with me but wished for one to capture those lines. I did jot notes down when we got home last night.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Writing A First Draft

Has there ever been a first draft written that could be deemed perfect? Most doubtful! Even though many high school students will zip off an essay assignment in one sitting and call it done. Why? Because all they care about is completing the assignment and handing it in. 

But you, the writer, cannot be that nonchalant about your writing. You know that the first draft is nothing but the base of the building you plan to erect, brick by brick if need be. We need that first draft to see where we are going. We also must have it to find the places that need help or ones that should be cut out--sent forever to the land of lost words.

I love the quote above. It makes the point so very well. The first draft is only a beginning. How much you build onto that is the writer's choice. Some writers will do one revision/edit and call it finished. Others will work on a piece of writing many times before they feel satisfied enough to submit it to a market. That's the writer's decision. Sometimes, it's agonizing. With each revision, a writer asks: 

   Is this the best this can be?
   If I revise one more time, will I mess it up completely? 
  Should I give it one more go? 
  Am I satisfied with this result?

The more we write, the easier it is to assess the revised first draft. Beginning writers have a much harder time deciding when to call it finished. 

This past week-end, I submitted the first draft of a poem I'd started one day when in a real funk. The poem was about as negative as one can get. I set it aside and went back to it the next day. I inserted new, more positive, verses between the originals. It seemed to work better but it was still that raw, first draft. I like the word raw in describing a first draft. I subbed the poem and asked my writing group if they thought it too simple to be worth anything. I expected little or no response but was pleasantly surprised when several critiqued the poem with praise plus some excellent suggestions for making it better. 

What if I had not submitted to the group? What if I'd shoved that first draft into a file and left it there? Of course, there is still no way of knowing if that particular poem will ever be published but after revisions, it very well might be.

Don't give up on a first draft. Remember that it is only a beginning. It heads you in the right direction for a finished product. Never expect perfection from a first draft. You're not that high school student who only wants to complete an assignment. You're a writer who wants to produce a polished piece of writing. The first draft cannot swirl in your mind forever. Whether it turns out pretty good or just plain awful, it has to be written.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Good Reasons To Do Freewriting Exercises

Don't we all love to get something for nothing? We see a sign that says FREE and we hustle right over to check it out. Here's something that is free for writers. That's the freewriting exercise.

For the uninitiated, you are given a word or a photo. Set your timer for ten minutes and start writing whatever comes into your mind without stopping. Don't worry about grammar, spelling, or rambling. It's fine to do any of those no-no's during this exercise. You are writing here to get ideas, to get motivated, to search the recesses of your mind. Keep those fingers moving on your keyboard for the full ten minutes. Remember to use the word at least once or as many times as you like.

My online writers' group does this exercise on a weekly basis using a word. We call it the Random Word exercise. The person in charge for the month, selects the word. Believe me, we've had some doozies and also some very simple words. One way to choose the word is to open a book, close your eyes and point to a word. Another is to use something related for the 4 or 5 words that month. Another is to use words you happen to be partial to.One time, I used words that all began with the same letter for each week. The way the word is chosen is least important.

More important is what comes of it from you, the writer. Some of the writers in our group use the word to write the beginning of a piece of fiction. Others write using memories or knowledge of something the word brings to them. Some start with rhyming. Some toss in a this is going nowhere sentence now and then. And sometimes it does go nowhere. Other times, a golden nugget pops up.

One huge benefit of this type of exercise is that it can serve as the key to unlock the treasures buried in your subconscious. Things pop out that you thought were long forgotten.

Something I find interesting is that if five people do this exercise using the same word, there will be five different perspectives. Occasionally, two people will write along the same line but still have differences.

The reason I am pursuing the topic of the freewriting exercise is that I have had other writers in my group tell me that I need to expand on the idea in one of the exercises and make it into a full story or essay. It happened this weekend once again. When I went back to read what I'd written over again, I realized the person who suggested I use it as a base for an essay was right. The bones were there; I only needed to flesh it out. It's on my To-Do list. I have seen great possibilities in other writer's freewrite exercise, too. This exercise can serve as the beginning of a new writing project.

