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Friday, December 30, 2016

Seventeen Questions For Writers

The first time I ran across this quote, I was at one of my online writers' group conferences in Sterling, VA. It was early morning, before the sessions for the day had started. I was in the cabin catching up on email when the quote popped up. Definitely an 'Aha!' moment for me. It's good advice for our writing world and the rest of our lives, too. 

However, there are times when looking back might be of some benefit. We have only one more day left in this year of 2016. It seems to me to be a good year for you and me to look back on our writing life. Do you remember those writing goals you set early last January? How did that turn out? 

A few questions you might ask yourself regarding your writing this year:
  • What percentage of my writing goals did I achieve?
  • Which goals were complete flops? Why?
  • How many submissions did I make?
  • How many acceptances did I receive?
  • How many unfinished projects do I have? 
  • Did I put the right amount of time into writing?
  • Did I make the best effort at all times?
  • Did I look for motivation or sit and wait for it to hit me over the head?
  • Did I read enough about writing?
  • Did I read the writing of others on a regular basis?
  • Am I as passionate about writing now as I was at the beginning of the year? 
  • Was Writer's Block a factor for me
  • Was I willing to follow the advice given to me?
  • Did I help other writers in any way?
  • Was I passionate about writing?
  • When rejected, did I look at my work objectively to learn what needed to be improved?
  • Do I want to continue writing in 2017?
I hope you answered honestly. Nobody but you will see your answers. The one question that I sincerely wanted all of you to answer yes to is the very last one. If you answered positively to the majority of the questions, you'll surely want to pursue your writing in 2017.

If you had a lot of discouraging answers, perhaps it's time to do some evaluating. If you're willing to work on those problem areas, you will grow as a writer. If not, it's time to reassess your writing world. I don't encourage anyone to just dump the whole process. You obviously wanted to write or you'd never have started. If it meant something to you in the beginning, it's salvageable. But it's up to you. 

It's almost a new year. When you turn the calendar to January on Sunday, it's a new beginning. When I open to page one of a book to read, I'm always filled with the anticipation that the pages beyond will be pleasing to read. I feel the same way about my writing when each new year dawns. I feel motivated to begin strong and I hope you will, too. 

Now that we've checked back into 2016, it's time to look forward. I wish you your best writing year ever in 2017.

Inspiring image Happy New Year 2017 Cards #4776861 by manyhappynyear - Resolution 1742x980px - Find the image to your taste:

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Writers Should Take A Look At Football Teams

Photo from Twitter

Yesterday seemed like a very long day. Our beloved Kansas State Wildcats were scheduled to play in the Texas Bowl at 8 p.m. I was busy all day but my mind wandered often to the big game. We would play Texas A&M in Houston. Texas A&M had been picked to win, even though both teams had the same record. 

Our team had lost a few games in the early part of the season but got progressively better as the weeks went on. A couple of the losses were by one point. Oh, how that hurts. And maybe it served to inspire them to work harder and become winners. 

The purple people who cheer the Wildcats had faith that K-State would come out the winner. And they did! The game was close all they way and ended with a score of 33-28. A&M scored first in a very short time. I could sense collective groans from the K-State fans. But our team scored next and then again and kept plugging away until they cinched the win by stopping the other team in the last part of the 4th quarter. I felt a mother's pride in every one of those guys on our team, as well as the coaches. 

I know some of you could care less about football but I grew up with a dad and three brothers so it was either learn to like football or be miserable. I chose to like watching and so did my mom. It's something my husband I do together--go to the games at K-State and watch many on TV. 

So, what does this have to do with the writing world? I think all of us who write could take a lesson from what I've told you about in the first part of today's post. Sometimes, we come very close to being published. We might receive a rejection with an encouraging note from an editor. But close is not what we strive for. We want to get the ball over the goal line and make some points. So, what should we do? 

Same thing this football team did. Up the practice time--your writing time. Put in more time reading about writing and reading other peoples' writing. Pump yourself up emotionally. Use that I-can-do-it method to build your own self-confidence. Football teams have a bevy of coaches. You do, too. Your coaches are the critique groups you belong to, the friends who are a one-on-one help to you, the conferences you attend and the writing reference books you read. All of these help you become a better player--make that writer.

One other big factor is the desire to win if you're a football player. You have to want it so bad you ache inside. To be published is the same for a writer. Every successful writer has to acquire the passion for his/her writing. He/she needs to have the desire to be accepted by editors. The more you feel the need for it, the stronger your will to achieve it and the harder you'll work. 

K-State ended up champions in their final game this year but they aren't done. Their coach has instilled a work ethic in them that means they will start working next week on next year's season. They'll watch film, continue conditioning and more. Writers can't sit back and relax after being published. That's when the writer must get started on a new project, keep doing writing exercises and all the other things that make us better writers. Champions don't quit, they keep plugging away to find the next win. You can, too!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What About This Voice Thing?

Ah yes, the writer's voice. I remember the first time I heard that term. I'd only been writing for a couple of years and had recently found a writing critique partner. She had been writing far longer and had been published. I was in awe of her as I had yet to have anything accepted for publication. Even so, after she read a couple of things I'd written, she agreed to working together.

One afternoon, we sat at my kitchen table while she went over the critique she'd done on a children's story I'd written. I don't remember which story it was. I don't remember the month or the day. I don't remember whether she liked the story or not. But I do remember her comment as she finished. She said, "You have found your voice. That's something some writers don't do for a very long time." 

I wasn't quite sure what she referred to. What was my voice? And I didn't want to show my ignorance by asking her to explain it to me. This occurred before we had google to help us so handily. I thought about her comment for a long time and I watched for the term whenever I read a book about writing. Eventually, I came to understand that my voice in my writing was me! It was the way I spoke, the way I phrased things when I wrote, the way I wrote dialogue and more. My writer's voice is unique to me and me alone. 

