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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Musings On Life in November and December

Can it really be the final day of November? Didn't I just turn the page on all my calendars from October to November? Wasn't I looking forward to a trip in early November and another one over Thanksgiving? Yes, it really is the final day of this eleventh month of the year, and my trips and the holiday are behind me. 

Traveling seems to make a month go by even faster than usual. But I find that, the older I get, the faster time goes. It's a not so subtle hint to get me moving on projects I've been putting off. The To-Do list gets pretty long when we turn our calendar to December. Add to that the writing I'm doing mentally only and the list grows like Santa's beard since last winter.

There are 31 days in December. They are yours to do with as you like. Keep in mind that it is you who decides what takes priority on each and every day. You are the one who can get up grumbling about all you have to do or get up ready to tackle the chores, one by one and maybe sneak in a few minutes of writing time.

Are you an organized writer or a procrastinator? Or maybe a bit of both, depending on the time? I can claim ownership to each side myself. Sometimes I'm so organized I glow with pride. Then I start putting things off and I don't like that one bit. I turn into Grumpy Gertie but have no one to blame but myself. 

More musings on November--Even with the busy month I had, I found time to keep up with the blog and my requirements for my online writing group. I found joy in the traveling we did and seeing the people who matter to us whom we visited on both trips. I will remember November 2016 because of that.

November will also be a month to remember in my writing life as I had four stories published this month. Two online, one in an anthology and another in a large circulation magazine. Color me happy about that. 

And now, I'm eager to turn the calendar page tomorrow to greet December. I look forward to the many greeting cards that will appear in our mailbox. So many come from people whom we hear from only once a year. I have several social occasions on the calendar already and will probably be adding a few more. I'm one of those people who love Christmas and all that goes with it--yes, even the many chores. I often get inspired to write during this magical time of year and I answer the call and at least write a first draft. Then set it aside for editing in quieter January. 

How about you? What will you wave farewell to in November? What lies ahead for you in December? Like all things, let's take it one day at a time. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

When There Is Little Time To Write...

Sometimes I move into the fast lane of life zig-zagging from one thing to another. Holiday time is in full swing right now and that means added responsibilities to the usual ones. Whatever holiday you celebrate, it comes with extra duties if we want to make the holiday memorable for our families, friends, and yes, ourselves. 

Christmas is very meaningful to me and a holiday I truly love to celebrate in many ways. It allows me to show my love for family and friends with the decorating, cards, gifts, and baked goods that make my kitchen smell so good. I usually dive in headfirst and savor as much of it as I can. 

One big problem with that is what happens to my writing life. I do manage to keep up with my five days a week blog posts and the requirements of my online writing group. I don't seem to have time  to concentrate on my other writing projects at this time of year. Is that a major problem?

Yes, I'm afraid it is. Today's poster explains my feelings well. ...until not writing makes you anxious. Maybe it's the sign of being a true writer--wanting to write when you cannot spare the time. It seems that when I have the least time to write is when the greatest number of ideas pop into my head crying to be dealt with. What's a writer to do?

For one thing, be sure to jot those ideas down somewhere. Outline the bones of whatever it is you have thought about writing. If you don't, you know very well what happens. The whole idea can fly right into the atmosphere never to be seen again. A mind is a wonderful thing but it can hold just so much. 

Steal a few minutes to write, even on the busiest days. For me, doing so has a calming effect. If I'm writing, I don't think about that difficult present to buy for my husband, or the food I need to bring to a potluck dinner, or the greeting cards that need my attention. The trick is to not get carried away and spend hours writing during these busy times. Minutes--give yourself minutes. Consider it a gift to yourself.

If inspiration strikes like a bolt of lightning and you feel compelled to run to your computer and start writing, do it. I learned long ago that Christmas, or any other holiday that is being celebrated, will arrive no matter what I have done or left undone. It's often the little things which are skipped that no one but you knows about. So, go ahead and write if you really feel the urge and don't mention those bits and pieces of the holiday magic that you can address next year. 

If you write for a living, there is no question that you must continue writing, holiday or not. But, if you're a hobbyist writer, and you steal time in a busy season to write, do not feel guilty. I will repeat that--do not feel guilty. 

When I have a spell of not writing, I do feel anxious because that's who I am--a writer. Writing, for me, is like breathing. It's necessary to continue my life. I know that many, many of you feel the same. Only another writer can totally understand that so don't even try to explain it to a nonwriter. They'll just shake their head and sigh and feel sorry for you. But you and I know that writing is not only necessary for us but ever so satisfying. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Opening Paragraphs Could Use Some Pixie Dust

On the way home from our Thanksgiving visit to our son's family, Ken was driving and I was glued to the passenger seat, scrolling merrily through what seemed like thousands of facebook messages and articles on my phone.

It suddenly dawned on me that I was reading the opening paragraph and either continuing to read or clicking right back to the main page and continuing scrolling. If those opening lines didn't catch my interest, I was flying right on by. If you're a facebook user, you know that you can spend way too much time there. I decided to use my time wisely and read only interesting articles, even though I was stuck in the car and had little else to do. A quick scan of the opening let me know immediately which path I would take. 

