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Friday, April 28, 2017

A Quote From A Famous Young Writer

I scanned through a pinterest site of writing quotes and got stopped by this one. I read it, moved on, but then went back to it. Somehow, it spoke to me. We are all familiar with Anne Frank's tragic story of living in a hidden attic room with her family during WWII. Her father was the only one of her family to survive and, thanks to him, we have all been privileged to read this young girl's writing. 

Writing was her way of coping with the horrors of her time. Her quote made me think about those of us who write today. None of us is living the kind of horrific life Anne did, but we all do have our own battles we're fighting, worries, concerns and more. 

When I am at my computer tapping on the keyboard, I feel cocooned. I forget whatever else might be on my mind. I guess I could say it's my 'safe' place. When I write, I'm in another world, one of my own making. 

When I'm finished writing, I slip back into the real world and all it's cares come back, so I don't look at writing as a mini miracle--a way to get rid of whatever problem I might be dealing with. Not at all, but it does give me respite. I'm not handling major problems in my life but there are always concerns of some kind or other. When I'm writing, nothing else bothers me. I can even ignore the phone if it rings. That's why we have a message machine! 

We talk often of our writing journey but we also live in our own writing world. Whenever and wherever you write, consider invisible walls put around you. I know what some of you are thinking--how about all those interruptions when kids need something or a spouse needs immediate attention? Yep, that happens but you have to decide the importance of each instance. Is it enough to shatter those walls and make you leave your writing place? For those of you, who are past child-rearing age and have a spouse that recognizes your working times, be grateful. I have one writer friend who solved her husband interrupting by closing the door to her office after taping a sign on the outside of the door that said Writer Working. Yes, he got the hint and no longer bothered her except for something of extreme importance. 

I, for one, will be grateful for finding this quote from Anne Frank. One more way in which she influenced the world that came after her. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Beginnings That Pull You In


The quote from Jack London is just another way of telling writers to open with a bang to hook your reader. Once hooked, we need to reel our readers in a little at a time with surprises or big happenings along the way. 

We've all read stories, or books. that spend the entire first chapter describing a lovely day. Does it make you want to go on reading? Sometimes, I do want to keep reading to see if anything ever does happen? My mind is saying Get on with it. as I turn the pages. When an opening chapter, or few paragraphs in a short story, are not of real interest, I find myself scanning until I find something that makes me slow down and pay attention. 

Start with an accident, or a crime or a natural disaster and the reader has questions in mind that can only be answered by reading farther. Start with a fight, a flood, a fire or a roller coaster ride gone bad and your reader will turn pages to see where this is going. 

When a writer opens with a 'wreckage' as stated by London, he/she is promising the reader that there will be more grab me and keep me chapters as the book (or paragraphs in a short story) progresses. Don't start with something fascinating and gripping, then slack off into the mundane. You need to deliver what you've promised the reader in your opening. 

Nancy Kress, science fiction writer, wrote a book for writers titled Beginnings, Middles, and Ends. Each of these three sections of your story, or book, have great importance. You might try checking out her ideas on beginnings to see if she agrees with Jack London. This is not a new book but is still on Amazon and very likely in your local library. It's worth a look. I may check it out of my library and read it again. A second read of what I consider a good resource never hurts.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

One More Way To Celebrate National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month is coming to a close in only a few days. The quote above is from the1989 movie Dead Poet's Society starring Robin Williams as a teacher at a boys' prep school. His subject is poetry. Read a review here. There are several places where you can find the movie online. Use your favorite search engine if you would like to view the film for the first time, or perhaps see it once again. 