Too often, beginning writers try to copy the way famous writers write. If you want to write like Stephen King, you're going to attempt to use many of his techniques, to write in his voice. Big mistake! Copying other writers is not going to bring you fame and fortune. No one is going to know you for who you are. Develop your own voice in writing and as time goes on, readers will begin to recognize it. 

I knew a writer once who could tell a whale of a tale. Excellent storyteller but she used similes on every page until the reader wanted to yell "Stop!" Even so, that was her style of writing and she never did change her voice. She self-published a few books and then I lost track of her. I often wondered if her stories would have been published by a major printer. Sometimes, the voice we use is not always best for our success in the field.

I do think that it is better to have a voice with a problem such as the woman I just mentioned than to have no voice at all or to copy another writer's voice. Susanna Kearsley nailed it in her quote when she said "...You want to sound like you." 

You can google 'writer's voice' and come up with article upon article that will go into more detail than I have here. If you're a bit unsure about the meaning and what to do to develop your own voice, do some reading. Then, let yourself be yourself the next time you write a story, poem or essay. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Word Usage For Writers

December has been great. You loved all the partying, the shopping, the baking, the family dinners, the programs at church and school. Right? But now you're tired. Bone tired. Still, it's time to get back to your writing world. 

But, if you're writing something new and doing it while you're tired, you risk becoming a lazy writer. Lazy writers use common words and when they want to emphasize them, they pop in a 'very' in front. That will tell my readers that I mean it. My character is not just shy, she's very shy. 'Very' is an adverb that is easily plucked out of thin air and applied with a smack to words like those in the list above. So easy but not the best choice in many cases. 

Look at the words suggested to use in the second column instead of the 'very ____' version. One word instead of two. One stronger word instead of two weaker ones. Stephen King said "The road to hell is paved with adverbs." I'm guessing a reader would not find the word 'very' on many pages of his books. 

How do you train yourself to use the better word instead of the weaker version with 'very' in front? One thing you can do is get in the habit of using (note that you must 'use' it, not decorate a shelf with it)  a thesaurus. There are many in bookstores to be purchased and online for free. One good website on the thesaurus usage will give you lots to think about. It would be well worth your time to check it out on a regular basis. The more you immerse yourself into word choices, the easier it becomes to use better words as you write. 

I'm sure some of you are shaking your head and thinking I don't have time for that. I need to devote all my writing time to writing. Ones who scoff at trying to better their word usage are probably the same ones who think writing exercises are to be flicked away like a pesky fly. All the exercises and reading about writing are what will help you grow as a writer. Set aside a certain amount of time each day, or week, to pursue these beneficial helps. It need not be hours; perhaps 15 minutes each day would still be helpful. We  all know that we fritter away 15 minutes doing other, fairly non-useful things every day. Why not put that 15 minutes to better use? 

Instead of my saying that this post is meant to be 'very helpful,' I could say 'this post is meant to be  
supportive or useful or constructive. 

If you write when you're tired like you probably are right now, go ahead but don't submit that piece right away. Let it simmer a few days, then go back and see what words you can change to be more meaningful. Take our those 'very' words if you have used them. 

As a quick exercise today, study the list above as a beginning to better word usage. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Create New From Old

Since it is so late in the day, I'm posting a repeat from December 26, 2012. All the leftovers stashed in my daughter's fridge this morning made me think of this one, and then it showed up on my Memories. Many of us will be eating leftovers tonight and they'll be gone. The leftovers in our writiing files can be kept and enhanced to become new stories. Go for it!

Don't Throw Out The Leftovers

The day after Christmas means lots of leftovers for us from the big meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Good leftovers! Roast turkey breast and prime rib plus a few side dishes, rolls, cookies and Chocolate Eclair Dessert. We won't mind finishing those items up one bit. I had enough to send some home with my daughter this morning, too. 

In our writing life, we often have some leftovers. Good ones and some that are not so hot, too. Before the new year begins, maybe you should sort through some of those leftover stories, poems and articles that you never got quite polished enough to submit to a contest or an editor. 

You've already got the bones, so all you have to do is a bit of revising and polishing to flesh it out enough to make your story worth sending out for publication. Spend some time going through your files to see what qualifies as a 2012 leftover. They couldt appear in a different light to you now that they've lingered in a file somewhere for weeks, or even months.

You might find a few that aren't worth saving. So go ahead, take a deep breath and dump them. Or, if that is too painful, print a copy and keep in a folder somewhere. But make a list of the ones that might be possibilities. If there are too many to finish up this next week, they will make the perfect inspiration for starting 2013. 

Don't throw out your leftovers until you sift and sort. As for me, I'm looking forward to a turkey sandwich for lunch with a little cranberry sauce, a cup of tea and definitely a couple of Christmas cookies.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Focus On The Joy Of The Holiday

Excitement, joy, baking, gift wrapping, shopping, parties, worship and family--all of these come to mind when we celebrate our Christmas holiday and perhaps many of the same for those who celebrate other holidays this month, namely Hanukkah and Kwanza. It's to be a happy time with reminders of why we recognize our special day. 

This morning, as I sat in my office drinking the rest of my morning coffee, reading emails and scrolling rapidly through facebook, I added another word to the list above. Sadness. That emotion popped up today in emails and facebook messages over and over again. So many times that I thought perhaps it was a message to me to address it here at Writer Granny's World.  

The name of my blog should tell you that I've lived through a good many Christmases and not all of them have been 100% happy. I haven't forgotten those but I would rather focus on the ones that brought joy and love instead.  

One article a friend shared this morning was written by a columnist who felt almost overwhelming sadness every Christmas as she thought about those in her family that she's lost over the years. Her memories were of the things each one did for her or what they meant to her, especially at holiday time. And that made her very sad. 

