Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Off To A Special Writer's Conference

Image may contain: sky, tree, plant, outdoor, nature and water
Dawn Over The Potomac River

I received the photo above this morning from the husband of the woman who moderates my online writing group. Charlie and Joyce drove from their home in South Carolina to Sterling, VA, just outside Washington, DC to get our group's writing conference ready to go. This is their first morning at Algonkian Regional Park.

A few are arriving today at the regional state park where we hold our conferences. We're in the woods along the Potomac in a dozen nice cabins of various sizes. We're a small group--not like the huge writer's conferences held in major cities in huge hotels. We usually have in the neighborhood of 25 women and maybe 3 husbands who are of great help doing errands and whatever else is asked of them.

We're called Writers and Critters and described as an International Women's Writing Group. Three are coming from Japan, two from Toronto, Ontario Canada, and the rest from various areas of the USA. We have members who cannot attend that live in the USA, Netherlands, Norway, and Australia. Former members from England and Ireland keep in touch, as well.

Most of us will arrive on Thursday, myself included. We'll have an opening dinner that evening in the large sessions cabin. Our cook is an angel in disguise who hails from Mississippi. She is also a computer expert who gives a good session on some computer topic at each conference. She does this for no pay, just out of the goodness of her heart. There will be wine and soft drinks, good food, and nonstop conversation.

On Friday, the sessions begin and go on all day, again on Saturday and Sunday with more good food and conversation every evening. The topics vary at each conference and most are given by members with an occasional outside speaker. I have no doubt that the sessions will be worthwhile as the women presenting are not beginners but published and experienced writers. We should all come home with new knowledge and plenty of inspiration.

I will be traveling on Thursday and returning on the following Monday. The blog post schedule will be a little different than normal during those days. I'll post if and when I'm able to do so. We have Wi-Fi out there in the woods but never sure how reliable it is. In the past, it's been quite good. I've been to several of our other conferences which makes me eager to go again. Twice, however, I've had to cancel. The very first conference we had was in the spring and storms cancelled my connecting flight out of Chicago. I was stranded there for two days with no luggage. Happily, I was able to stay with family who live there but it was too late to go on to the conference. Last year, I had paid for everything, including flight, then ended far too ill to travel so had to cancel once more. Consequently, I'm looking forward to this conference and willing my travel plans to go smoothly.

When I return, I hope to have some good tips and encouragement to pass on to you.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Time--The Enemy of So Many

Most of us moan and groan, whine and wail, about not having time to do what we'd like to do. Grousing about it is the easy part. We have that down pat. Doing something about it is quite another thing.

We've all read articles about ways to give yourself more time. We read them, then go right back to moaning etc. If you really want to have more time for your favorite pastime, in my case, that is writing, then you need to create time. It's not going to work unless your desire to pursue your writing--or anything else you want to do--is greater than your need to give yourself an excuse.

Harsh? Perhaps, or maybe it is just facing reality. I wanted to write for the majority of my life but I didn't do it. I convinced myself I was too busy and that other things in my life needed to take precedence. I must have done a good job as I didn't begin writing until well into my mid-fifties.

Finally, something lacking in my life triggered my writing journey. I stepped onto that path and have stayed on it ever since. I lead a busy life but I do make time to pursue my passion for writing. It's different for those who make a living writing. They have definite job hours but for hobbyist writers like me, we have to make the time or take the time.

I'm a social person who belongs to many women's groups--bridge clubs, a woman's group that promotes education for women, church groups, book club among them. As much as I love them and the people I mingle with in each group, they take away from my writing time. I still benefit from this social part of my life; I even find inspiration for writing from speakers I hear, conversations across the bridge table and more.

Instead of cutting back on all those social events, I cut out other things. I watch very little tv. I do have certain shows that I look forward to each week and football and basketball games, when the teams playing are ones I follow. I spend many evenings, or parts of them, at the computer.

Because of some physical limitations, I don't exercise much which gives me that chunk of time.
I am an early riser which gives me a little more time than Sleepy Susie who doesn't get up until I am midway into my morning.

If I am deep into a writing project, I might give up a social event now and then. I have to weigh the decision carefully, looking to see which one pulls me more.

I'm often writing mentally when I'm cooking or doing housework or grocery shopping. I am sometimes jotting story ideas on a notepad while waiting in the dentist's office or the beauty salon (my hairdresser is rarely on time!) When I'm unloading the dishwasher, I might be working out a better ending for an essay. Multitasking works for writers. Even those writers who are staring out a window might be working like mad in their mind.

Mothers who carpool have time to jot down writing notes while they wait for their kids to get out of school. Same with those who must get kids to a game early and then sit on the bleachers and wait for the game to actually begin. There are many bits and pieces of time that a writer can use to advantage.