I think a teacher has a lot to do with our love or dislike of poetry. Note that I chose not to use the word hate, although there are probably plenty of high school students who might select that word over dislike. I must admit that I was not overly enthralled with poetry in high school. I didn't dislike it nor did I go ga-ga over it. There were some poems we read that I liked better than others. And yes, we did have to memorize some of them. I especially remember committing these poems to memory: 
  • Sea Fever by John Masefield
  • Portia's mercy speech in The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare
  • The Destruction of Sennacharib by Lord Byron
Thinking back, I memorized all three poems in Sophomore English. I do not remember the teacher's name but I can visualize her--a 60ish, strait-laced, severe hairstyle, no make-up, no-nonsense woman who rarely smiled. I must commend her for introducing me to poetry that stayed with me all these years. No, I could not recite each of them from memory now but I do remember the opening lines of each one. She apparently did something in her teaching of this poetry that spoke to me and, hopefully, to many other students. 

Another poem I remember from that class is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It's a very lengthy narrative poem but one verse has always stayed with me: 

Water, water, every where, 

And all the boards did shrink; 
Water, water, every where, 
Nor any drop to drink. 

Here's a way you can celebrate National Poetry Month--take a little time to look up some of the poems you read and maybe memorized in high school and college to find out if you can approach them from an adult perspective. What may have seemed just alright years ago could speak volumes to you today. Some of us have the attitude of who cares about those old poems and old poets? It's possible that these poems and poets have lasted through the years for good reason. 

I have enjoyed many contemporary poets but I still love those of old, as well. Ones that come to mind are Emily Dickinson, Sara Teasdale, Both Brownings, Robert Frost and many more. Who are your favorites? 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

3 Questions On Personal Essays

Reading An Essay

Every day, myriad people read a personal essay in a newspaper, magazine, or online. Some hear them via radio programs. The personal essay is of interest to readers because it usually touches on something they can relate to or it appeals to their emotions. It might bring tears or hearty laughter. 

In the personal essay the writer uses an true incident to bring a point, or perhaps a life lesson, to the readers. If there is nothing to be learned by the reader, then the writer has written an anecdote, nothing more. That universal truth, or golden nugget, the reader is left with tops the list of what a personal essay must have. 

If there is a large market for personal essays, there is also a lot of competition to move to the head of the line and get your essay published. What things do you need to make an editor sit up and take notice? 

New:  Editors see so many submissions that use the same topic or same theme that they all begin to run together like colors in a tie-dyed shirt. They want new material, a new slant on an old topic. Or maybe a whole new topic--one that hasn't been done so many times that no one wants to see it again. 

Relevant:  Does it have any meaning in today's world? Will it appeal to the 21st century reader? Is it something readers care about? Can readers relate to your topic and your key lesson?

Surprise:  Is there a surprise in your essay? Something that will make readers sit up straighter and pay closer attention. Or is your style of writing the surprise? A different writing style can be like fresh air in a stuffy room even if the topic has been addressed multiple times before.

When you finish writing, revising and editing your personal essay, ask yourself about the three elements above. If you come up with negatives on one or all, your chances of being published diminish. It should tell you that you need another revision. Don't we all hate to admit that we should do one more? Of course we do but we also know that it will be to our advantage. 

Is there more to writing a personal essay than these three points? You bet there is but that's a topic for another day. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

3 Traits To Help You Get Published

Last week, Annette Gendler told us about her publishing journey after she'd written her memoir, Jumping Over Shadows. What simply amazed me is the number of times she queried an agent or another publisher. It wasn't 10, or 20, which in itself seems like a lot. No, it was far more than those numbers. 

The poster above pretty well sums up Annette's path to achieving publication. She definitely believed in her book. She was patient. She didn't give up. Any one of those three traits would be worth having but she had all of them. There may have been days when she didn't, but she always retrieved them and moved on.

There are lots of writers who have manuscripts for one novel or several, for nonfiction books, for poetry anthologies which are sitting in files gathering dust. I know, I know--computer files don't get dusty but those finished projects do get old. If any of us wants to see our project as a published product, we need to acquire all three of the traits listed above. 

Believe:  You might tell me that you wouldn't have written the darned thing if you didn't believe in it. Partly true. The strength of your belief is key. You need to believe in your work down to the depths of your soul if you want others to believe in it, too. You also need to believe in yourself.