Every book about writing addresses the topic of Opening Lines or Opening Paragraphs and the importance of having one good enough to hook your reader.

Grab your reader in your opening! We've read it. We've heard it in workshops. We've listened as people in our critique groups say it. The big question is When we write, do we always try for the opening that will pull our reader in? Maybe we need some of that Pixie Dust our quote above mentions. 

Most writers will agree that the beginning of a new story or any writing project is not easy. You may have the bones of the whole piece in your mind but exactly how to begin is not always clear. The important thing is write something. Anything! When you do your revisions/editing, you can fix up that opening or even write a completely new one. You have to start somewhere so let the thought in your head flow to your fingers and get it written. 

Too often, writers use that opening paragraph trying to introduce the topic or set the scene or give way too much factual, and probably boring, information. 

Action! That's one of the best ways to begin. Let your reader see someone doing something. Let them hear a huge explosion in a city building or a speeding train unable to stop for a truck stalled at a crossing. 

Make something happen that leaves your reader with a question in their mind so that they will want to continue reading to find the answer. Open with someone walking on a lonely train platform at night; they hear the tap, tap of a cane from someone behind them. Right away, you wonder who is the person with the cane? Are they to be feared or someone to be helped? 

Whether you're writing fiction or creative non-fiction, that opening paragraph is crucial to the entire project. It's even important when writing a news article or column in a newspaper. Doesn't matter what you're writing, grab a handful of that Pixie Dust and sprinkle liberally over your opening paragraph. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Reflect On Your Blessings

A walk with your dog, or just by yourself, gives time for reflection. Something especially nice to do at this Thanksgiving time of year. We should be grateful for our blessings all year long but life is busy and we don't always take time to count the many things we should be grateful for.

There are a multitude of wonderful things in our lives that we take for granted. Every day, we get out of bed and expect our house to be warm or cool, as the season calls for We know that the water will run out of the tap and our toilet facilities are inside the house. We can flick a switch and have light, use a remote to turn on various electronic gadgets in our home. In many parts of the world, all those items listed might be considered miracles. Be thankful!

Family deserves our gratitude, too. Sure, we get irritated with them sometimes, but they're still the people closest to you in this world. They love us and put up with us when we're grumpy or bitter or temperamental. And we do the same with them. Deep down. our family ties are made of steel, whether we care to admit it or not. Families fight, they love, they have fun together, they sometimes need a break from too much family. Whatever the relationship is, be thankful!

I've been blessed with many friends ranging from being almost a sister to casual acquaintances whom I still consider a friend. There are many to whom I could turn if I needed a shoulder to cry on or someone to go out to lunch with for a happy time. I believe that to have a friend, you must be a friend, and it's certainly paid off in my lifetime. Some of you may be like me and have lots of friends or others may limit their friends to a very few. Be thankful!

If you have reasonably good health, a job you either like or can tolerate, and food on a regular basis, be thankful!

If you're a writer, make a list of the blessings your writing world has brought to you. My own list is quite lengthy. I will always be grateful that I had the courage to start writing at a late stage in life and that I've been able to continue to have a passion to write. I have been blessed with wonderful writing friends, as well. Make a list of the positives in your writing life. Be thankful!

Go on that walk and reflect on what you have, or sit in your favorite chair with a cup of tea or coffee and do the same. It doesn't matter where you do it. Just do it!

One more thing I am thankful for is the readers who check out this blog on a regular basis.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Thanksgiving Birthday Story


Thanksgiving week is here, and so it's time for a repeat of a memory story that comes back to me every November. It's about a holiday when I was Grumpy Greta for a rather foolish reason, but there is a happy ending. Do you have any holiday birthdays in your family? Write about them for your Memory Book.

The Girl Who Has Birthday Cake and Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving of 1971 found us living with a bit of uncertainty. I was expecting our youngest child, and the due date fell only 3 days after Thanksgiving. That meant we wouldn’t be traveling to either side of our family for the holiday, and I also didn’t want to invite any of them to come to our house in case the baby arrived early or, Heaven forbid, on Thanksgiving Day. I had visions of stuffing the turkey while timing contractions. No, that would not work.

My husband suggested we go out for dinner to a lovely restaurant about 15 miles north of our town. “It’ll be nice for the three of us to have dinner out on a holiday for a change.” I wasn’t convinced but knew it was probably the best solution.

Thanksgiving Day arrived, and our house had no good smells coming from the kitchen. No roasting turkey scented the air. I couldn’t detect any cinnamon and pumpkin from the pies either, for there were none. It didn’t feel right, and besides that, we would not be with any of our family. It made me sad, and as the day progressed, my sadness swelled almost in proportion to the great mound of stomach that let the world know we’d soon be parents again.