The one hint often given in an article on creating time is to get up an hour early or go to bed an hour later. Sounds good to have a whole hour, doesn't it? But that doesn't work for all people. Those who are not morning people don't function very well if they get up sooner than they are ready. And night owls who had yet another hour could be pretty grouchy when the alarm clock goes off at 6 or 7 a.m.

Read those articles about making time but adapt them to your own lifestyle. You know you better than anyone else. If your writer friend cuts out all social events, that doesn't mean you should do it, too. Consider small ways to gain more time in your writing life. Try them. Continue with what works and dump the others. In this respect, as in most all others, we are individuals. Do what works for you.

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Stormy Photo Prompt

These two pictures both depict storms, one a storm at sea and the other, an aftermath of a snowstorm. Choose one, or both, and write a story or just a few paragraphs. When doing a photo prompt, always study the photo to let your mind begin to question and perceive what is happening. Then, start writing. Note that are people in each photo. Include them in your story.

Image result for free storm picture

Image result for free storm picture

Friday, March 24, 2017

Not Every Writer Pens Books

Ever have anyone ask you Is your book finished? Or What books have you written? Repeatedly? I once told a man who asked me what I was working on that I had a juvenile novel and several other short pieces. Every time I saw him, he'd ask Is the book published? I had to give a negative answer because I was still writing, still revising, still editing it. But I had been writing and publishing shorter works. He didn't care a twit about that. In his mind, if you're a writer, you write a book.

Of course, many writers do write books but a great many writers spend years writing and never write a book, not even a first draft. They concentrate on other kinds of writing including short stories, personal essays, critical essays, factual articles for magazines and newspapers, tv writing, screenwriting, poetry, short stories for kids, nonfiction for kids in the form of articles in children's magazines, technical writing, writing manuals for manufacturers and more. They are still writers and can be proud of their accomplishments. You do not have to write books to be a writer.

Don't ever feel less of a writer because you do not write 500 page novels. I'm willing to bet, however, that a good many writers of shorter works have an inner desire to write a book someday. That's fine. Maybe down the road, you'll do it. But if you never write that novel, only publish other kinds of writing, don't have one twinge of regret. If you are meant to write a novel, it will happen. If you need to let go and stay with your special kind of writing, be satisfied. 

Many freelance writers make a steady income writing short pieces. They work just as hard as a novelist--maybe harder in some instances. They have to come up with new ideas on a constant basis. They often have short deadlines to meet. They deal with myriad editors, not just one.

We each choose the kind of writing that appeals to us and where we have had some success; perhaps it is the kind of writing in which we excel. I hope we can all reach a point where we can accept our writing and stop worrying about those people who keep asking if your book has been published yet. Face it--they have no clue what it takes to write a book and many of them never consider that all those short stories and articles are actually written by a human being. 

Feel comfortable with your writing but remember that you can always look forward to trying something new at some time. Maybe you do have a book hiding deep inside you. All those short stories you wrote are practice for a longer project. And maybe someday, I will decide my novel has been edited enough that it is time to try marketing or epublishing it. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

One Space Or Two?

I shared an article on facebook regarding the argument over whether to use one or two spaces after a period (or question mark or exclamation mark). And yes, there does seem to be an argument over this.

There are numerous people who claim it was the way they were taught and that's what they will do. Even some English teachers who learned to use two spaces years ago insist upon teaching it that way to students of today. One person on my facebook page commented Who cares? I think those in the writing world do care. Or should.

Take a look at the article giving reasons for using one space. And yet another. If you google the topic, you'll find a slew of articles addressing the one space or two subject.

We humans don't like change but change we must or the world will move on without us. Back in 1997, I was still writing on an electric typewriter. I decided that it was time to get a computer and join the technology movement. I knew nothing at all about using a computer but I learned through trial and error.

Later, I read an article an editor had written begging writers who submitted to use only one space after the end of a sentence. What? That was my response because my typing teacher had drilled the two spaces rule into her students. Face it, we are definitely creatures of habit and it's not easy to break a long-instilled one.

Because I didn't want my submissions to be cast aside by not following the guidelines, I broke the habit. Yes, I had to think consciously each time I came to the end of a sentence for awhile. Finally, using one space became my new habit.

I will honestly say that I have not read guidelines for submission that threaten writers who use two spaces but I have seen guidelines that recommend using a certain style that is used in something like the Chicago Manual or another one.

It may seem a small thing but sometimes it's the little things that count in life. Are you willing to put your submissions in jeopardy because you stubbornly cling to your preferred method?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ever Hear of Joe Beernink?

I like what Joe Beernink, author, says here. His name was not familiar to me so I googled and found his facebook author page. Guess what? He was an unpublished author until very recently but that doesn't make a bit of difference in the substance of his quote.

If you look at his author page, you'll find that Mr. Beernink has listed his unpublished novels. Good for him. I think few others would do this for all the world to see. The good news is that one of them has been published a few months ago. Read a review of Nowhere Wild written for older kids. The author writes YA and science fiction. Reading the review made me think I'd like to read his book.