I have often given you photo prompts for freewriting but try it now with a single word. I'll give you a list of words. Choose one and put fingers to keyboard and don't stop writing for a full ten minutes. More if you are motivated to keep going. You can do this on your own every day by the closing eyes and pointing finger method.

Once you are finished, read your work carefully and see what you might want to develop further.

Freewriting Word List

1.  blanket

2.  time

3.  fish

4.  sky

5.  game

6.  school

7.  blue

8.  ferocious

9.  fear

10.  giggle

Friday, September 16, 2016

Writers Have Decisions To Make

Writers face decisions every day. 
  • What is the best market for my latest story? 
  • Which editor is going to be the most receptive to what I've written?
  • Should I kill this character or just maim him?
  • Should I attend a writer's conference even if I can't really afford it?
  • Do I leave all the cliches in my latest writing or replace them?
  • Should I take a writing workshop online?
  • Do I begin a major project or keep on with smaller ones?
  • How much time should I spend reading about writing?
  • Should I give up writing or continue?
  • Should I join a critique group?
  • Should I self-publish or make the rounds of publishing houses?
The list above cites merely a few of the everyday decisions a writer must make. Our poster quote today points out that even small decisions can change our lives. That's true. It's also true that many writers agonize over the daily decisions they are called on to make. 

The pain involved is not worth it. Some decisions can be made rather quickly while others take longer. The big ones deserve the time to make a wise choice. An old method that is worthwhile is to make a list of the pros and cons. Which side is heaviest? Are there items in the con list that might be harmful or hurt the feelings of someone? Does the pro side show you that your decision might have a positive effect on your writing life? Don't just write the pros and cons--evaluate them. 

While some decisions can change your life forever, you have no way of knowing how things will turn out when you choose one way or another. We must make many of our writing world decisions on blind faith. Sometimes we hit it right and others we fail miserably. It's a rare person who will make all decisions correctly. Not many 100% papers on this. If you make a decision that turns out wrong, don't beat yourself up over it. Move on! 

The main thing is to give some careful thought to your decisions. Don't be too hasty. You can play the What if...? game when making up your mind as to what direction you will follow. What will the consequences be if this thing or that does not work out? Is it worth taking a chance? 

You and you alone can decide what path to take, even if you discuss the situation with someone else or several someones. It's still your call in the end. It's every writer's hope that he/she can look back later and say I'm glad I did that. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The photo above is from the Hans Christian Andersen movie starring Danny Kaye as Hans. The quote is his, too. The gifted comedian and actor was an insightful man. How right he was to urge us to do all we can with what we have. 

He used a canvas and the idea of our being artists to get his point across. For me, the quote can also be looked at as writers who must spread the word paintings they create wherever possible. Never write just a little. Write every day--words of advice writers hear from successful writers--write with the joy of spreading your words where many can read them. 

Writers do paint with words rather than brushes. Aren't we lucky? Our method is not nearly as messy. We don't need to wear a smock to cover our clothes as we tap away at our keyboards. We don't have to deal with wet paint and turpentine to clean brushes. Yet, we can paint a wonderful picture with the words that come from our hearts. 

I know I am not alone in being overwhelmed at some natural scenery and wishing I could capture the place and the moment on canvas. Art is not my gift but I can write about what I witnessed. A short essay came from a moment in time many years ago which expands on this topic. Note the quote at the end. You can read it below. 