Every one of us has memories of those in our families who have passed on. Instead of being saddened, why not try to be lifted in spirit by the thought of those people whom we loved and the things about them that we cherished? We expect to lose the eldest members of our extended families but losing a child or a beloved spouse is often so shocking to us that it is difficult to overcome the sorrow at holiday time. Ask yourself if your loved one would want you to fall into despair every year when holiday time rolled around. I doubt if many could answer 'yes' to that. 

I read a beautifully written essay recently written by a mother who had lost an adult son. The message she received in her heart was to stop mourning so deeply. Instead, she found that she was to do one thing. Love her son. With that love came the good memories of happy times. It seems to me that Christmas is about love and what better way to celebrate this holy time than to love and cherish those in our family and others around us, too. 

Christmas shouldn't be about all the tasks we have to do. All the hard work of preparing for a family gathering. All the shopping, wrapping, cooking, baking, cleaning and more. Yes, we have to tackle all that but we do it out of love for our family. We do it to help others, and ourselves, keep the reason for the season in mind. To me, Christmas is about love and kindness to others; it's about helping those who have less than we do. It's about all that and recognizing the religious part of the holiday, first and foremost. 

Those of us who write are most fortunate as we can put our feelings and thoughts into words to bring comfort and joy to others and for ourselves, as well. Even if you are not a professional writer, you can write a letter to yourself or to a loved one who is no longer here. Keep it private or share it--that is your choice. 

I wish all who celebrate this Blessed Christmas holiday joy and love as you spend your day--whether it be with family or friends, or even alone. May the meaning of Christmas lift your spirits and ease any sorrows you harbor. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sharing Christmas With International Students

A Christmas Celebration

Today's post is my story that appeared in the 2007 Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas 2007. I wrote the story one evening in December after the Czech exchange students we hosted that year had been to our home for a Christmas celebration dinner. They were leaving the next day to travel around the USA on their Christmas/semester break. I had been so moved by the evening that I knew I had to write about it. A simple story about simple things.

It’s The Simple Things
 By Nancy Julien Kopp

Ken and I have been a host family for Czech exchange students who come to study at Kansas State University for the past 6 or 7 years. The students live on their own, but we are there to answer questions, show them around town when they arrive, and invite them to our home for dinner now and then. They lead busy lives, but we e-mail or phone to keep in touch.

This year, we have two young women who are both majoring in the study of Architecture. Jana and Klara attend university in Prague, but both come from smaller towns in the Czech Republic. They arrived in the USA the day after the new airline regulations regarding what can be carried on and what must be checked went into effect. The day before they left home, their luggage had to be sorted out and rearranged to meet the new regulations. Then there was a paperwork snafu in New York when they went through immigration and customs. Before they knew what happened, they were taken to a tiny room filled to overflowing with other immigrants who had problems of one kind or another. Most all the people in there were from Asian countries or the Arab world. These two tall blonde girls huddled together in a corner expecting the worst. Finally, the paperwork got sorted out and they had to find a new flight to Kansas City since they’d missed their connecting flight with the delay. The customs officials in New York refused to help them, so they marched off to find the counter for their airline and managed to get on another flight with the help of a kind and resourceful ticket agent.

Meanwhile, we knew only that they had not arrived when they were scheduled. Once they knew what flight they would be on, they did call and a full twenty-four hours beyond the expected time, they arrived at our door--desperately tired, longing for a shower, and hungry after traveling nearly two full days and nights. They spent their first week with us in our home while looking for housing and getting registered on campus. We spent the time getting to know one another and taking them to meetings and testing places on campus as well as orienting them to our community. At the end of the week, they had found a little house to rent with two other Czech students and were ready to begin the semester’s classes.

That hot August week seems so long ago. In early December I invited Klara and Jana and their two housemates to come to dinner to celebrate Christmas. Most of the exchange students travel around the USA during the holiday break, so we try to provide an evening of Christmas cheer for them each year, as it is often the only Christmas celebration they will have. It is heartwarming to watch the wonder and joy on their faces when they walk into our home and see the decorated tree and other Christmas symbols throughout the house. We have a special meal and linger at the table to talk about Christmas traditions in their country and ours. I place a candy cane above each dinner plate, and this year’s group were as surprised as all the others in years past. Candy canes are not known in the Czech Republic, and the students like them. I guess it is because they are something different. “What do they taste like?” they usually ask. Try and describe “peppermint” sometime. It’s not easy. One of the young men said he was going to Walmart to buy many candy canes to send home to Prague for Christmas.

Turns out it’s the simple things that mean something to these young people far from their families and their own country. A home-cooked meal, conversation, knowing someone cares about them and maybe having a candy cane for the first time. For Ken and me, it’s another simple thing. We end up receiving far more than we give with all of the students we’ve had. Not every Christmas gift comes in a box with wrapping paper and a bow.

Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas (2007)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Christmas Wish At Age 12

Today's post is another, never published before, memory story about the year I wanted a big baby doll and my mother said...well, read the story to find out what happened. What Christmas stands out in your memory? Write about it. Soon!

A Wish, An Angel, and A Big Baby Doll

My bottom lip quivered when my mother laughed and said, “You’re too old for baby dolls.”

I didn’t think twelve was too old to play with dolls. My cousin, Carole, had the most wonderful baby doll, one the size of an actual infant. She wore real baby clothes. I coveted that doll more than anything I’d seen in my entire life. The one time of the year we got new toys was Christmas, so this was the perfect time to ask for one.