But he is not a full time writer. He works in software development by day and writes novels and short stories in his spare time. The fact that he has a full-time job and still has been able to write and get a novel published should be, at the least, encouraging for other part-time writers and motivational for us, as well.

It appears that Mr. Beernink did not set out to write for fame and money. Instead, his love of writing led him on a path that has allowed him to sell a book and perhaps let him wrap himself in a cape of fame, or at least the beginning of fame. It usually takes more than one novel to become what we term 'famous.' Even so, he is the envy of every writer who has unpublished work sitting in files and in their hearts.

This author has given us some good advice. Passion for writing is key to finding your way to published works. Pursue what you love and good things wait along your writing journey even though it may take a lot longer than you'd like.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I Tried Something New, How About You?

Image result for Look of a Sign Clip Art

Blogger nudged me to try a new theme for Writer Granny's World, so I experimented by previewing several. I found two that I liked and that seemed very spring-like. Back and forth. Which one should I choose. I finally settled on the one you see here today. A new look. Let me know if you like it.

In our writing life, we could sometimes use a new look, too. It's all too easy to stay in a comfortable spot, to keep on with the routine that has worked for you. Maybe it becomes a wee bit too comfortable, so much so that you begin to fear trying other ways to write, to submit, to edit, to market and more.

Trying new ways means you are going to have to expend some effort. You're not going to be able to slip into your favored mode which feels so right, so good, so--you. You're probably thinking If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Or maybe I'm too old to change my ways now.  Or What if I make changes and I get nowhere?

All those thoughts have some validity but they also say that you would rather stay right where you are. We talk about our Writing Journey and our Writing Path. Both of those terms indicate that we move, that we don't land in one spot and stay there. The only way you will advance on that trip is to try new things occasionally.

Note that I said occasionally. I wouldn't suggest that you go back to the beginning and change everything about your writing life. That's fodder for a nervous breakdown! Start with one thing, even something very small. Stay with it until you decide if it was a good change or one that you want to scratch. Trial and error comes into play when we change our ways. Some work and some do not.

Changing something in your writing routine can give you a real lift in spirit and even be motivation to keep writing. Even this small change I made today, with the different theme for the blog, has made me feel good.

Consider what you might change and give it a try. If you hate it, you can slide right back into that comfort zone again.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Thoughts About Spring For Writers

Image result for free image on writing and springtime

It's the first day of spring in this year of 2017. Here in Kansas, it's a glorious sunny day with afternoon temps to be in the low 70's. Couldn't ask for better. When seasons change, our thoughts turn to writing about what the new season brings to mind. Some from our childhood days.

The poster above is lovely but it has nothing written on it. Maybe today is the day for you to write something about spring that might be put on that that blank piece of flower-decorated paper. Below are a few triggers to help you get started.

  • kites
  • baseball and softball
  • spring flowers
  • grass turning green
  • buds, flowers and leaves on trees
  • different kind of clothing to be worn
  • rain showers
  • thunderstorms
  • tornadoes (where I live, they are a huge part of spring)
  • Easter
  • Passover
  • foods we eat in spring
  • games we played as children
  • Mother's Day
  • graduation

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Visit To Blarney Castle

Image result for free picture blarney castle
Blarney Castle

Today is St. Patrick's Day so here is a repeat performance of our visit to Blarney Castle where the Blarney Stone is a huge tourist attraction.

Bussing The Blarney Stone
     On a visit to Ireland, my husband, two good friends, and I passed several euros apiece across a counter to visit the famed Blarney Castle. We strolled up a long, tree-lined path, keeping the castle’s stone walls in view on a chilly, summer morning.
     Four young women approached and asked if we’d take their picture. They posed carefully, and Ken snapped the photo. “You next!” one of them said. And so, we four struck a pose for our picture. As we exchanged cameras, one of the girls said, “You’ll love seeing the Blarney Stone at the top of the tower.”
     Top of the tower?  I hadn’t counted on climbing to the top to see the famous stone. The legend says that anyone who kisses the stone will always have the gift of gab—like the Irish are known for. It seemed foolish to come this far, pay to see the famous spot, and then not do so. So, through the iron gate and on to the stone stairs that spiraled upward farther than I could see.
     We climbed and climbed the narrow steps, steadying hands on walls that appeared to close in more at each new level. Halfway to the top, my knees began to ache and my legs started to tremble a bit. I pictured those four young women bounding up these stone stairs with an energy I’d not had for more years than I’d like to mention. Mere determination kept one foot in front of the other until I finally reached the walkway on top of the castle, where I found myself at the end of a line of tourists. Breathing hard, I looked down into a courtyard, miles below, then inched along with the crowd.
     And then I stopped cold. There was the Blarney Stone, below the walkway, and a woman was lying on her back, hands above her head, grasping two iron bars, a man on his knees supporting her. She wiggled a bit more, tipped her head back and bussed the stone as she appeared to be suspended in air.