 Word Painting

By Nancy Julien Kopp

Out of breath and heart pounding, I make it to the top of the hill. Tallgrass prairie spreads before me, wildflowers springing up between the sharp blades of grass, dotting the hillsides with bits of bold color. Not a cloud mars the intensity of a clear azure sky.  The strong breeze ruffles my hair, and I take a deep breath, pleasure encasing my very soul. Soon, the sun will turn to flame and begin a slow descent before the darkness of night covers the rolling hills like a vast blanket.
Oh, to be an artist and capture the scene God has placed before me. But a paintbrush and canvas are useless for a person like me. I can see the spectacular display, but never would I be able to duplicate it with an artist’s tools. I earned C’s in art classes all through my school years, and only for effort, not as the successful result of any assigned project.
I sigh, survey the living prairie once more, and bend to pluck a wildflower. I twirl the blossom between thumb and forefinger, then head to my car. The dust on the gravel road swirls behind me as I drive, and thoughts dance through my mind.
Maybe there is a way to capture what I’ve seen here today. Since I’m a writer, I paint my canvas with words in every story or article I create. That flower lying on the seat next to me—soft as the down on a baby’s head, purple as royal robes, and delicate as lace. All of these phrases describe the pretty little blossom. I bring it close and sniff to catch its sweet scent. I think of more phrases to capture this beauty for others. The artist’s canvas hangs on a wall or rests on an easel for all to see, but my words can live on, too.
The artist may dip his brush into paint and splash it across canvas to portray the sky, while I paint my sky with words—words that articulate, emote, surge the senses, highlight emotions. Can the artist capture the movement of the tallgrass prairie with a swish of his brush? A gifted painter can do so, but I can, too. I sift through phrases in my mind until I find the ones I want. Gentle breezes cause only a slight stir in the stiff blades of grass, but a strong Kansas wind can bring wave upon wave as it surges swiftly across the prairie. My words flow as easily as the artist’s brush. I paint my words with passion and excitement. The picture emerges from the depths of my heart. It is the gift God has given me, a gift He allows me to share with others who read my work.
Danny Kaye, actor and comedian, said, “Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.”  I, too, am an artist. Just imagine what I can paint with words.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

One Reason We Write

Memoir writers are lucky people. They've done what author, Isabel Allende, has said. Write what should not be forgotten. They capture family stories and incidents that should be passed down to future generations for ages to come. Family history is important because it defines who you are, where you came from. Are you just like your Aunt Trudy? Does Uncle Stewart's incarceration for embezzlement have any bearing on you to this day? Did Grandma Jones working in a WWII ammunition plant mean that other women in your family entered the working world later? There are so many things about each one of us today that has silver threads reaching back to our families through the generations. 

Those who concentrate their writing on history articles and books are great help in keeping historical events and facts alive. As abhorrent as war is, we cannot forget any one of them. Each war our country fought in has affected all of us in some way. To know and understand the background will help us deal with the continued fallout.  

When a poet witnesses some beauty in nature, he/she wants to write about it so that he/she will not forget what was seen and also to share with others. We've all come upon breathtaking scenes and wish we could paint a picture or write a poem to keep that moment alive. Don't let the moment float away on the evening breeze. Seize the moment and write.

Mothers write things in baby books that they do not want to forget. Cute sayings, unbelievable happenings with the child they love are detailed in these keepsake books. When my children became adults and had married, I gave each one the baby book. It had some vital medical information but also some beloved moments in their childhood days that should never be forgotten.

Medical information about each family member may not be the kind of writing we get excited over. Nevertheless, it may be helpful to others some day. It could be lifesaving, so do take time to keep a medical folder with your family's medical history. 

Write a shopping list or else much will be forgotten! I speak from experience here and I feel quite certain that many of you can relate. Once you write it, be sure you take it with you. It does little good when left on the kitchen counter. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Turn Negatives Into Positives

I saw the poster above on facebook the other day. It seemed a bit negative and my regular readers will know that I'm a person who always aims for the positives in life and in my writing life, too. Then, I started thinking about how the three points above could be turned into positives. So, let's look at each one.

1.  Complain about everything. Most writers feel this way occasionally. We get grumpy after too many rejections and what makes you feel better than to complain to others about not just writing but everything. You might be having trouble with an editor or receive some poor reviews, any of these would give you reason to complain.The problem here is that you end up turning others away. It's really not fun to listen to someone grumble. 

TRY:  Help yourself out of this funk by asking yourself what you can do to turn things around. If you get rejection after rejection, it's time to figure out what you're doing that editors don't like. It takes a lot of objective thinking to do this. Be objective, also, when having editor troubles or reviews that make you want to pull your hair out. Easy to do this? No. Worthwhile? Yes.

2.  Blame others for your problems. This is such an easy out. Sometimes it really is other people who cause your problems, but quite often we end up being our own worst enemy. Nobody wants to accept the blame for their own problems. That's no fun at all. 