I took a deep breath. “Carole has one, so why shouldn’t I?”
 This time my mother didn’t laugh at me. She stopped rolling the pie crust dough. “Girls who are twelve and in sixth grade don’t play with dolls. Carole’s only eleven and in the fifth grade.” She started rolling the dough again.
Why did a year make such a difference? I only had one doll, a Shirley Temple look-alike given to me six years earlier. At twelve, I had perfected sulking, and so I proceeded to do so. I watched while my two younger brothers turned the pages in the Sears catalog writing their initials next to the toys they wanted. The catalog filled quickly with the letters H and P. It probably wasn’t worth putting any N’s there. I only wanted one thing, and it looked like I wasn’t going to get it.

Even so, I harbored a twinge of hope all through the weeks that led up to the big day. We lived in a small apartment with little storage space, so my mother wrapped the gifts she purchased immediately and stacked them on the dressers in the bedroom where she and Dad slept. She delighted in sending us in there on made-up errands so we could watch the piles grow.  I didn’t see a box that might hold a life-size baby doll. Maybe tomorrow…
Signs of Christmas were all around us. We listened to an episode of the The Cinnamon Bear on the radio every day after school. The same story about two children and a stuffed bear searching for a special star ran every year in December, and despite knowing the ending, I listened every afternoon after school while I snacked on the latest Christmas cookies that appeared daily, washing them down with cold milk. But I thought about the big baby doll.
Mom baked many kinds of cookies, storing them in gaily patterned tins. I helped frost the sugar cookies and sampled the others that came out of the oven as soon as they cooled. Tiny rolled-up rugelach, powdered-sugar-coated crescents, and of course, chocolate chip.  Cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes, and frosted layer cakes made our holiday special. We had fudge every Christmas—so soft and gooey, it had to be eaten with a spoon. While the spicy smells of the holiday filled the air, I thought about the doll.
A few days before Christmas, Dad put up the tree and strung the colored lights. Next, we three kids hung the ornaments. Being oldest, I was in charge of the upper branches. Howard worked on the next tier, and Paul, who was only four, put ornaments on the
bottom branches. We finished with silver tinsel that shimmered in the Christmas tree lights. Christmas music played on our big console radio in the living room. If I got my doll Christmas morning, it would be a perfect holiday.
A special angel adorned every tree of my growing-up years. Mom pressed the angel’s pink satin dress, smoothed out her gold wings, and fluffed up her hair so she was ready to stand on top of our tree, watching over us. Dad waited until we decorated the entire tree, then he put the angel on the highest point. That year—1951-- I wondered if angels could grant special Christmas wishes. Just in case, I silently told her mine. She didn’t laugh or scold, just smiled sweetly while I inhaled the special aroma of the fir tree.
On Christmas Eve, we kids brought one of our everyday socks to the living room and Mom pinned them onto the back of an overstuffed chair since we had no fireplace with a mantel. We knew Santa would fill them with an orange, walnuts still in the shells and a few pieces of candy. Before we went to bed, Howard, Paul and I brought out all the colorful packages from the bedroom and watched as Dad arranged them under the tree.
It seemed almost magical with the lights, ornaments and the packages filled with secrets underneath, all watched over by the sweet pink angel on the top. All too soon, we were shooed off to bed with the annual reminder that the sooner we went to sleep, the sooner Christmas would arrive.
In the morning, my brothers found the gifts Santa brought them next to the tree, for Santa never wrapped his gifts. The boys knew immediately who they were from. Each of them received one of the items they’d marked in the Sears catalog weeks earlier. No
Santa gift for me. Twelve year old girls didn’t play with dolls and they didn’t get gifts from Santa either. I swallowed my disappointment and settled down on the sofa waiting for Dad to pass out the wrapped packages, one by one.
We opened many packages that held practical items like new socks or pajamas and others that had small toys and comic books, some jewelry for me. I noticed a good-sized box in the corner that I hadn’t seen the night before. When we’d opened all the others, Dad handed me the big box. I looked at him and Mom, then at the angel on the tree. Could it possibly be?
“Open it,” Dad said.
I ripped the paper off and removed the lid, and gazed down on the face of the big baby doll I’d hoped for. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or hug my parents. Instead, I lifted the doll carefully out of the box and cradled her against me.
I looked at my mother still in her bathrobe and slippers on this holiday morning. My bottom lip quivered once again, but I finally got the words out. “But you said I was too old for dolls.” 
“Sometimes mothers are wrong. Daddy and I decided that if it was something you wanted so very much, you should have it. You’ve never had a lot of dolls like some girls.”
I laid my treasure on the sofa and rushed to my mother’s side. I hugged her and thanked her and then put my arms around my dad and squeezed hard, whispering my thanks in his ear.
Everyone moved to the kitchen to eat breakfast, but before I joined them, I stopped to say a silent thank you to the pink angel on the treetop. I picked up my special Christmas gift thinking about the fun Carole and I would have later in the day when her family joined ours for dinner.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Consider Your Writing Name

Y O U R  W R I T I N G  N A M E
Bird Wearing Hat
Have you ever given serious thought to the name you use in your writing world? If you haven't, you should. 

Are you thinking All I care about is being a good writer. Or I want my work to be published. Maybe My name is not as important as what I write. The first two are what most writers consider to be important. It's that last one that many slide right by. 

So, why is your name that's tacked onto your writing of importance? It's your identity in the writing world. It's what you will become known as by your readers.

In my non-writing life, I am Nancy Kopp. In my writing world, I am Nancy Julien Kopp. I didn't start using my maiden name in the middle until the day I discovered that there was another Nancy Kopp who was a writer. She wrote mystery novels, completely different from my kind of writing. Even so, I didn't think there should be two writers with the same name. 

I had some choices. I could have chosen any of the following:
  • N. Kopp
  • Nancy J. Kopp
  • Nancy Joyce Kopp
  • N. J. Kopp
  • Nancy Julien Kopp
I spent some time writing the different versions of my name and finally settled on the last one in this list. I decided it might stay with readers more than the others. And I felt like it had a little more sophistication. 