     I have never made a decision so quickly in my life. There was no way this grandmother of four would perform that feat. I watched as one person after another became an acrobat only to be able to say they’d kissed the Blarney Stone. A few passed on by.
     My husband laid his hand on my shoulder. “Are you going to do it?” he asked.
     I calmly explained to him that there was no need for me to kiss the stone to receive the gift of gab. I was born with the blessing of being able to talk my way into or out of most anything, thanks to my being half-Irish in heritage. And before he could push me into it, I slid right by the attendant waiting for the next victim—or participant.
     I started the return trip down the many steps thinking the reverse direction would be easier. Instead, it proved almost more difficult. My legs were mere jelly by the time I reached the final step, and I sank onto a stone bench to recover.
     As I looked up at the top of the castle tower, satisfaction settled into my bones. I’d climbed the killer stairway, I’d seen the Blarney Stone, and I stuck to my decision. Besides all that, I’d made one more memory to savor again and again.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

What Writers Should Skip

You probably smiled, snickered, or even laughed aloud when you read the poster above. Take a second look and you might take it more seriously. What parts of a fiction story or perhaps some creative nonfiction do readers skip?

In a nutshell, it's the boring parts, the ones that don't move the story along. And what parts are those?

Lengthy description:  No one wants to read a three paragraph description of a tree. Usually, one sentence can take care of it. If a character is in a terrible situation, don't take time to describe some inanimate object. Take care of that character's problem instead. Exception would be if the tree has a huge significance in what has happened, or will later in the story. We've all read books where the author takes pages to describe the setting. Sense of place is important but less is better in that technique, too.

Too much technical stuff:  The only people who lap this up are those who live or work in a technical world themselves. Most other people will do no more than scan long sections involving some technical aspect. How much does the storyline depend on knowing the small details of how something works? If it does, then include it. If it is only what the author considers an interesting aside, consider either skipping or condensing.

Dialogue:  Keep it short and snappy rather than long and tiresome. We get information to our reader through the use of dialogue between characters. Make it too long and the reader will skip on to the next part of the story. We often hear that more dialogue would bring the story to life but perhaps too much of it could drag a story down.

Unimportant parts:  How can your story have unimportant parts? If your characters do something that has no connection to the story, something you toss in as what you think is a nice aside, then your reader may skip right on by. Two people having a picnic with the author describing the setting and what they ate and drank in detail is only of merit if there is important dialogue that pertains to the story itself or if the author is showing character traits through this means. But to just toss it in because you want a filler for some reason is not beneficial.

When you edit and revise your work, ask yourself if each section is important to the plot, the theme and the characters. Check to see if your descriptions go on and on and are too detailed. When we are doing an edit, we should try to look with a reader's eyes. So, yes, do try to leave out those parts that people skip. We don't mean to bore our readers, but sometimes we do.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Don't Get Stuck In One Spot

Lately, we're being asked to be kind to one another, whether it's on facebook or other social media, at the grocery store, in school and church or anywhere else. The poster quote above may not fit into the Be kind mode, but it does make a definite point for those of us in the writing world.

Whine. Groan. Complain. Crab. Cry. When things don't go the way we like, we are apt to do any or all of these. Does doing so make us feel better? It might for a few moments. Does it change the reason you reacted that way? Not at all. Is it a delaying tactic? Possibly. Should you ever do it? Sure, if it makes you feel a little better, even if for a short time.

But after you're through with your reaction, it's time to move on. As the poster says, you are not a tree with roots holding you firmly in their grasp. You can take a new path or rework an old one.

Why would anyone stay in the spot that caused them grief? Why continue to submit to a publication where your writing does not fit? Why should you keep writing the same kind of poem over and over again? Why should you stop trying to grow as a writer?

Fear is one answer. If we feel comfortable in doing what we've always done, we want to stay there, nestled snugly inside the comforter of our own making. Stepping outside our comfort zone opens the doors to all kinds of situations we might not want to meet. But you know, and I know, that we are not going to grow as writers if we don't widen our writing world, if we don't (or won't) try new things.

The subject, not only for writers but others as well, is being explored in an upcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul book titled Step Outside Your Comfort Zone. There is a list of suggested topics given that relate to the title. (scroll down the full list of books for the Comfort Zone title) There is a March 31st deadline so you'd have to hustle to submit for this one.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Motivation For Writers

Motivation is powerful. It's what moves us to accomplish things. It's not something we put on with our clothes each morning. We don't pour it out of a bottle and wash our face with it. We don't spread it on our toast and swallow it merrily, waiting for it to work. If only!

I think the poster nails it. We are not constantly motivated. Some days we aren't one bit inspired to write. Other times we wake up excited about an idea that came in the night and we can hardly wait to get to a notebook or our computer.