I helped Kirk get dressed. He was three and a half but still liked help from Mommy. I wished a little of his excitement would transfer to me. I tried to put on a cheerful front. No sense in ruining the day for my husband or son. I managed to do that until we walked into the restaurant, which had once been a Victorian home. Elegant furnishings, crystal, china and linens on the tables, along with Thanksgiving centerpieces should have been the first thing I noticed. Instead, I saw only the many people either eating or getting ready to eat. Still holding Kirk’s hand, I turned to my husband and said, “What are all these people doing here? They should be eating at home!” Obviously, my vision centered on only one thing that day.

The hostess escorted us to our table, and we had a sumptuous meal. I think Kirk and Ken enjoyed it more than I, since the baby chose that time to practice somersaults so it was hard for me to concentrate on the fine food on my plate.

The next day, there were no Thanksgiving leftovers at our house, and the day progressed like any normal Friday. I stayed home all day, no Christmas shopping like other Thanksgiving week-ends. And the sadness of the day before refused to disappear. It enveloped me from head to toe. Pregnant women are known to be emotional, and I surely was all that holiday week.

In bed that night, I lay awake a long time thinking about the new baby. We’d lost both our first and third babies when they were still infants, so there was a little anxiety mixed in with the hope of having a healthy baby this time, just like Kirk had been. I’d felt very positive all through this pregnancy, but a tiny bit of fear still lingered. My nightly prayer centered on having a healthy baby, boy or girl didn’t matter.

Shortly before 2 a.m. a strong contraction woke me. I slipped out of bed, not wanting to wake Ken until I knew I was really in labor. By 2:30, I knew it was for real, and Ken was up and dressed. He scooped our sleeping little boy into a blanket and placed him in my arms in the front seat of the car. Good friends, alerted by a phone call, were waiting as we pulled into their driveway to deliver Kirk into their care. Then it was on to the hospital in the darkest part of night. It began to snow as we made our way through quiet streets.

Karen was born later that morning. When I held my baby girl with her small amount of golden hair and big blue eyes, all the sadness and grumpy behavior of the earlier few days melted away. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that we’d not seen our families on Thanksgiving Day. It didn’t matter that we’d eaten a holiday dinner in a restaurant and didn’t have any savory leftovers the next day. All that mattered lay in my arms—a healthy and beautiful baby girl for us to love.

Some years, Karen’s birthday falls on Thanksgiving Day. So, we have birthday cake and pumpkin pie at our Thanksgiving dinner. Even when the birthday falls on a day prior to or after the holiday, we still have birthday cake and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving as that is when we come together as a family. When she blows out the candles on her birthday cake, I think back to that Thanksgiving so long ago when I created my own problem and the great joy I received only two days later.

Stories Around The Holiday Table

The Peanuts gang is sending wishes of the season to all of us. I bet they're also telling lots of family stories around their Thanksgiving table. 

Many of you will be doing the same. Holiday tables seem to be one of the best places to hear those family stories. Many of them will be told again on an annual basis. A little more might be added each year. You all know which people in your family are the best storytellers. Maybe it's you or maybe Uncle Oscar. 

As writers, we need to not only be observant but also to learn to listen to what goes on round us. Note that I said listen. There is a distinct difference between hearing and listening. Any married person will tell you that, quite often, their spouse just doesn't listen! Or is that only in my house? 

This year, when your family gathers for a holiday meal and the stories begin, pay special attention. What attracts you about each story told? What lesson might there be? Is it worth writing about? Can you use the basics of the story in a story or novel you're writing? Is it worth a character study you might write? How about a memoir piece that you can market in a magazine like The Good Old Days or Reminisce ?

Don't forget your Family Stories Book that you have started and add to on a regular basis. If you haven't done this, give serious thought to doing it as soon as the holiday season is over. What a good January 2017 project it might be. 

You might want to read a blog post written earlier this year about the importance of writing family stories. Read it here.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Writer's Eye

A wonderful writer who reported for and had a long-running column in the Kansas City Star passed away a few days ago. Yesterday, the paper ran a heartwarming farewell article featuring him and his writing. C.W. Guswelle was one of those writers who had the natural gift for the craft, even though he had to hone it and allow it to grow in the early years.

Mike Francher, who wrote and edited at the same newspaper was quoted in the article when asked about Guswelle. He said, "His writing talent and powers of observation were so good, he could've gone anywhere to live out his journalism career."

The phrase that jumped out at me in the quote was powers of observation. He did have a great talent for writing in a simple way that caught his readers in a net and kept them there until he was finished with what he had to say. His many books and myriad columns were made possible by those strong powers of observation that he had.

I'd guess that he had the writer's eye very early but that with each increasing year, he fine-tuned that ability until he achieved the 'master writer's eye.' That's something we writers should all strive to do. First to find your writer's eye and then to let it grow to maturity. You want to be able to use those powers of observation wherever you go. Use it when on a trip to a foreign country or when taking a walk in your neighborhood. Practise it at the local grocery store or when attending a symphony performance.

The more we sharpen our powers of observation, the better writer we will become. We have to see before we write. It takes practise to walk down the street and see more than a sidewalk, some trees and houses in a row.