Patience:  Maybe that word should be written in caps to make sure we know the importance of it. I've joked more than once that God pushed me into writing to teach me patience. Patience was never one of my finer virtues but I know that I am far more patient now than before I tried to market my work. I learned the value of being patient enough to submit to places that didn't answer for months, if at all. I came to realize that the publishing journey can be a very slow one and that I had to lower my frustration level and up the patience part. 

Giving Up:  This is a biggie. It's so much easier to give up than to persist. Not giving up goes back to that believing in yourself part. It also requires some of that patience part. Give up and the whole project is over. Give up and you may regret it forever. 

You'll need all three of these traits if you hope to be successful in getting your project published. In Annette's article, she tells us that it wasn't easy when she was asked to rewrite her book. When we think we're done, we don't want to start all over. She did as asked, after some soul searching, and the door to having her book published opened. 

The big question to ask yourself is: How much do I want this to happen? and How much work am I willing to put in? Maybe another question to ask is How much do I believe in the project?  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Annette Gendler Shares Her Publishing Journey

April 4, 2017 | By 

“You do your best work after your biggest disasters.”

Tim Robbins, as quoted in The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Finding neither a publisher, nor an agent, for my memoir after three years of looking does not constitute my life’s biggest disaster, but in terms of my writing it did. There’s no creative project into which I have poured more time and energy.
I had the good fortune of serving as the 2014/15 writer-in-residence at the Hemingway Birthplace Home, and I spent a good part of that year querying agents and publishers. I stuck to the old adage that persistence is everything. Overall, I sent 70 query letters and/or proposals, which doesn’t include the 43 I had sent over the previous two years, after I finished my manuscript. Each time I pressed the Send button, hope rose again. Each email carried the possibility of success. I kept telling myself, “If I don’t try, I won’t succeed.”
There were lots of nibbles, requests for the manuscript or the book proposal, but none went anywhere. With each rejection my heart sank a little lower, and my composure got more frazzled. When I reached the end of my list of agents, I plowed through databases of similar books to find publishers who take un-agented work (of which, thankfully, there are plenty). One day, as I was finding similar books that got published while mine wasn’t finding a home, I got so mad that I texted my husband. My fury and frustration must have been evident in that text because he replied, “Maybe you need a break?”
So I took a break. I left my attic studio in the Hemingway House, walked to the French bistro down the street and had a glass of Chardonnay with lunch. Upon my return, I worked on other writing.
Soon thereafter an email from an editor came in, suggesting a rewrite and offering to look at my manuscript again after that. This made me even madder. I didn’t want to rewrite my memoir based on someone’s advice who had no skin in the game. A rewrite would be a lot of work, and I wasn’t even sure I could do it.
Then I had dinner with a good writing friend who yelled at me, “What do you mean you don’t want to do a rewrite? This is a terrific second chance! I wish some editor had given me such consideration. You better get to it!”
I really didn’t want to. I was scared.
“Change–changing the work and how we work–is the unpleasant task of dealing with that which we have been denying. It is probably the biggest test in the creative process, demanding not only an admission that you’ve made a mistake but that you know how to fix it.”
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit, p. 218
“The unpleasant task”–that’s what I was dealing with! That’s why I had been dragging my feet. I hadn’t wanted to admit that this version of the manuscript had failed.
Thanks to my friend, by the time I was reading The Creative Habit, I was deep into attempting the rewrite. Up until then, however, I had seen my problem in terms of rejection. I had hunted around for advice on how to deal with rejection, how to keep up the fight in the face of it when really rejection had turned into failure.
When does rejection turn into failure? I wish I knew! I wish I could say, “It’s after sending out 70 unsuccessful queries,” or “when a second chance comes around.” Part of the challenge of the creative process is that you’re always operating in this foggy no-man’s-land. Other writers and artists can only give you advice, share where they have been, but it’s you who has to decide what to do about the work.
I am happy to report that I am glad I attempted the rewrite. The time to do it presented itself when my son attended summer school. We live an hour’s drive from his school, so coming home while he was in class for four hours wasn’t practical. Instead, I joined the Writers Workspace, a communal office for writers a 15-minute-drive from his school, and considered his six weeks of summer school my time to work on the rewrite. Turns out the rewrite was easier than I thought it would be. I shouldn’t have doubted myself so much. By week six I was proof-reading, and I was confident I had a better book.
Alas, the second chance did not pan out in the end. I had been dreading that, but at least I gave the second chance a chance.
In the meantime, I am well on my way to publication with She Writes Press. Looking back on four years of arduously pursuing traditional publication, I am wondering whether going with a press where I have more say in the process would have been the right way all along, but I had to fail in order to see that.