What do you do when you are not motivated? There is no pill. No magical potion. Nothing tangible. There are a few ways that we become excited about writing, want to get to it right away.

  • Don't allow yourself to give in to distractions; be firm with yourself
  • Give yourself one spot where you write; sit there and know that this is the place to write
  • Set small deadlines for yourself
  • Use tools like twitter or facebook; I get more ideas than I can use from things I see on social media
  • Make a commitment to write a certain amount of each day
  • Work with another writer on an exercise; challenge each other
  • Train yourself to have a writer's eyes; look for story ideas wherever you go
  • Read; reading what others have written can motivate you to do your own writing
  • Go to a writing conference; motivation hovers over the room like the rays of the sun; plenty for everyone
  • Read a book about writing; jot ideas on a notepad as you read
  • Attend a play or concert; I am often motivated to write afterwards
Here's a poster that you can print and post in your writing space. These guys should surely motivate you.

Image result for motivation for writers

If you have special motivational techniques, share them with us in the comments section.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Write Stories About March Madness

Image result for free image of basketball hoop and ball

March Madness begins this week. There are so many great stories that have been written in the sports world. Some highlight players while others feature entire university teams. There are thrilling stories, exciting stories, sad ones, too.

Our Kansas State team was on the bubble but they made it and will play Wake Forest in Dayton, OH on Tuesday evening. What I'd give to be there, but I will be watching on tv, for sure.

For a writing exercise today,  study that basketball and the basket, then try writing something about basketball. Let your imagination run wild. Here are a few triggers to help you. You could write:

  • a story for kids'
  • about a team you follow
  • about how you know nothing about the sport nor do you care
  • feature a player you admire
  • about a university team you follow
  • about what a basketball coach's life is like
  • about what the wife of a basketball coach puts up with
  • about a memorable game
  • about the way referees give you grief
  • about kids on a university team and what they deal with
  • about players who get in trouble
  • about being the parent of a player
  • about being a great fan
  • about working at the concession stand during a big game
  • about being an announcer at a big game
Make it fiction or nonfiction. Use your imagination with the fiction stories and make your true stories sing to the reader.

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Family Story and A Lesson Learned

Yesterday's post highlighted a Family Recipe and its ingredients that might trigger family stories that could be written. I mentioned a few of the ones I had written that fit well with several of the ingredients. One was Loyalty which brought to mind a personal essay I had published some years ago about my dad and me. You can read it below. This picture of my dad was taken only weeks after I was born.
Driving With Dad
By Nancy Julien Kopp

     During my growing-up years, my dad drove a 1936 Plymouth, moved on to a 40’s model Buick and then a 50’s era Chrysler that was his pride and joy. Every one of those vehicles was a used car, but Dad burst with pride over each one. He kept them washed and waxed, made sure the engine hummed, and brushed and vacuumed the upholstered seats regularly.
I learned many life lessons during conversations in those cars, usually when Dad and I drove somewhere without my mother and brothers. Both of us sitting in the front seat of the car, we bumped along the brick street in front of our apartment building, our words quaking as we passed over each new brick the tires hit. Finally, we’d come to a paved street, and our voices resounded normally again. An innocent remark from me as we rode along brought forth long orations from Dad on more than one occasion.

My dad was a short, skinny guy, but his inner strength and street smarts created a powerful person. He steered with one hand and gestured to me with the other, citing one example after another to prove a point.
In my childhood years, I considered his words as nothing but lectures. Never content to say a little about a subject, he’d begin with the important part of the lesson and continue on and on until I effectively tuned him out. My own silent rebellion. I must have had a mental file folder in which I saved those little lectures, for bits and pieces float through my mind even now, over sixty years later. They’ve helped to make me the strong person I am today.
Dad grew up in the Depression years. He lost his father at the age of fourteen and dropped out of high school to search for work. He supported his mother and himself with one scrounged-up job after another, finally settling in permanently at International Harvester Co. when he turned eighteen. They hired him as a truck driver, and Dad moved on through the ranks of the parts department in a distribution center and finally to the General Office in downtown Chicago where he worked with men who, unlike himself, held college degrees. He supervised a department of men and women until his retirement, and never was a man more loyal to an employer than he.
As an adult, my dad’s words revisited me when I attended college, taught school, married, and became a mother. One of the things we often talked about in those old cars was loyalty. “Loyalty,” Dad told me, “will reap benefits beyond your wildest dreams.”  He repeatedly instructed me and my brothers to be loyal to our family, to our employer, and to our friends. Mixed within the admonition to show loyalty was respect and integrity as well as fidelity, subheadings for his favorite topic.
As a child and especially in my teen years, I resented Dad’s lectures and did my best to ignore them. In my young adult years, Dad often grasped an opportunity to repeat those lectures. The same stories, the same words, the same lesson, and I’d think ‘oh no, not again.’ How many times could I listen to what International Harvester Co. did for him? That his loyalty to them was returned a thousand-fold over the years. And didn’t I already know that his loyalty to his best friend resulted in a lifelong friendship?
Dad died over twenty years ago, but the lessons he taught through words and example live on. The words I naively thought I had tuned out so long ago come back to me at the strangest moments. When I see evidence of others’ loyalty, Dad’s words drift through my mind, and I wish I might thank him now for what he taught me all those years. I tried to be loyal to my employer, my family, and my friends exactly as he’d said while we drove all around Chicago in his treasured cars. And he was so right. I’ve reaped the benefits in the form of good working relationships, a wonderful family life, and the joy of many warm friendships.
He didn’t have a college degree, but he knew the values to instill in his children and he worked hard to ensure we learned the meaning of loyalty. The little lectures in the car and sometimes at the dining room table were re-enforced by the way he led his own life. I listened and observed, quite often subconsciously, and applied what I learned throughout my own life. Thanks a million, Dad.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Family Recipe For Writers And Others