TRY:  Look in the mirror and ask yourself who is to blame for your problems? Give the most honest answer possible. When the problems are multiple, it's hard to admit that not everyone you meet gives you grief. Accept the blame for at least some of what has happened and then start thinking about what you can do to make it better.

3. Never be grateful.  Negative people probably are not grateful for much in their writing life. Even when a success comes through, they put a negative spin on it. Or say it isn't enough or should have happened long before. 

TRY:  I attempt to be grateful for as much as I can whenever I can. When I'm down about something, I try to consider what someone else might be battling. No matter what my problem is, there is always someone dealing with far worse things. Thanksgiving is celebrated once a year but we should all practise being thankful for the many blessings in our lives and our writing lives.

The poster asks you to type Yes if you agree. You needn't do that for me but if any of you have ways to turn the negatives in your writing life to positives, please share them with us in the comment section. Let's help one another through those tough times. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Three Photo Prompts With Fall Scenes

The beginning of September is the perfect time to do some picture prompts using fall scenes. Try to write a few paragraphs, or even a full story using each of these photos for inspiration. Since the weekend is nearly upon us, maybe you'll have a little extra time to try this exercise. 

Anyone who has walked a dog knows how many things you see and hear while doing so. Use your imagination to write a story about this man and his dog. Or is it really his own dog? 

What is this little cutie doing leaning against the tree trunk? Where did she get her purple jacket? Whose child is she? Who is she looking at. Be creative with this one.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Celebrate International Literacy Day Today

International Literacy Day September 8, 2016

 International Literacy Day is definitely something to celebrate. In the USA, we have some literacy problems but nothing compared to many other countries in our world. Color us extremely fortunate. Even so, there are still those in America who, for various reasons, have never learned to read. 

I think we take the ability to read for granted when we should be recognizing the great gift given to us on a daily basis. Consider all the things you read--not just books--traffic signs and warnings, billboards, bus routes, train and flight schedules, cereal boxes and other grocery items, directions on medicine bottles, tickets to events, and so much more. Think about the vast number of things you read as you go about your daily activities today. Give thanks for the ability to read.

Not only ability comes into play with literacy. Pleasure is gained time and again when we read a story, a book, a magazine or a poem that we enjoy. I cannot begin to count the hours and hours of pleasure reading has brought to me. Thanks go to the many writers who provide us with reading material.

In 2011, I had a personal essay published in an anthology titled "Flashlight Memories." The theme of the book was reading and often centered on childhood years when some of us read under the covers with a flashlight after Mom had turned out the lights. My essay detailed my path to books. Maybe you took a similar journey. Blessings to those who taught and encouraged reading for me and you, too. 

My Path To Books

By Nancy Julien Kopp

My earliest memory of a book is a story about Mr. Flibbertyjibbet. Is it any wonder that tongue-twirling name is easily plucked from my memory bank over 65 years later?

My mother reads the Mr. Flibbertyjibbet book to me as we snuggle on the sofa. My father reads the book to me, too. I bring the book out whenever an adult is there, and I hand it to them. My grandmother, every one of my aunts and Mother’s friends—they all read to me.

My kindergarten teacher reads to us, too. She sits on a small chair, and we all gather around her, sitting Indian-fashion on a green carpet. Every day Miss Horst reads a new story and shows us the pictures. Her hair is silver, her lips are cherry red, and her eyes sparkle as she reads. I want to read the book myself, but I don’t know how. Mother makes a promise. “Next year you’ll learn to read.” And I trust her, for she’s never been wrong.

I am six years old and in the first grade. Miss Curto passes out the books, one for each child. “Do not open the books,” she says. My heart beats faster than normal. How can I wait any longer to see if I know how to read now? The teacher shows us the proper way to open a new book—first the front cover, then the back. Then we close it again and she instructs us to open to the first page. There are a few words, but I don’t know what they say. I’m disappointed. I can’t read. Was Mother wrong? But in only a matter of days, I am reading. I read stories about Dick and Jane and Baby Sally. I am one of the first to finish the book. And then there is a new book, and my happiness knows no bounds. This one has the same children in it, and their dog and cat, Spot and Puff, become my friends, and I read more and more books.