I always use the full three names when I submit work to an editor. You would think that they would automatically use that name when publishing my work but that's not always the case. I recently had a story published in a magazine with a large circulation. I was thrilled to be in this publication. When my author's copies arrived, I turned right to my story, and there was my name Nancy Kopp. Why? I used all three names in my correspondence with the editor which entailed several letters, also under the title of the story I submitted. You would think that it was obvious what name should be used with the story. Sometimes, I will mention that Nancy Julien Kopp is my writing name, so please use it. This time, I did not but wish I had.

When I attend my state authors convention, I am listed as Nancy Julien Kopp and I am introduced with that name when conducting a writing workshop. When you register for a conference, use your full writing name.

Take some time to think about the name you will use in your writing world. Make a list of all the possibilities and then select the one that appeals to you most. Consider the pros and cons of each.

If a woman is writing for a magazine geared to men or boys, she might consider using just initials. That should be the decision of the writer but perhaps discussed with the editor. Other than situations like this, be consistent with the name you use when writing.

Your writing name is important. If you've been using one form for a long time and fear changing it now, go ahead and do it. Once a little time has gone by, your 'new' writing name will become familiar to your readers. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Where Does What We Write Come From?

Today's post is a repeat, originally published several yeas ago. I ran across it the other day and decided it was worth a repeat performance.

I think the quote above might be construed by some people to be strictly for memoir writers. After all, aren't they writing about events and people from the past? Yes, they are, but I think other genres of writing can fit into this quote, as well.

Whatever we write comes from both our creative side and our life experiences. If I'm going to write a novel about sled dog races in Alaska, it's going to be a far better story if I've had some experience in the activity, or at least been around it. Consider this--a writer telling a story like just mentioned need not have ever actually been in one of those exciting races, but maybe he lived in Alaska as a kid and remembers seeing men (and women) prepare for the races. He might have lived where someone in his small town trained the dogs or worked on the sleds. He may have taken a trip with his family to follow the route the racers took. All of that could give him an understanding and some knowledge of this cold weather sport.

I grew up in a very large apartment building community. I know what living on the 3rd floor with no elevator is like. If I write a story about a family that lives in similar circumstances, I can give a sense of place from my own life experience. The theme and plot of the story may have nothing to do with the apartment living, but my experience will let me give a realistic picture of the setting. I'm tasting it twice--having lived it and looked back at it. Wherever you lived in your earlier years will be of some importance in your writing. Much of it may come through subconsciously but you'll be doing that taste life twice section of today's quote.

Think about the places you've lived, jobs you've had over the years, perhaps more than one marriage--all those things will present themselves in some form in your writing. As I said, you may not do it consciously, but it's all stored in our memory bank and has a way of seeping through into our writing.

The older you are, the more experiences you have to taste life twice in your writing.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Tap Your Family Traditions When Writing

Here's a Christmas tradition many of us probably have not heard of. I suppose that Christmastime in Iceland is pretty cold, maybe icy and snowy, so staying inside with a new book sounds pretty pleasant. 

Many families follow certain traditions at Christmas or Hanukkah and other holidays through the year. Maybe you used the same menu for the holiday meal every year. No one would dare think of changing it. Some of you may have had a special way of passing out the gifts each year. Mothers and daughters sometimes follow a tradition with a shopping trip and lunch at a favorite spot. If I have family home for Thanksgiving dinner, it's a sure bet that I must fix the famed Green Bean Casserole for a side dish. I skipped it once, and I thought my adult son was going to cry. 

If you have traditions in your family for certain holidays, you have a writing project right under your nose. You could write any of the following:
  • a nonfiction article for a children's magazine
  • a fiction story for a children's magazine
  • a memoir piece for a magazine 
  • a memoir piece for a contest
  • a short story for adults using your family tradition as the base
  • a nonfiction article for an adult magazine
  • a family memory story for your Family Memories Book
Give some thought to the traditions in your family for the December holidays and others throughout the year. A small tradition can be expanded into a great piece of writing if you give it your full attention. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Guest Blogger Explores The Writer's Self-Doubt

Today, Guest Blogger, Terry L. Needham, highlights writers' self-doubt in poetry and prose. We can all relate to, and perhaps learn from, what this award winning author has to say. You can read my review of his memoir book, When I Was A Child here.

Self doubt--

Writing feels like digging a ditch.
You take shovel in hand,
Bend over, shove blade hard into dirt,
Your back begins to ache,
Sweat breaks out on your brow,
And, you could really use a drink, as
Self-doubt whispers in your ear,
Until the shovel is full of words,
Pitched over your shoulder into a pile.
The pile of words slowly grows,
But the ditch seems to go on forever . . .
And you wonder if it will ever end,
And, Hell . . . does the world really need
One more ditch . . . or another pile of words?

10.26.2013 – T. L. Needham

CONQUERING SELF-DOUBT – T. L. Needham                                                   December 14, 2016