Originally published at Women Writers, Women's Books

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Give This New Memoir A Try

Jumping Over Shadows: A Memoir by [Gendler, Annette]

Some of you may remember Annette Gendler who has been a Guest Blogger more than once for me. She lives in Chicago, my old hometown where she plays many roles. She is wife, mother, teacher of memoir writing, and author. Right now, she is a very busy author promoting her first book, Jumping Over Shadows, a memoir that details her romance and marriage to a man of a faith different from the one her family followed in her growing-up years.
Annette Gendler's Profile Photo, Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor and closeup
Annette Gendler

That's a difficult situation for most but particularly so in Annette's case as it occurred in Germany in the 1980's, when memories of WWII were still fresh in the minds of the Jewish people who lived there as well as the German Christians. The reader is pulled into the life of these two young people who fall in love with the odds against them. In her family, it feels like history repeating itself as Annette's great-aunt married a Jewish man in 1938 which caused difficulties for all of the family during those war years.

The book moves back and forth between the 1980's and the 1930-40's with fascinating pieces of the author's family history. The parallels of the two situations keep the reader's attention. We want to know how Annette's story will turn out. Will she be more fortunate than her great-aunt? 

The author knew her own story, of course, but learned much of the family history from journals that her grandfather wrote as well as searching records in Germany and visiting cemeteries to search through more records. 

Annette and Harry kept their relationship a secret for three years. Finally, they had to reveal their feelings and hopes for marriage to both families. Can her German Christian family accept the man she loves? Can Harry’s family give their blessing? Can she, and will she, convert to Judaism? How easy or how difficult would that be?

The author's fine writing brings this story to life. The end of one chapter makes the reader want to go right on reading. Many family photos make a fine addition. This is a well-written memoir that I would recommend even if the author was not a personal friend. 

I had the joy of spending a little time with Annette at my online writing group conference a couple of weeks ago. She gave a presentation one morning titled Turning Family History Into Compelling Stories. That is exactly what she accomplished with her own family history for her story is most compelling. 

Order the book at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Annette Gendler is the author of Jumping Over Shadows, the memoir of a German-Jewish love that overcame the burdens of the past. Her writing and photography have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Tablet Magazine, Bella Grace and Artful Blogging. She served as the 2014–2015 writer-in-residence at the Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois, and has been teaching memoir writing at StoryStudio Chicago since 2006. She lives in Chicago with her husband and three children.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

7 Ways To Clean Up Your Prose

Do yourself a favor. Clean up your prose. Sweep out the parts that detract from your story, your theme, your lesson you're trying to convey. 

Writers sometimes have a great story plan or a personal essay that is going to be instructive and memorable but, if there are lots of little things that take precedence over the main idea, then you are going to lose your reader. If the reader happens to be an editor, your story will not be accepted for publication. 

Frank Sinatra had a recording about the little things in a relationship that matter. And they do! So do the little things that you neglect to polish up or eliminate in your writing. What things are they? 

  1. Rambling or repeating information already stated
  2. Unnecessary words
  3. Too many passive verbs
  4. Too many adjectives
  5. Adverbs used after 'he said' in dialogue
  6. Cliches
  7. Sentence structure all alike
#1:  Writers who do this are ones who don't trust their reader to 'get it.' They want to be darned sure you get the point they are trying to make. Say it once and it's stronger.

#2:  We tend to use those unnecessary words in our everyday conversation but try to eliminate them in your writing. Words like just, really, currently, rather are extras and end up detracting from the main part of your sentence. If you first write Childhood poverty is the reason that Mary is so extravagant now. Read the sentence without the word that. It reads fine without that extra word.