Image result for free image of family recipe 3 cups of forgiveness...

I saw this Family Recipe yesterday in a woman's magazine so looked to see if I could find it online. It popped up immediately in many forms.

Since I am always urging writers to write Family Stories, this seemed quite appropriate. We don't always have happy stories to write about family members or situations. Some writers would want to steer clear of that type of story. I don't think they should because the difficulties in our families are what makes people who they are. It would be a special story if you could write about an unhappy situation that got resolved.

Take a look at each of ingredients for this Family Recipe and see if any of them might trigger a memory and the inspiration to write about it.

  • 3 cups of forgiveness:  I hope you do have a story about forgiveness related to your family. Forgiving amounts to a lot of love. I have a Chicken Soup for the Soul that is about forgiveness and how it came about.
  • 1 gallon of loyalty:  One of my published personal essays deals with my dad teaching me the importance of loyalty. I'm sure many of you have a similar story about how you learned something about being loyal.
  • a pinch of hope:  If even a tiny bit of hope is within us, we can push ahead. Did it ever happen to you or a sibling or part of your extended family?
  • a spoonful of laughter:  Surely many of us have humorous happenings within our families that we can write about. Laughter changes many a tense time.
  • endless love:  We hope that, no matter what occurs in a family, love can soothe the problem. Love is powerful if we use it wisely. Do you have a story about how love triumphed in a prickly situation?
Ponder on this Family Recipe today. I hope it will have some meaning for you and that it will motivate you to write something new today.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Reading Is An Important Tool For A Writer

Mr. King minces no words about his thoughts on writers and reading. I had a very good friend who wrote wonderful, folksy personal essays. She turned them out, one after another, like pennies pouring from a broken piggy bank. But guess what? She absolutely hated to read!

She did read what her writer friends wrote but she never picked up a book and sat down to spend an afternoon reading. Never! I think that she is definitely the exception.

As Mr. King indicates, reading and writing go hand in hand. Or should! But why is reading so important for a writer? Because reading the work of others teaches us, offers inspiration and is also a break from the hard work of writing. Reading should be a pleasure for most writers. Just not the ones like my friend cited above.

We don't want to read and then copy the same style or theme or plot as what we've just read. That's not the idea at all. Read the great authors to identify what good writing is. That is what we writers should strive for.

Should you read only in the genre in which you write? No, read a variety. Who knows, you might be inspired to step outside your comfort zone and try writing something entirely new and different for you. Should you read a trashy, poorly written novel occasionally? I think it can only serve to alert you to what is often really bad writing. It's then that we ask ourselves How did this ever get published? There are readers who don't care about what you and I consider bad writing.

Sometimes we have to make time to write and we do it. So, go ahead and make time to do some reading, too. Consider it an integral  part of your writing world. If a successful writer like Stephen King is adamant about writers reading, we should listen to him.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Circle Of Ideas For Success

Yesterday's post centered around the making of a book--what an author goes through from start to finish. I hope anyone who read it will have a deeper appreciation of the books they read. The reader might spend a few days, or weeks, reading a book but the author spends far more than that.

Today, let's take a look at the poster that is a blueprint for success which can pertain to writers as well as others. It's not really new information but we can all do with a reminder now and then.

Step 1.  think: we all know how to do that but not all thinking produces useful ideas. Still, it's imperative to spend some time thinking if you are going to find an idea for a new writing project.

Step 2.  idea:  Not all thinking produces real ideas for the writer. Sometimes, however, an idea pops up and we're motivated to work on it.

Step 3.  try:  Who can fault this step? We all need to try out an idea; it's when we either make an outline or start a first draft. We feel good getting the idea that whirled in our head into words on paper or a screen but we know there is still much to do.

Step 4.  do:  And do is the next step. It's time to complete the first draft. Time involved will depend on whether your project is a short piece or a full book.

Step 5.  do again:  This is the part where we revise and edit to improve on our original attempt.