I hope you'll click on the link above and read some of Guswelle's columns about his beloved hunting dogs, his family and other simple things in life. Whenever I read his columns, I felt like I was actually there--whatever place he was writing about. A gifted writer for sure.

What about your writer's eye, or powers of observation? How good are they? Would you like to make them better? Start looking around you more carefully than you ever have. You might be surprised at what you see.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Big Writing Projects Can Be Overwhelming

How long are you going to wait before you start writing the novel that's been swirling in your head for years? How much longer will it be before you do an edit and revision of the first draft of your middle grade novel for kids? (Me, talking to myself!) When will you start gathering the best of your poetry and creating a book? 

We all have great ambitions when it comes to big writing projects. We can visualize the writing, the editing, the marketing, the acceptance, the sales, the book signings and speaking engagements. Yes, we can dream about all of it but, meanwhile, none of that gets accomplished.

Why? There are multiple reasons that we never seem to start on our dream project. Here are just a few: 
  • not sure how to get started
  • lack of confidence
  • not enough time to devote to a big project
  • too many small projects to work on
  • too involved in writing groups, attending conferences
  • if you start, you might feel obligated to finish. Scary!
  • fear, maybe even abject terror
We only have a few weeks until the end of the year. Maybe you could make one of your goals for 2017 to start that pet project. Note that I said start. Take it a little at a time so it's not quite so overwhelming. I find that, once I start a new writing project, continuing and finishing comes more easily. It's those first few paragraphs or first chapter that are difficult. Keep my two favorite keywords for writers in mind. Patience and Perseverance  Use both day after day and that big project just might become a reality in 2017.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Anthology Needs Submissions

My story, The Best Christmas Present Ever, appears in this just-published anthology pictured above. I received no payment for the story, other than a free copy of the book. The story is one that has been published twice before and was a contest winner. 

A controversial issue has been, and probably always will be, whether writers should give away their work. In other words, should they write for free? There are many valid points on both sides of the argument but today, we'll only address one.

When the royalties go to a reputable charity, many writers do consider submitting their work. The only pay they receive in a book like the anthology shown above is knowing that they have contributed to a charitable group. In this case, the royalties go to The Samaritan's Purse, an international relief organization. Right now, their focus is on helping refugees in the Middle East to flee war-torn areas. The group is nondenominational but identifies as an evangelical Christian group that has helped people around the world since 1970.

Yvonne Lehman has compiled an anthology series called Moments that benefits this well-known charity. Already an author in her own right, with 57 novels, she has published several Moments books. The stories are not required to be religious. Some of the titles are about such mundane activities as 'culinary mistakes' or 'romantic moments.' 

Payment is one copy of the published book and a discount on more books to purchase. As an author of one of the stories in any of the anthologies, you can sell the books at regular price for profit, if you wish. 

Below is a recent call for submissions and guidelines. 
Take a look at previous Moments books that Grace Published has released, particularly the first one, Divine Moments, to see what we accept. The article length is anywhere from about 500-2000 words or so. I’ve even included poems and some written by children. So the guidelines aren’t strict. The main point is the context of the article. I like them sent as an attachment to an email, times new roman, 12-point type. Include on the article: name, mailing address for the one free copy, and email address. Send to me at:
Already published are: Divine Moments, Christmas Moments, Spoken Moments, Precious Precocious Moments, More Christmas Moments, Stupid Moments, Additional Christmas Moments. Loving Moments will be released early 2017.
We’ve just decided to release Christmas Moments Book #4 (no final title yet) in 2017. Would like to have those by end of December.
I’m also accepting for:
Romantic Moments (falling in love, puppy love, marriage, dating, second time around, weddings, flowers, mother-of-bride, bridesmaids, anything to do with personal love or planning a wedding, etc.)
Coola-nary Moments (culinary mishaps or unusual cooking experiences, recipes. I have one about making mud pies when a child)
Questionable Moments (Author’s response to questions asked by God/Jesus in the Bible, or implied, such as “Where are you?” “Where are you going?” “Do you love me?” “Do you believe?” "Where is your faith?” “What do you want?” etc. etc.
Personal Titanic Moments - This one still in idea stage (Highs and Lows of Life - Grandeur and Disaster)
Might as well plan another Christmas one for 2018.
No payments. Authors get one free copy, discount on orders, and all royalties go to Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that helps victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through his son, Jesus Christ.
The articles are written by both multi-published, and beginning or non-published writers.
The story is the important thing. We will appreciate your letting others know about this. If you have other questions, let me know.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Good Habit For Writers

Today's quote makes it sound so easy to be grateful each and every day of your writing life. Reading the words and believing the words can be two different worlds. Saying the words and knowing you should have a heart filled with gratitude isn't always easy. But, if you have the ability and the desire to be a writer, you are truly blessed and have much to be grateful for.