#3:  Yesterday's post discussed active verbs.
#4:  Use one or two adjectives. More than that becomes overwhelming and detracting.

#5:  Some writers insist on telling us how a speaker looks or acts by using a descriptive adverb after 'he said.' "I mean it," he said angrily. His words alone or the situation or preceding dialogue should let the reader know how he said it. You don't need to point it out. Another case of not trusting your reader to 'get it.'

#6:  Cliches are far too easy to pull out of the air and plop into your writing. Readers want something new, not the old and trite.

#7:  Check to see that your sentence structures are varied. Mix short and long sentences. Don't begin multiple consecutive sentences with the same words--He was... Vary the order of your sentences--don't always start with subject and verb, use an introductory phrase for some. 

Clean up your writing and your story or essay will be far stronger and more appealing to a reader. It will also be more likely to get published.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Use Active Verbs When You Write

The photo has nothing to do with today's topic. It's Tuesday and the flowers made me smile, so enjoy this Happy Tuesday offering above.

I critiqued the first chapter of a book for another writer today. Her book is historical fiction for 11-15 year old readers. Overall, she offered a good opening chapter--hooked me and left me wanting to read more. I noticed her choice of verbs. She does not have the problem that so many writers do--using an overabundance of passive verbs.

Instead, she chose active verbs and ones that showed something about the subject, whether a person or place or whatever. I suspect that she has trained herself to do write with these more interesting verbs. It's far easier to use those passive ones like is, was, are. We sometimes get lazy when we write, especially in first drafts as we are intent on getting the story down, not worrying about the kind of verbs we use.

But, if we work at it, we can search for the active verb first. Then, even our first drafts will look better. If we make a real effort to use active verbs in abundance, it becomes a habit. A very good habit, I might add. It's still worthwhile to pay close attention to the types of verbs you use when you are doing an edit. Replace as many passive ones as you can.

Try this exercise with some of your own writing. Pull up something you've written and highlight every passive verb in it. Are you a bit overwhelmed when you see the slashes of yellow throughout? Now, go through the piece and substitute active verbs in as many places as possible. Note that you can't always insert that one word in place of the passive verb. You might have to rearrange your sentence order to make it work.

Are you ever going to have a whole story or article without a passive verb? No. But you can cut down the number considerably. If you do, you will probably have a more interesting piece of writing. Your piece will have more showing than telling because active verbs show us something. Your story will also become more interesting to your readers.

Need help finding the right verb? Turn to that trusty Thesaurus gathering dust on your bookshelf--or one that is online. Or put your imagination to work to come up with better verbs. The more often you do this, the easier it will become.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Ever Fear Submitting Your Writing?

Today's poster made me think about all the writers who spend time and expend effort to make an essay as near perfect as possible. Or a short story the best they can make it. Or a special poem. Anyone who writes knows that it's hard work. We also know that the next step is to submit your work for publication. So, today' post is a little pep talk for all who have a hard time submitting.

Beginning writers are eager to sub with dreams of immediate publication spurring them on. What a bummer when the first editor rejects the piece. And it happens again and maybe again. So what occurs next? The writer starts fearing the submission process. Quite understandably. Who likes to be batted down time and again? No one! 

What about that novel that you wrote over the space of several years? Is it difficult to start sending out queries to publishers and agents? Does it scare the daylights out of you? It certainly can. We are so apt to doubt our own abilities at times. I've been there and so have many of you. Our confidence level sinks pretty easily when we get multiple rejections. 

I think that, to be a successful writer, we need to inflate our ego a bit. By that, I mean we need to believe enough in our work that we can do a little self-bragging to ourself. We have to convince ourself that our project is worthy of publication before we can move into that publishing journey. If we don't believe in ourself, who else is going to?  

It's a lot easier to put that manuscript in a file and move on to other writing than it is to keep submitting it. But, will you regret it as the months and years slip by? Will you look back and ask yourself why in the world didn't you work as hard at submitting as you did when writing? 