Step 6.  and again:  Here's where we begin to get a bit testy because we've done this twice now but it's still not ready to market. Alright, we say, let's do one more edit.

Step 7.  keep doing:  How many times can we slash, add, improve that first draft? If you're a perfectionist, there is probably no number that is going to be just right for you. If you're a hurry-up-and-get this done writer, you may not achieve the ultimate goal here, which is success.

Step 8.  success:  You can consider your project a success if you do all the steps above and have a completed story, book, or article that satisfies you. Or, you know you have reached the goal when the piece is published.

We all know that finding success with our writing projects does not come easy. That old You get out of it what you put into it adage applies here. Realistically, we know that not every idea is going to come out a winner.  But, if we're willing to work through these steps, we have a better chance at success.

Monday, March 6, 2017

For Readers--The Making of a Book

It's quite true that a book is an astonishing thing. We choose one to read, then turn page after page after page, enthralled with the story we are reading.

Do we ever consider, when reading a book, what it took to bring the finished product to the reader? Here are just a few of the possible steps involved before you hold a published book in your hands

  • an idea pops into the head of a writer
  • he/she ponders on the idea, perhaps for a very long time
  • the author makes an outline
  • he/she slashes parts of the outline and adds more
  • the author ponders some more
  • he/she begins chapter 1, first draft
  • the author plows through chapters like cattle in a snowstorm; hard work
  • he/she finishes the first draft
  • the author lets the manuscript mellow for awhile
  • he/she begins the editing and revisions
  • the author asks others to read the manuscript and give an opinion
  • he/she sends out queries to agents, expounding on the brilliance of his/her book
  • the author waits, sends out more queries, waits some more, and waits some more
  • when the book is accepted by a publishing house, the author rejoices
  • he/she celebrates for a short time; then begins the rewrite the publisher requests
  • the author rants and raves over the changes requested
  • he/she does another revision and edit
  • the editor is finally satisfied and the publishing cycle begins
  • the author waits and waits to hold his/her book in two hands
  • the book arrives; the author swells with pride and perhaps sheds happy tears
  • he/she must help with marketing the book
The next time you read something that you especially enjoy, think about what it takes to create a book. The author goes through myriad steps to bring you the finished product. Aren't we fortunate that so many authors are willing to go through this, sometimes agonizing, process for our enjoyment?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Planting A Writing Seed

Did you ever wonder who planted the writing seed within you? Maybe it wasn't who but what. How long ago did it happen? How old were you? Were you aware of that tiny seed being planted, that minuscule seed that gave you the desire to put words together in a logical and beautiful way for the pleasure of others?

These are all questions that probably have few answers. Yes, there are writers who can cite chapter and verse as to when they knew they wanted to be a writer. Even those people probably had a seed planted when they were unaware it was being done.

For me, it could have been when my parents started to read to me. I've mentioned in other posts that the first book that I remember was about Mr. Flibbertyjibbet. Maybe the seed was planted in first grade when I learned to read from the Dick and Jane series. Even at that tender age, I marveled at the way letters created words and words made stories that enchanted me. I fell in love with words as a young child and the romance continues to this very day. I think I must thank my first grade teacher, Miss Curto, for planting the seed by introducing me to letters, words and stories.

If anyone had told me to pursue a writing career or hobby when I was ten, I'd probably have giggled and shaken my head. As much as I loved reading, the thought of being a professional writer would have been a joke to me then. Even though I liked writing stories in school and I loved listening to the stories one of my friends wrote. Jeanne wrote western fiction stories when only twelve, I'd be her audience as she read them aloud with great gusto. She never asked for a critique. Nope. Instead, she'd say, "You loved it, didn't you?" And what could I say but "Yes!" She had a creative mind then. I've often wondered if she ever did become a writer. She moved far away and we lost touch.

By the time I was in junior high, that little seed began to sprout. English was my favorite class. I didn't mind the grammar exercises like some of the other kids did and I loved any writing assignment we were given. That feeling increased as I went through high school and college. While others struggled with college papers, I relished the assignments. So, yes, I think the writing seed was planted when I was very young and it sprouted in my teen and young adult years. Even so, it did not come to full bloom until I was middle-aged. Desire mixed with a bit of fear and a busy life kept me from allowing myself to try my hand as a writer who hoped to be published someday.

Perhaps you, who are writers, will have an opportunity to plant the writing seed into a small child--your own, a grandchild, a niece or nephew or children whom you teach in a grade school. It will take root with some but not all. It must be done subtly, not a constant pounding. Introduce children to books at a very early age. Make sure they have access to books. Encourage story writing as soon as the child can create words on that big-lined paper used in the early grades.