At home, I read Mr. Flibbertyjibbet to my mother. I read to my father, my grandmother and my aunts. I bring home books from school and I read them over and over.

One day my mother takes me to a new place. She explains we are going to the library, and by the time we have walked several blocks to the square brick building, I know that the library is full of books that I may borrow. I know that I must be very careful with the books because we must return them for other children to read.

“We would like a library card, please,” my mother tells the woman behind the big desk by the front door.

The woman has white hair that is pulled away from her face and fixed in a bun behind her head. Her cheeks look soft, and she has eyes that are as blue as the summer sky. Rimless glasses rest on her nose. She wears a navy blue dress with a white lace collar, and she is fat like one of my aunts. Her mouth is clamped tight like my grandmother’s when she is angry. Maybe I won’t like this place after all.

Then the lady slides a card across the desk, dips a pen in an inkwell, and hands it to me. “Write your name on this line, please.”

I print my first and last name as neatly as I can and slide the card back to her.

She comes around to the front of the desk. “I am Miss Maze,” she says. “and I will show you where the books for you are kept.” She smiles at me and holds out her hand.

Mother nods when I look at her for direction. I slip my hand into the one Miss Maze has offered. I look down and see she is wearing black oxfords that tie, and the skin around her ankles hangs down over her shoes. I wonder if it hurts.

We walk up two steps into a world of enchantment. Miss Maze patiently shows me row upon row of books, and she shows me how to replace them on the shelf after I look at them. She helps me choose three books to take home, and then it is time to go back to the big desk and learn how to check them out. My library card will be ready for me the next time we visit she tells us.

As the years go on, the library becomes my second home, and Miss Maze becomes my special friend. Her eyes light up, and she smiles whenever I walk in the door. She often shows me new books that have arrived, and I am eager to check them out. I am there winter and summer, in sunshine and thunderstorms.

I learn that if you like a book especially well, you should look for more books by the same author. I read a series of books with titles like Ballet Shoes, Theater Shoes, and Circus Shoes, and I dream about being one of the girls in those books. I read books by Lois Lenski called Strawberry Girl and Blueberry Sal, and I learn about being a child of a migrant worker. I read all the Nancy Drew mystery books, the Bobbsey Twins, the Little House books, and move into a series about a girl named Sue Barton. I follow Sue as she becomes a student nurse, a resident nurse, a visiting nurse and every kind of nursing job there is.

And then I am a teen, and I read young adult books like Bramble Bush, which moves me to tears, ands soon I move on to adult books. All these years in the 1940’s and 50’s, I visit the library on almost a weekly basis. I walk several blocks, taking a shortcut behind the elevated train platform. I carry a stack of books to the library on the cinder path and come back with books piled high in my arms. I read in all my spare time. I leave my everyday existence behind when I am reading. I learn about other cultures, live vicariously through the heroines in the books I devour. I store up a desire to travel so I can see these wondrous places in the books.

My favorite class in college is the literature class. I am the only one who doesn’t groan when the professor tells us we will read one novel every week. We go to the college book store, check out a book on Friday afternoon, and we are to be ready to discuss it on Monday morning. I look forward to Friday morning when the professor gives us the name of the book for the week. My feet fly across campus to the bookstore. I am a fast reader and have no trouble finishing by Monday, while some of the others sit up late on Sunday night trying to finish.

I’m a senior citizen now, but I still love books. I am never without a book to read, and the library still feels like home to me. When I am there surrounded by thousands of books, I feel a sense of peace and contentment that I find in no other place. As I make my selection from the fiction shelves and from the shelf that holds books about writing, I sometimes think of Miss Maze. I learned to read at school, but I learned about the world of books from Miss Maze. I wish I’d thanked her for what she gave me, but as a child and a teen, I was too shy to do that. Perhaps she knew what sharing her treasures meant to me. I’d like to think so.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Write From The Heart

The quote above by William Wordsworth, poet, says a great deal in a mere nine words. Poets don't have the luxury of the many words of the prose writer. They must say a lot in far fewer words. Wordsworth (don't you love that name for a writer?) lived from the late eighteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth. His writing was done with paper and pen, not the way we write today. 