People give advice freely, almost flippantly at times. It's pretty simple for me to tell you what you should do to be a successful, fulfilled writer.  But taking that advice to heart can be quite difficult if you're having a run of one rejection after another. Or if your critique group has more negatives about your submissions than positives. Things like that can make you feel like a big peg being pounded into the ground with a giant mallet. Once down, it's not so easy to get up again. It's like pulling one foot after another out of a muddy field. Each step is tough!

So, how are you going to start each day with a grateful heart? Start with a list like this one:

As a writer, I'm grateful for: 

  • the tools of the craft that I possess
  • friends who encourage me with worthwhile critiques
  • being published, no matter how often
  • conferences where I can learn and grow as a writer
  • story ideas that are all around me
  • my writing group
  • a family who supports my writing
  • an editor who helps and encourages me
  • the desire to write
You can probably add more to this list. Keep it somewhere that you see it every day. Maybe your bedside table would be a good spot. Read it when you wake and start your day with that grateful heart. 

I've always felt that the good things in my writing life outweigh the bad ones. Am I never disappointed and discouraged? Of course, I get frustrated and ready to give it all up now and then, but I try to count my blessings and realize they are greater than the crummy parts of this writing world.

Try starting each day with a grateful heart. Before you know it, you will have developed a habit. A very good habit! 

We're getting home from our trip tomorrow and I'm eager to get started writing again. I'll wake on Wednesday with a grateful heart--grateful that I have a story idea and can get started on it right away.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Fascinators, Fires. and Friends

Maxine has it right. Life is filled with stress so we do need to take some time off now and then. We've been traveling this past week. I've kept up with the blog posts but have done no other writing at all.

Even with no actual writing, I have been making a list of story ideas prompted by places we've been and people we've seen on our trip. There were so many story ideas found while visitng a brother at a hospital in Raleigh.

Saturday evening, we attended the wedding of a dear friend in Bluffton, SC. Molly and I met online in my writing group. She came to two writing conferences in my community and stayed with me and we've been roomies at our writing group conferences in Virginia. Add lots of emails that have gone back and forth over the years, and a close bond has formed. So, I was thrilled that this lovely widow had found love once again and was marrying a second time.

She mentioned that she would be wearing a fascinator with her wedding dress and that several coming to the wedding would also wear one. If you're wondering what a fascinator is, just go to this link to get a gander of them.Several of the women guests wore a variety of fascinators. A story idea if there ever was one!

Two of the other members  of my writing group were at the wedding along with their husbands. We had a grand time together.

We left our hotel early this morning and drove into Georgia and on to just south of Nashville, TN. In northern Georgia and Tennessee, smoke filled the air in many areas due to multiple wildfires. I read yesterday that a good many were arson and that is one sad story.

I've enjoyed this break in my writing life but I know I'll be ready to get back to my routine at home and writing new stories when we get there on Tuesday. Sure, there will be the usual stress that life brings but I can handle it as long as I take things one at a time. Give yourself a break now and then. If you can't get away on a trip, take a day off and do something fun locally.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day Thoughts


With all our attention on the recent election results, we might forget to commemorate Veterans Day on this November 11th. The date lets us remember the armistice signed during WWI on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. It was to be the war to end all wars. Sadly, that was not to be. 

We recognize our veterans today, both men and women, who have served in both peacetime and during wars. Those who served and the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice deserve our gratitude today. 

Many restaurants are giving free meals to vets. Some communities celebrate with parades and speeches given by local dignitaries. Veterans of our armed services range from the very young to the frail and feeble aged. 

I am reminded of the elderly British man who was part of our tour group a few years ago to the beaches of Normandy where the D-Day invasion took place on June 6, 1944. His story started in England when he lied about his age to join the Royal Navy. He was 16 when he landed on the beach in Normandy that summer day so long ago. He'd survived but had never been back. Now, as an old man, he wanted to revisit the place where he shook like a leaf as he plunged through the water and onto the beach with comrades falling around him. He did what he'd been trained to do and for some reason, the German bullets missed him. I watched as he stood on a bluff looking down at the quiet scene below--waves gently lapping the sand, the beach now empty, no sign of what had been those many years before. What played through his mind? Surely he could hear and see the sounds and sights of that June day even while looking at the deserted beach. I hope that he has been thanked for his service many times. 

A simple thank you means so much to a veteran. Whether it was said the day they returned home or years later, it will be remembered by that person forevermore. Say it now to a serviceman or woman you see in your grocery store or at your child's baseball game. Say it to the the old guy with the Vets cap on his balding head. Say it to the young cadet at West Point. 

My husband served in the U. S. Army after he graduated from college. He was one of those who served 6 months active duty and then 7 years in the Reserves after the Korean War and before Vietnam. How fortunate he was in that respect. His service increased the patriotism he had been taught as a young boy. My thanks go to him today along with the thousands and thousands of other men and women who served.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Stories and Scenery Traveling Through North Carolina

The theme this week is about seeing story ideas while you travel. Yesterday was our third day on the road. We started the day driving through the mountains leading to and through Asheville, NC. What a beautiful drive it was. The autumn colors were more bend brought vivid than those we saw in Tennessee. Every bend brought a new and breathtaking scene. The only problem we had was traveling with the large number of big trucks barreling down those steep inclines and climbing slowly up again.