My poem, “Self Doubt” was written to explore the feelings many writers feel that stand between them and success. But, not just writers, virtually everyone feels self-doubt when they confront a challenge in life, including performers, athletes, and even the poor sap longing to ask the boss for a raise in pay.
But, I shall focus on my own self-doubt, which haunts me every time I begin to write. I was a 10-year old 4th grader when I first felt the inspiration to write someday. My teacher was reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain to the class. I was so captivated by the story that I checked the book out of the library and read ahead to see what happened next. I soon felt the stirring ambition that I could write too.
Alas, I also seeded my own ignorance and a future obstacle to writing, when I concluded that I talked pretty good already. Thus I really did not need to learn that boring English-grammar stuff. So, I tuned it out for years in school. How wrong I was, as I set the foundation for my own wall of ignorance and self-doubt.
Soon, as an adult, I realized I had let a wall of ignorance rise between my ambition to be a writer, and my knowledge of proper grammar. I even coined a phrase to remind me, “A wise man knows what he does not know.” By this, I remained aware of my own ignorance.
So, as a writer who has a talent for story telling, but confronts a wall of ignorance each time I put words on paper. I embraced every tool I could to help me overcome this flaw. I rely heavily on THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE to guide me. I also seek out editors to help rake the flaws from my prose. Plus, I read other authors constantly. In fact, I have read and written reviews of over 120 books in recent years. All reviews have been posted on Amazon. In doing this, I learn by observing what works for other writers, and I help them too along the way. And, I often read to seek wisdom and inspiration from one of my many favorite authors, Ernest Hemingway, who said— “It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
Thus, my own personal wall of  “self doubt” starts to crumble and words begin to flow, for better or for worst.  At least until my editor reads them and reminds me once again that those grammar lessons were so essential . . . and it is never too late to learn them!

Terry L. Needham

T. L. Needham is an award winning author and a native of Kansas City. He heard tales of survival of his mother's family, who endured life during the 1920s and 1930s in western Kansas. This inspired him to write a historic memoir—When I Was A Child, which after ten years of research, he published in 2011. It has received numerous honors, including: GOLD MEDAL AWARD—GLOBAL EBOOKS, and HONORABLE MENTION, BEST COVER—GLOBAL EBOOK AWARDS—History, Non-Fiction; and a FINALISTS by USA BOOK NEWS—BEST BOOKS AWARD in the category of History-USA. Plus, it was awarded the BRONZE MEDAL by READERS FAVORITE, a national book review/literary critic/author services firm, and an HONORABLE MENTION—WRITERS DIGEST SELF PUBLISHED BOOK AWARDS. 

Other publishing credits include:
Pesky Poems--awarded a SILVER MEDAL from READERS FAVORITE
Kitty Claus--awarded a GOLD MEDAL from READERS FAVORITE
The She Wolf received an HONORABLE award from READERS FAVORITE
Winning and Keeping Relocation Business

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Joy of Giving

Today's post is a Christmas memory story that has been published in two Christmas anthologies, one several years ago and one this year, titled Additional Christmas Moments. It's about the year that I learned that giving was just as wonderful as receiving.  

The Best Christmas Present Ever
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 In 1949 the twenty-one children in my fifth grade class learned one of life’s greatest lessons. Ten year olds usually care more about the importance of receiving gifts than the considering the joy in giving them. But that year, we found out that giving truly is better than receiving, and it was all because of a special teacher.

 Lyle Biddinger served on a navy destroyer during World War II, went to college on the GI Bill and landed in a Chicago suburban grade school teaching fifth grade. We were his first class, and he was the first male teacher in our Kindergarten through eighth grade school. Young, handsome, and an outstanding teacher—he was all any ten year old could ask for.

During family dinners, I talked endlessly about what Mr. Bid had told us that day, what he’d shown us, the games he’d taught us. He may as well have been sitting at our table every night, for his presence was evident Monday through Friday. I hurried through
breakfast so I could get to school early, and I offered to stay after class and do whatever little jobs needed to be done. I wasn’t the only one who acted this way about Mr. Biddinger. Oh no--all of us adored him.

We were so proud to be in his class. We preened our feathers like peacocks around the kids in the other fifth grade. He was all ours, and like kids of that age, we let everyone know it. Our teacher made learning fun, and in the 1940’s this was a new approach. At one point, some of the parents went to the principal and complained that Mr. Biddinger spent too much time playing games during class time. School should not be fun; it was to be hard work. Somehow Mr. Biddinger and the principal placated the disgruntled parents, and life went on as before in the fifth grade.

December arrived, and the Room Mother contacted the other parents. Each family was asked to give a modest amount of money to be used for a Christmas gift for the teacher. It was not an unusual request in our school. Next she called Mr. Biddinger’s wife to find out what might be the perfect gift for him.

It was to be a secret, of course, but we all knew about it, and whispers and notes flew back and forth. Our class Christmas party would be held the last day before the holiday break. We would have a grab bag gift exchange, punch and cookies and candy. We’d play some games, get out of schoolwork and give Mr. Bid his gift. The days trickled by slower than ever before, and our excitement grew steadily. We looked forward to our school Christmas much more than the one we’d each have at home.
 Finally, the big day dawned. Our Room Mother arrived bearing the punch and brightly decorated Christmas cookies and hard candies. But where was the big box Mr. Bid’s present was in? We didn’t see it. We wriggled in our desks and fretted. Whispers sailed around the room until Mr. Bid scolded us. “Settle down,” he said, “or the party’s over as of now.” Quiet reigned. The treats and grab bag gifts were passed out. We munched on our sugar cookies and slurped the red punch. The classroom door opened, and a strange woman walked in. Mr. Biddinger’s looked surprised at first; then a big smile crossed his face. We were soon introduced to his wife. The Room Mother disappeared into the hall but was back in seconds holding a good-sized box wrapped in Christmas paper and tied with a wide red ribbon. The chatter in the room ceased immediately, and all eyes were riveted on that box.

The Room Mother cleared her throat, walked to our teacher and said, “Mr. Biddinger, this gift is from your students. They wanted to show their love and appreciation by giving you something special.” As she handed him the box, the room tingled with an air of excitement.

 Mr. Bid seemed excited, and that alone thrilled us. He untied the bow and handed the ribbon to his wife. Next came the wrapping, and we all leaned forward. He opened the box and lifted a hunting jacket from the folds of tissue paper. This had been his fondest wish for Christmas, Mrs. Biddinger had told the Room Mother. He loved to hunt on the
week-ends whenever possible, but the special hunting gear was beyond a teacher’s salary at that time.