I find something soothing about writing that way. The Morning Pages exercise can be done with paper and pen while having your first cup of coffee of the day. If you haven't tried this exercise, check it out and give it a whirl.

Today, however, let's talk about Wordsworth's advice. The writing that comes from our hearts is going to appeal to readers far more than the staid, factual writing that some writers produce. If the words come from your heart, they are going to have emotion that filters from writer to reader. There will be passion and truth. 

Writing that comes from your heart can also act as a step in healing for a writer. So many who have survived a tragedy of some kind write about it. They write to help others but also as part of the healing process. Some feel they should protect their own privacy and never write about traumas in their life. Look at the many, though, who have done so. Memoir after memoir of people who have lived through poverty, abuse, serious accidents and more line the bookshelves in our bookshops and libraries. These people have shared their stories and I think they are the ones who heal better and faster. The willingness to share their difficult stories is to be commended as they help others who might relate to same. 

Those breathings of your heart might produce sorrow or joy in readers. When you read a book that you love from first to last page, you've usually experienced emotions throughout. The characters have made you laugh, cry, be angry and more. The authors who can make your emotions surface are the ones who write with heart. 

Think about the books or short stories, memoir pieces or any other creative nonfiction you have written. Step back and look objectively. Did you write from your heart? Did the emotion come through? If not, can you revise it and put your heart into it this time. 

There is one hurdle to get over. Some writers have difficult time releasing all that is in their heart. It's too private for some to be able to share. Try doing it a little at a time. Open the gate and see what happens when you do. Consider how it affects your final product. Like all things, take it a step at a time. The more you can write from your heart, the easier it will become. 

Finally, I cannot finish today's post without telling you how much I love the phrase breathings of your heart. Wordsworth could have said what's in your heart but his poet's heart served him well in the choice of words he made. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

When Writers Doubt Themselves

Most writers live on an emotional roller coaster. They're up! They're down! Which place you are depends on whether your email box brings you rejections or acceptances. We hit the highs and lows day after day in our writing life. 

Too few acceptances or hating what you've written and Mr. Doubt moves into your house. He's there when you write. He's sitting on your countertop when you are preparing dinner for yourself or your family. He follows along behind you at the grocery store or in the mall. That's him running beside you on your morning run. Oh, he doesn't always say something to you but he lets his presence be known. You might have your mind on a dozen things tomorrow morning but Mr. Doubt is still your companion. 

You're the only one who can show this nasty person the door. Had Lady Macbeth been a writer, she might have shouted Out, out, damned Doubt!" Ok, I know that's a bad example but it popped into my mind so thought I'd go with it. The thing is that it's up to you to get rid of the doubt in your writing life. 

How? Today's poster gives you four ways you can approach the problem.
  • Remember how far you've come from the day you started writing
  • Remember all that you have faced in your writing world
  • Remember the battles you've won and how you did it
  • Remember the fears you've overcome and the good feeling you then had
Four ways to solve the self-doubt problem. You might create a list under each heading and add to it as you think of more points. Keep your list somewhere visible. When we're filled with self-doubt, we need all the reminders we can get. 

Mr. Doubt is not going to vanish in one day. The more you believe in yourself, the less you'll hear from him. Once you conquer the problem, he'll be out the door. But be careful. He may wait right outside hoping you will slide back again. Stay strong and ignore him. 

When the rejections pile is higher than the acceptances, it's hard to stay positive and ignore Mr. Doubt. We have all been there. This is where passion for writing comes in. Renew your passion in every way you can. Writers have great possiblities, despite the roller coaster ride we live on. Keep your eye on the highs, not the lows. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

How Do You Select A Book To Read?


Today begins a holiday week-end. Labor Day seems to signify the end of summer for those of us in the northern hemisphere. Lots of people will have another swim party or a barbecue but there are others who will use the extra time to hunker down with a book. Or two. Or three.

When we don't have week-end plans, I love to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon with a book. First, I need to be sure I have some books in the house to read. Yesterday, I stopped at our library to return a couple of books and select new ones. 