I began to wonder about all those truck drivers. Where were they from? How long since they'd been home? Did they have a spouse? Children? Grandchildren? Did they smoke as they drove? Text? Listen to itunes? How many carried a rifle in the cab or some other kind of gun? Different stories from each one of those men and women navigating their vehicles.

Looking Glass Falls

Once away from the mountains, there was not as much to see but lots of traffic. We stopped for lunch near Durham, NC and moved on to the Raleigh suburb where my brother and wife live. Since our arrival, we've been telling family stories, talking about relatives long gone, reliving our childhoods. I heard a few stories I had never known before. Stories that must be written and put into my Family Stories Book. I know I must do it as soon as I return home so these new stories don't get lost again.

When you travel, use your 'writer eyes' and you'll find many story ideas while you enjoy the scenery and people in a place different from home. Write the stories as soon as you can or they will float away like a leaf on a fast-running river.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Travels And Thoughts of Writing

We left Sikeston, MO on an overcast, showery morning. I knew we'd cross the Mississippi River but didn't realize we'd also go over a bridge on the Ohio River, too. The two rivers meet with Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky around them. It was kind of neat and it made me think about the importance of place when we write. Had I enough time, I could have written much about my feelings while crossing these two mighty rivers and could have described the place better. But I didn't have paper and pen handy and we were past the area too quickly. I will definitely remember this event, however.

Tennessee, Landscape, Tranquil, Smoky Mountains, Scenic

We drove only a short way in Kentucky, then spent most of our day driving across the length of Tennessee. The picture above is a good one to show much of the scenery we saw today. Once again, the sense of place in writing came to mind. Magnificent scenery which could bring forth so many wonderful adjectives and sensory details.
We left the highway and drove into the small community of Baxter, TN at lunchtime. We'd seen The Whistle Stop Cafe on a sign as we neared the exit. The quaint restaurant was across from an old train station and not terribly inviting on the outside. Inside, it was really cute and cozy. Lots of framed photos on the walls of trains and the station and more from long ago. We ordered a small pizza to share and enjoyed both the pizza and the local color provided by other diners. Once again, the sense of place came to mind.

Characterization also came to light as I watched the various people in the diner. A little boy with beautful auburn hair, another who had lost his front teeth--both caught my eye, mostly because I am working on a new story for kids.

We spent the night in Newport, TN at a Best Western Hotel that is old but totally renovated and very nice. I watched several people unloading and entering their rooms. All from other states and all have a story to tell, most likely. 

Even when we travel, I cannot stop using my writer's mind. Sometimes, it's all I can do to keep myself from starting a conversation with these strangers to find out more about them. As we left our hotel this morning, 4 men were standing by their car with the hatch opened. I noticed they had a Florida plate and hunting gear stowed in back. We started chatting and it turned out they were on their way to South Dakota to hunt pheasants. Wish I'd had more time to chat with them and learn more about each one. 

Wednesday, we arrive at the home of one of my brothers. Family stories on tap, for sure.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Traveler's Observations

We're traveling this week from our home in Manhattan, KS to the Carolinas. Yes, both of them. We'll visit one of my brothers for a couple of days near Raleigh, NC, then move on to Bluffton, SC to attend a wedding. 

We left home at 8 this morning and drove through Missouri most of the day. The views in the Mark Twain National Forest were lovely. Curving, roller coaster roads in some areas with spectacular views. 

I'd like to tell you that the brilliant colors above were what we saw today, but that would be a big, fat lie! Instead, we saw faded colors and some trees already bare. We are probably a week or two late for the best colors.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I like to look for story ideas wherever I go. Today, one of the best came at our lunch break. We usually do fast food when on the road, mostly for the sake of time. So, today. we pulled into a Wendy's in a small Missouri town. The parking lot was almost completely full. When we walked inside, I did a double take. Had the senior living place nearby sent all their residents to Wendy's today?  About 90% of the people eating and ordering at the counter were seniors. Some were very senior! As we were eating, I heard the woman taking orders say "What will you have today, Grandma?" and then "How  about you, Grandpa?" It seems they actually were this middle-aged woman's grandparents. 

As I nibbled at my burger, I started thinking about what a great story could come of this. Consider a senior living place or even a nursing home down the road who took all their residents out for lunch one day to the local Wendy's. An argument could start and the old folks taking sides, two old guys with fists doubled up, going at it. Each side cheering for its own fighter. Would have to think of some reason they were fighting.

Actually, the people we saw today were all having a good time. Lots of chatter and laughter. Who said old people are bitter and sour? Think of the combined experiences of these people? 

As we left, I was smiling. Just thinking of the stories that might be gleaned from visiting with the people at each table made me wish I'd had time to do exactly that. 