For the first time, the man who taught us so much became mute, totally speechless. He turned the jacket over and over, looked at the special pockets on the inside and outside. He tried again to say something but couldn’t. But the sparkle in his eyes and the smile on his face said all we needed to know. He finally found his voice and told us over and over how much he loved his new jacket. “It’s probably the finest gift I’ve ever received,” he said. He didn’t say why, but we knew. We had no doubt that the reason was that it came from his first class, the twenty-one ten year olds who adored him.

I don’t remember the gifts I received at home that Christmas, but I’ll never forget the gift we gave Mr. Biddinger. It was the best Christmas present ever.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

High Hopes and Great Expectations

The photo above would be funny if it weren't so sad. I found it on my facebook page yesterday and wanted to share with you here instead of on facebook. I've tried to find the writing group that posted it but couldn't locate it. Perhaps some of you have also seen it. I laughed when I first saw it and then did a lot of thinking.

Writers all start with high hopes and great expectations about what their writing life will bring. Fame! Money! Recognition! Awards! Personal satisfaction! Certainly, we all daydream of achieving at the top rung of the ladder to success. Many do reach it. You and I can both make a list of authors whom we love who have done so. Even those writers started at the bottom and climbed and climbed and climbed before they hit the top.

As writers, we expect:
  • to have our writing published
  • to have editors respond in a reasonable amount of time
  • to deal with rejections--we know it's part of the writing world
  • to be a better writer as we move through the writing journey
  • to work hard--very hard
  • to have readers or reviewers who don't like our writing--it's inevitable
  • to have occasional writer's block
  • to have to search for inspiration
  • to sometimes be frustrated
  • to make some money
  • to win or place in a writing contest
  • to get bogged down in the middle of a writing project
  • to get great joy from the act of writing
  • to grow as a writer 
My list includes both negatives and positives. Hopefully, we can dwell on the plus side more often than the minus end. 

It's perfectly fine to have those high hopes and great expectations but remember that it takes hard work, patience and perseverance to realize the good part of our writing life. Keep plugging away and climb that ladder one rung at a time. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Reader's Christmas Tree Memory

One of our readers shared a Christmas memory about getting the family Christmas tree in response to the one I posted last week. Hers was a country Christmas as opposed to my urban one. I am pleased to share this memory piece here today. Her bio follows the story. 

My "Shared Memory" of finding our childhood Christmas Tree
By Carolyn S. Desmond 

🎄 We kids scoured the nearby fields of the Missouri Ozarks, on foot, in pursuit of our Christmas Tree. Bow saw in hand, my older brothers would take turns either sawing, or holding the prickly branches aside. Once it was felled, two younger brothers and I would follow behind as the two older boys took turns dragging the tree home through the snow and blow. Once back at the house, the youngest of us, another brother and my only sister were in near hysterics as they sited our find. It could mean only one thing. Mama was going to pop corn, so we could make garland for the tree. She'd always make a little too much, and, of course, it would be a sin to let it go to waste. With needles and thread in hand, once the tree was in its battle scared stand, we strung popcorn by the yard so we could drape the tree in white. We'd make the colorful decorations from a rarely acquired newspaper's comic strip section. We would cut the "Funnies" into short strips, then loop them together, affixing their ends with Elmers glue. We did have an tried and true Angel to perch atop our Christmas Joy, and on a really good year, an empty bird nest had survived the trek home and would join in on the festivities. The tree was lit by the glow of fire which filtered through the glass window of the potbellied cast iron stove. Most oftentimes, the Tree was our solitary Gift, to remind us of the Reason for the Season; the birth of Jesus, Christ the Lord. The lovely Green of its pine branches and it's lovely fragrance filled the shack of the house and made it a Winter Wonderland. It was always successful in bringing us together, as a Family. When it was time to remove the tree, on New Year's Day, its resolution was obvious, the Tree vowed to feed the Wild Ones of colorful wing, by the offering of popped corn on a string. It was the Gift which just kept on giving, just like our Savior. Merry Christmas to All. C. S. Desmond

Bio:  Twenty-two years ago, at age 42, without further ado, I became determined to attend college.  What I discovered during Comp I, II, and, ultimately, Creative Writing, at Wichita State University, was that I possessed an immense fondness for the craft of Creative Non-fiction Writing.  Acceptance into Sigma Tau Delta was very humbling.  I'd found a niche in which I felt I belonged; finally.
Carolyn S. Desmond 

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Childhood Memory Of Finding A Christmas Tree

Do you have memories of going with your family to find just the right Christmas tree? Maybe it was on a snowy night, cold and clear. Or perhaps a Saturday afternoon when you went out to the country to cut down a tree. My family went to the same tree lot every year. Today's story is about the simple act of a family finding the right tree which has stayed a fond memory. You, too, can write about the same topic. Let your family know what it was like when you were growing up. 

A Christmas Tree, A Pink Dress and Golden Wings
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 In the 1940’s, we city folk didn’t cut down a tree in the fields but kept our own tradition. On a cold December evening, Dad announced that it was time to find a Christmas tree. My two younger brothers and I grabbed heavy coats, hats, gloves and snow boots, and flew down three flights of stairs to our 1939 Plymouth. Our excitement bubbled over in giggles and hoots.

The corner lot Dad drove to, normally empty, now held dozens of evergreen trees. The pines and firs seemed to have appeared magically, lined up like the toy soldiers my brothers played with.  A wire had been strung around the lot and bare light bulbs attached. There was plenty of light to allow buyers see the assortment of trees that would decorate the homes in our neighborhood.
The proprietors, who were also hunters, had erected a wooden teepee-like frame in a prominent corner to display two dead deer and a black bear. They were hung from hooks and occasionally swayed when the wind gusted.