As I browsed through the fiction new book section, I started thinking about the way I choose a book to check out. Or one in a book store or at a secondhand shop, even a garage sale. The things that draw my attention first are title and book cover. Then, the author--I scan for names I know. Next, I look to see what genre the book is. If it's sci-fi, fantasy or horror, I skip right past it. Those are categories I have no interest in, although I know there is a huge market for them. If the book is historical fiction, I take a serious look as that is one of my favorites. Also family sagas.

But let's go back to the first I mentioned. A title can intrigue us or turn us off. I have pulled many a book off the shelf after reading the title. It doesn't mean that I am going to take the book home strictly on the merit of the title. No. I'll read the frontispiece to see what the story is about and then decide. The title itself, however, is what made me look in the first place. No matter how good the book is, the title is what draws the prospective reader to explore further. Authors--give great thought to the title you select for your novel. Readers--pay attention to keywords in a title that draw you to a book. 

Second to titles, the book cover draws my interest. Sometmes there is a photo or drawing of something pertaining to the story. Or it might be the way the design of the cover appeals to me. Some are simple, others ornate. Some are glorious colors while others are dark and a bit scary looking. Some covers let me know immediately that the book is historical or a romance or sci-fi. I take one look at some covers and slip the book right back onto the shelf. Authors probably have little say about the book cover, unless it is self-published. They should have some input but the final decision is most likely up to the publisher.

The third thing that helps me select a book is seeing the name of an author whose books I have read and liked. It might also be the name of an author that I have read about in a newspaper or literary magazine. We all have a few authors whose work we love so much that we'd read anything they write, maybe even their grocery list! 

The fourth point is the genre of the book. As stated earlier, there are some I slip right by as they give me no pleasure in reading. Certain categories draw me immediately and there is a third group that I will look at occasionally. Once in awhile, I like a mystery but not a steady diet of that kind of book. I like a suspense thriller now and then but not frequently. Quite often, it's the author of that kind of book that draws my interest as I have several whom I have read before and enjoyed. 

Yesterday, I came home with four books and the September issue of Book Page., a monthly newspaper filled with all things books. You can read it online, too. Many libraries provide it free of charge to their patrons. I look forward to each new issue to help me decide what new books I would like to read. 

If you have a reading week-end, enjoy every bit of it. For those of you who will swim, bike, hike and eat a lot, enjoy this last week-end of summer. Save your reading for dreary days ahead.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

September Inspiration For Writers

September Is Here 

I turned the page on three calendars this morning. The one on Ken's desk is where I write appointments and engagements. Another on my computer desk is quite small. It is a stand-up calendar with photos of Prague given to me by one of our Czech students who stayed with us last year. I love turning the pages on this one as each photo brings back a memory of time spent in Prague. The third calendar hangs on a wall and is there mostly because it has lovely photos each month. After this triple turning of the calendar pages, September became quite real. 

This month has a dual personality, or so it seems. Here in Kansas, we still have hot weather but the mornings and evenings will be a bit cooler than during the hot summer months just passed. Fall doesn't officially arrive until the 21st but there will be hints of what's to come in the air. 

When you are trying to think of something to write about this month, consider all that September brings us. Any one of those in my list below could spur your imagination for a story or essay or memoir piece. Perhaps, a few will be inspiration for a poem. 

September brings...
  • apples
  • mums and asters
  • fall harvest
  • a few falling leaves
  • school starting for many
  • football games
  • marching bands
  • Labor Day celebrations
  • September 11 Remembrance
  • pumpkin harvest
  • recipes made with apples, pumpkins and squash
  • the start of fall colors on trees
  • songs like September Song

When I think of the fall months, color comes to mind first. Even in fashion, the colors of the fall harvest are used. A change of the kinds of clothes that we wear happens in September. Some of our summer outfits are not quite right and we're not ready for heavy winter clothing yet. So, what do we have? Transition clothing! Our menu planning changes once this first autumn month arrives. We're ready to chuck the constant run of salads for heavier fare--soups and stews. Think about the smells of September. This month brings many possibilities for including sensory details in your writing.

All of the above should trigger some memories for you and might be some inspiration for your next writing project. 

I love summer but I'm quite ready for a change.