As a classroom teacher (long ago) I often had 3rd and 4th graders write a story together on a large storyboard. They enjoyed being able to add to the story and to watch it grow, sentence by sentence. And yes, we removed some and changed others. I wonder if I planted a writing seed in any of my students. I hope so. Maybe later, when they were ready, it sprouted and grew.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Personal Essay

Personal essays appear to be part of today's trend in reading topics. Many magazines include a personal essay on a regular basis. Southern Living publishes Rick Bragg's thoughts on life on the last page of every issue. Writing magazines often use personal essays pertaining to the writing world while other specialty magazines highlight someone who has knowledge of their theme. The descriptive term personal is probably why these essays have become popular.

One of the reasons we write personal essays is just what the poster for today tells us. Write what should not be forgotten. The topic is often some small slice of life experienced by the author. So, why is a view of a pond while sitting on a bench or a twenty second happening on your way to work worthy of publication? 

Why? Because you have found some universal truth in the experience. Huge? Not necessarily. It might be something very small but readers can relate to. That is what makes your essay interesting to a reader. 

Of course, the personal essays that get published have more than that kernel of universal truth, even though it is still of prime importance. Besides that reason for readers to peruse your essay, it also needs to be written with sensory details, active rather than passive verbs, no cliches, and all the other things that make up what we simply call good writing. Some passion about your topic definitely helps, too.

I could write about something that I witnessed but never add anything about what I learned and it ends up being merely a report of a happening. If I include the lesson I received or some universal truth, the reader can agree or disagree but they might have gained a new awareness, too, or re-enforced something were aware of long ago. 

You need not write a full paragraph about the universal truth or knowledge gained to conclude your essay. In fact, you're better off not expounding too greatly on it. A simple sentence will do just fine. You don't want to end up preaching. Simplicity is sensible. It doesn't need to be your final sentence either. This bit of knowledge can be woven into any part of your essay. Most often, however, it is going to be somewhere within the final few paragraphs. 

There are a number of books about writing the personal essay. Google writing the personal essay and you'll find a treasure trove. Choose one or two to further your understanding of the personal essay technique and to explore the subject in depth.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March--Thoughts and Suggestions

Image result for hello march images

The first day of a new month is a good time to work on your family stories. What was March like when you were growing up? Those who live in coastal areas will have different memories than people who live in the mountains in the northern areas of our country.

The economic status, your ethnic heritage and more will influence the stories you write to include in your Family Memories Book. If you've never started to fill a book with your memories, today is the perfect time to begin. Family stories are told around a holiday table when families gather but they are often never written. Over the years, those special story moments will be lost. The stories you actually write now will be read by family members you may never meet--those who come as children of your grandchildren and beyond.

But let's get back to March. The list of questions below might trigger your memory to help you begin:
  • What was the weather like during March where you grew up?
  • What special foods did your family eat in March?
  • Did you celebrate St. Patrick's Day?
  • Did you celebrate any other special days in March?
  • What theme did your teachers use for billboards in March?
  • What kinds of flowers showed up in March?
  • Did you, or any family member, have a March birthday?
  • Did anything memorable happen to you during March?
  • What sports/games did you play in March?
  • What kind of clothing did you wear in March?
  • Did your mother start spring cleaning in March?
Here's a short slice of life piece I wrote in 2012 on the month of March in Kansas, where I live.

Musing On March

Most people know that old saying "If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb." And it works in reverse, as well.

Today in Kansas, March slipped in like a sweet little lamb. She brought clear skies, sunshine and a temperature to reach 68 by mid-afternoon. What bliss after one of the worst winters Kansas has had in a long, long time.

Along with all those good things, March winds are going to blow today. They'll whip through the trees, which are still recovering from the devastation of the December ice storm. The wind will roll across the Flint Hills with glee, bending the prairie grasses like pieces of cooked pasta. The wind will skip across rivers, stir up the sand traps on golf courses, create havoc with hairdos and swirl dirt piles when found. It doesn't matter a bit, however, because those south winds bring warm air from the gulf to our state. So, blow wind, blow. Send kites dipping and dancing through the sky.

Our town has a St. Patrick's Day celebration that grows larger every year. A Blarney Breakfast, races for runners and walkers, and plenty of green beer highlight the day in an area near the Kansas State University campus. Irish music blares through loudspeakers, and on that particular Saturday, everybody is Irish! As for me, I'm Irish every day--at least half my heritage is from that green, green land.

This year, we also celebrate Easter in March, a holiday that is both religious and commercial. Whether you celebrate one part of both, it's an important part of the year. For me, Holy Week reigns, and I plan the rest of my activities around church services on Thursday, Friday and Sunday of that week. But I love the commercial part, too, the many decorations and early spring flowers, trees budding, lambs’ births--all those things that tell of rebirth and awakening. But don't all those things stem from the Easter story of the Resurrection? For me, they do.

One more thing March may bring is another snowstorm or possibly another ice storm. Kansas almost always gets snow at least once in this third month of the year. I remember one bad ice storm that frosted trees and shrubs in the middle of March one year. The best part about March snow or ice is that it rarely lasts more than one day.

Welcome March!