Yes, there are stories everywhere you go. Like tonight at the Ruby Tuesday's where we had dinner. A table of four interesting looking older men caught my attention. They finished their dinner and then ordered more beer. Animated conversation, laughter, and back of hands wiping the foam from their lips. Definitely a story there. 

we stayed in Sikeston last night, which is the home of Lambert's Cafe, famed for 'throwed rolls.' Yes, they really do throw the rolls at you. I think we'll eat at the hotel this morning. I'm not one for 'catching' my breakfast. We're moving on Tuesday to Newport, TN, just west of Asheville, NC. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Fear of Failure Happens To Athletes and Writers, Too!

Four Kansas State University Olympians spoke recently to an audience at the Staley School of Leadership on campus about the fear of failure. Each of them described how they beat fear after the moderator asked what fears they had to overcome to be successful in their field.

I read an article in our local paper about this event.Each had specific fears. One was fearful of coming to a new country (the USA). Another worried about the others in his field who might be better than he was.

As I read the article, it appeared that much of what was discussed could relate to writers, too. Jill Montgomery, former athlete and now ESPN reporter said that failure is a natural part of life for those who strive to be great. She said people need to fail at some point to be successful. Her question to the athletes concerned the way in which failure helped them in their endeavors. 

Erik Kynard, a silver medalist in high jump, said "In order to be great at anything, you have to be disciplined enough to evaluate your own characteristics and attributes to increase your capacity physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. You're essentially a builder, trying to build the foundation of your life."

Another jumper, Ed Broxterman, said he learned from early mistakes, that they paid off in using basic strategies.

Akela Jones, a native of Barbados who participated in the 2016 Olympic heptathlon, said that her failures help her refocus; then she reevaluates how she can improve. She didn't finish as well as she'd hoped but is using that to motivate herself to get better.

Thane Baker earned gold, two silvers and a bronze medal during the 1952 and 1956 games. He was the one athlete on the panel that said he never feared failure because he did not expect too much from himself.  "I just knew I was going to do the best I could, and that's all I could hope for.

Erik Kynard suggested that thinking with your eyes, or judging a situation without considering other perspectives can prove to be a major obstacle in achieving success.

As you read the thoughts of these four successful people, ask how you can apply what they gave their audience to your writing journey. Sometimes fear of failure, or atychiphobia, holds us back in submitting to high paying markets or starting a major project like a novel or showing anyone your work. 

If you have a bit of that 'fear of failure' in your mind, you are definitely not alone. Many of us have had it in the past or are dealing with it now. When doubts assail me, I tell myself to plow ahead. I've learned that if I don't try, I won't get anywhere.

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Big Waste of Time

Writers tend to be worriers. True or false? I think that a majority of writers are worriers. So, what do they worry about?  

Writers worry about: 
  • never getting published
  • the length of time it takes to hear from an editor
  • the quality of writing they produce
  • whether or not their writing shows improvement as time moves on
  • whether they can write a full novel
  • being a so-so poet
  • meeting deadlines
  • finding time to write
  • continuing to find story ideas
  • word count
  • whether to submit to no-pay places
  • self-publishing
  • marketing their writing
  • book signings
  • having the means to go to writing conference
  • putting too many cliches into a story
  • getting just the right amount of sensory details
  • the grammar and spelling parts of writing
  • having a suitable vocabulary
  • and more and more and more!
Yes, there are lots of things we writers could worry about, but as today's poster tells us, it is one of our biggest wastes of time. Nothing changes because we worry. All it does is give us a headache or a tummy ache, makes us think bizarre things and labels us as Grumpy Gertie or Growly George. 

When you meet one of the things in the list above, stop and ask yourself Is this really worth worrying about? Most of the time, the answer should be a resounding No! Then ask Will my worry change the problem? 

Next, consider the alternative to the worrying part. What can you do to keep from worrying or to change whatever it is. Usually, we can tell ourselves to do our best and move on. We'll fare much better and be a happier, more positive person. 

If you're in the 'Worries a Lot' group, you aren't going to change overnight. Like most things, we need to work at it a little at a time. Inches turn into feet, feet into yards, yards into miles. Eventually, you'll reach your destination. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Writers Need A Thick Hide

Today's post is a repeat from a year ago that was well received when originally posted. It may be worth a second reading for those who read it earlier. The points made here are ones I frequently need to revisit myself. Learning to accept criticism, no matter how well meant, is not an easy task.  Read on...

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
—Harper Lee, WD

What wise words these are. Every writer should wrap him/herself in the thickest hide he/she can find. Reviews and critiques are sometimes akin to standing before a target while someone shoots arrows straight at it. 

Will you let the sharp arrows bounce off and lie on the ground where they cannot hurt you? Or will you stand still as the arrows pierce right through to your heart? 

Let's face it. Criticism of our writing hurts, even when it's meant to help us learn and grow. And when we feel hurt, we become defensive, even angry. If we allow these emotions to emerge and take hold of our good sense, irreparable damage can be done.