My brothers and I marched round and round the frozen animals.

“Go ahead, touch it,” Howard dared.
My hand reached within inches of the thick, matted fur of the bear, but I quickly drew it back. “You first,” I challenged, but Howard only circled the animals, hands behind him.

Meanwhile, Dad walked the rows of trees, pulling a few upright, shaking the snow off.

He called to us and we crunched across the snow-packed ground

 Dad held a tree upright. “No,” we chorused. “It’s not big enough.”

We followed Dad and thumbed our noses at several other trees. “Not big enough,” we repeated, stamping cold feet to warm them.

The owner ambled over, so bundled up he looked kin to the dead bear. He kept a cigar clamped in his teeth and wore gloves with the fingers cut off, so he could peel off dollar bills from the stack he carried to make change.

Dad shook the man’s hand and said, “OK, let’s see the good trees now.”

The burly man moved the cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, rolled his eyes and finally gestured for us to follow him.

We scooted across the pine-scented lot to a brick building. The man opened a door, and we tromped single-file down a long flight of concrete steps.

Even more trees leaned against the walls. Dad pulled out one after the other until he found a tree that we three children deemed “big enough.”

Silence now, as the serious part of this adventure commenced. Dad and the cigar chomping man dickered about the price. Finally, money changed hands, and Dad hoisted the tree. We jostled one another up the steps to be closer to the green treasure.

Dad fastened the tree to the top of the car with the rope he’d brought with us. The boys and I knelt on the back seat, watching to make sure the tree didn’t slide off the roof of the car during the short drive.

Once home, Dad hauled the tree up three flights of stairs to our apartment and put it on our small outdoor balcony. We’d wait until close to Christmas to bring it in and decorate the branches. Several times a day, I peered through the glass door to check that no one had stolen it. Why I thought someone would climb to the third floor balcony to steal our tree is a wonder.

Days later, Dad carried the tree inside and tried to put it in the stand, but it was no use. The tree was too tall. It should have been no surprise, as it happened every year. He always caved to our chorus of “not big enough.” Dad found his favorite saw and cut several inches off the tree trunk. When he put it in the stand, it rose like a flagpole, straight and tall, nearly touching the ceiling. There was a collective “Ahhh” from the entire family.

Dad hummed a Christmas tune as he strung the many-colored lights, then Mother helped us hang sparkly ornaments, and we finished with strand upon strand of silver tinsel, being warned to place it strand by strand. “No throwing it at the tree,” Mom said. Near the finish line, we did throw that tinsel when Mom went to the kitchen. It was great fun to toss it and see how high we could throw.

Finally, Dad climbed a step-stool and placed the last piece on the top. What joy to see our special angel with the pink satin dress and golden wings. The tree was so tall that her blonde hair skimmed the ceiling. I visited her every day while the tree was up. There were days when it seemed she smiled at me. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without her.

That sweet angel got lost somewhere over the years. Most likely, she’d become tattered and torn, and Mother discarded her long after we children had grown and left home.

Now, my husband brings our tree upstairs from a basement storage closet. Artificial, always the same height, never needs to be made shorter. It’s easier, but I miss those cold, snowy excursions to the tree lot with my brothers. I still put an angel on top of the tree. She’s nice but not quite the same as the one with the pink dress and golden wings. Not once has she smiled at me.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Reasons To Give Books As A Gift

It's the gift giving time of year. Books make fine gifts. You don't need to know a size or a color or a kind of fabric the person likes. I've heard people say they don't buy books as gifts because it is like art--a personal choice.

Consider this. If you select a book that does not appeal to the person receiving it, he/she can always exchange it for another. Include a gift receipt and it's easy for the person to swap titles.Even if the book is something different from what the person usually reads, maybe it will be incentive for him/her to delve into a new genre. 

I especially encourage giving books to children. By today's standards, my childhood collection of books was minuscule. Once I could read on my own, I had a Grimm's Fairy Tale book, a Raggedy Ann book, and The Wind in the Willows. That's all! The Wind in the Willows did not interest me very much. Even at an early age, I liked stories about people, not animals. Thus, it was the fairy tale book that I read over and over and over. Because I had so few books of my own, I became a big library fan, making the trek to and from our local branch at least once a week. What a treat it would have been for me if my aunts had given me a book for my birthday instead of pajamas or whatever basic item they might have chosen.

As a result of having so few books as I grew up, I made sure that I bought books for my grandchildren from the time they were infants on up. I loved selecting the books for them and reading them aloud. I liked hearing my grandchildren read the book to me in those early reading years, too. Of my four grandchildren, all but one are readers. The fourth one reads what is required for school but seldom more than that. I hope that someday that grandchild will discover the true joy of reading books. 

Giving books as a gift has another perk. It allows you to spend time browsing in a bookstore or book area of a larger store. For those of us who love to read, that is a gift in itself. When I'm shopping with my husband and we pass a bookstore, I have pangs of regret that I cannot zip right in the door. It wouldn't be fair to make him wait for an hour or more, would it?  Even so, I'm greatly tempted but keep moving on for his sake.

Book Page is a great website to keep up on the newest books. Choosing a bestseller for a gift is always a good choice. Many libraries subscribe to the print edition of Book Page which comes out monthly. I never fail to pick up my free copy at my library. It helps me know what new books I'd like to read and it feels like a trip to a bookstore as I sit in my comfy chair and turn page upon page.

If you have a writer on your gift list, select one of the newest books that detail the craft of writing. If someone you want to give a gift to is a woodworker, look for a how-to in that field. The books you give don't need to be fiction. Non-fiction, biographies, and coffee table books are also great gifts.

If you don't have time to go to a bookstore, there's always Amazon or Barnes and Noble online. You can sit in your chair wearing your jammies and order.