I was once in a small local writer's group. I became friends with one of the young women and was happy when she suggested we do a one on one critique of our writing. I was delighted because the group members all said nicey-nice things no matter how poorly written a submission might be and this might be a way to gain an honest opinion. My friend gave me several pages of a novel she was writing to critique for her. When I read it, I didn't know what to do as the writing was quite juvenile in content and filled with mechanical errors. Should I look for the positives and say nothing about what she could do to improve the story? Or should I give a critique meant to help her learn? I chose the latter and, as a result, I lost a friend. She was furious that I had found anything wrong. I'd given an honest opinion and tried to do it as gently as I could, but it didn't matter.

A man in my first online critique group was from a Central American country so English was his second language. He was crazy about American baseball and most of his writing centered on that topic. The writing was pretty poor and he received many crits from other members pointing out the problems. He was furious that anyone would criticize those words he'd written. He had joined the group seeking praise, not to learn and grow as a writer. He quit in a huff after a lengthy written rant. 

We all hope that a critiquer or a reviewer praises those words we've written. When I first started submitting my work to the original online group, I must admit that I felt eager for praise and, when all the problems with the submission were pointed out to me, it hurt. It's deflating to our ego. We're humans and we don't like to be told we did a poor job. Plus it means revising and editing a piece we'd thought was just fine.

It didn't take me too long to realize that those arrows being flung my way were meant to help me, not hurt me. I figured out that I would never grow as a writer unless I got over being hurt when all my mistakes were pointed out. In early days, there were plenty of errors in my writing world. 

Over the years, my hide has thickened considerably. Maybe that's where those ten pounds I'd like to lose came from! I don't feel hurt anymore when a critiquer tears apart the 1200 words I'd written with such enthusiasm. Disappointed, yes, but not hurt because I know that the critiquer is helping me see my own work more objectively. 

I imagine that the older Harper Lee had a thicker hide than the very young one did. We age, we learn, we grow.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Papa Hemingway Has Some Good Advice

Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.
– Ernest Hemingway

I like both these quotes by famed author, Ernest Hemingway. A man who wrote many fine books should know a little something about writing, shouldn't he? Those published novels of his were not flukes. I do think he was one of those whose writing talent was inborn but perfection came with learning his craft. Just as you and I continue to learn this craft.

We don't achieve our knowledge of the craft by taking one writing course. Or reading one reference book about how to write. Studying the craft is both beneficial and necessary. The actual act of writing will teach you even more. Maybe I should amend that--the actual act of writing along with assessing what you've written with an objective eye.

I especially like Hemingway's second quote above. He's telling us that we need to build a story, not sprinkle it like adding throw pillows to a neutral colored sofa. Whatever we write--novel, short story, creative nonfiction, essay, article or poetry--we have to start at ground level with a foundation and build from there. 

When you start a writing project, do you just want to tell a story? Do you want to write something informative? Or do you want to convey something in particular to your reader? Do you have a theme to build upon? Is your aim to teach all mankind something special? 

When we read a novel, we are exposed to a lot of life lessons while we enjoy the story itself. We see characters that are heroes, ones that have flaws inches thick, people you would like to know better and those you would shun in a nanosecond. Creating those characters requires a building plan. We don't want to sprinkle them here and there and let them fend for themselves. 

It's necessary to build on a strong foundation but Hemingway also tells us we need to write what we see and what we feel in the best and simplest way. And yes, we have to learn to write using both these recommendations. Good writing doesn't just happen. Acquire some knowledge of your craft, work at it tirelessly, heed the advice of successful authors and you can achieve a great deal. Writing is not for the faint of heart. It's just plain hard work! If you have the passion, you'll continue to work hard and continue to learn as you go. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

What About Those 2016 Writing Goals?

The eleventh month has arrived. I don't know about you but it feels a bit scary to me. I like November because it is birthday month for my daughter plus a few other people I know. It's also Thanksgiving when families come together and pause to reflect on their blessings.

Besides that, it is getting mighty close to the end of the year. Suddenly, those goals I set way last January have popped into my head with a question. How many of your writing goals did you accomplish so far this year? 

My answer is that I didn't achieve all of them but I do get a gold star for several. Here's the list of results for the ones that get that star sticker: 

1.  I managed to write a blog post five days every week in this first ten months--except for a very few exceptions when vacation time rolled around.

2.  I sold a story to a major magazine.

3.  I sold a story that I'd written several years ago and had been rejected a few times.

4.  I've kept my commitment to my writing group to have 2 subs and 2 crits each month.

5.  I wrote more poetry than I did last year.

6.  I encouraged other writers whenever I had the opportunity

There are others that I didn't get done but there are still two months left in 2016. Surely I can knock off a few of them in 61 days. If not, nothing says I can't roll them over into the 2017 list of writing goals. 

How about you? Which of your writing goals for 2016 have you met? Which ones are still waiting to be achieved? Are you willing to give it your all this next two months? It's a busy time with holidays upon us soon. How dedicated are you to your goals? I hope you'll work at it. The ones that don't get done can slip right on into January 2017. No penalty, no punishment.