Think about that. If you can put in all that it takes to write a novel, or even a short story, why can't you work just as hard at trying to get it published? One answer might be that the hard work to produce the writing involved only you. The next step involves you and others, sometimes many others. 

If you don't try to submit, how will you ever know if your hard work was worthwhile? If you don't take some chances with submitting, your work will have no chance of its own. You're in charge. A writer friend finished her book and started looking for a publisher or agent. We've all heard about authors who have subbed their novels over and over and over until they finally find someone interested in their work. Those people might be called hard-headed, driven, persistent or just plain stubborn. If that's what it takes, so be it. 

You're the one in charge. It's you who can make the decision to get your work sent out. It's you who can submit. No one else can do it for you. If you were strong enough to finish a writing project, you're certainly strong enough to enter the submission process. Take the attitude that you'll do the best you can for as long as you can. If you do, you'll never have to regret not trying.  

Friday, April 14, 2017

Easter Memories

Me on Easter 1942

Do you remember when little girls had new spring coats and hats to wear for Easter? The one I'm wearing in the photo above was navy blue and white. My dad always said this was his favorite picture of me. It's a most unusual one because I am looking so pensive. Usually, I was chattering and smiling. Maybe I wasn't quite sure about that strange man--the photographer--who was taking my picture. 

We lived in a third floor apartment in suburban Chicago so the Easter Bunny hid the eggs we had dyed on Easter Saturday in coffee cups filled with hot water and dye tablets. We soon learned all the hiding places, including our dad's shoes, and gathered the brightly colored eggs in no time at all. My brothers and I usually received a small gift from the Big Bunny, too. A comic book, a paper kite, or those balsa wood planes for my brothers. Maybe a bottle of bubbles to blow through a wand for me. We didn't have the large amount of chocolate the kids today get on Easter.

When Easter fell in March or early April, we donned colorful spring dresses and coats to walk to church in sharp north winds, even a little snow on occasion.

On one of those bitter cold Easters, I had a new aqua-blue spring coat and hat that I’d looked forward to wearing. Mother told me it was much too cold to wear it. “You have too far to walk to church. You’ll freeze,” she said.

I begged and begged. “Please let me wear it. I’ll wear a sweater underneath.” Tears slipped from my eyes as I waited for her to give in. They were genuine, not a ploy. Wearing that new coat was a monumental need at that moment at age eight.

Mother relented, but I did have to wear the sweater I’d proposed underneath my lightweight, pastel-colored coat. I think I was very glad to have it as my brother and I headed to church to hear the Easter story once again. 

My family never went to church on Easter Sunday. Or any other Sunday! Mom had been raised Methodist and Dad in the Catholic faith. Neither one would join the other so they stayed home and sent my brothers and me to Sunday School at the Methodist church. As I got a little older, I stayed for the church service, too. I spent many weekends with a cousin my age whose family was Catholic, so I went to church with them. I married a Lutheran whose family went to church every Sunday. I joined the Lutheran church and go regularly to this day. It's been one of the biggest pluses of my marriage. 

Even with no church service, my family celebrated Easter with a big meal. At least one of my dad's two sisters and their family joined us in our small apartment for a mid-day dinner. Somehow, we all fit around the table that literally groaned with food placed in the center. Round and round those serving bowls went, adults helping the younger children fill their plates. My Uncle Jimmy piled his plate high, swung his tie from the front to the back of his shirt and dug in. He barely came up for air until the plate was cleaned of food. Then, he wiped his mouth and mustache with his napkin and waited for the dessert he knew my mother would bring from the kitchen. 

We usually had a large baked ham that my mother scored two ways to make diamond shapes. Then she put a whole clove into the spots where the lines intersected, glazed the ham with mustard and brown sugar and baked until it was just right. Sometimes, she put slices of pineapple on top of the ham along with the glaze. Scalloped or Au Gratin potatoes were served with the ham. I now wonder how in the world she managed to fix both those items in the small oven we had. Sometimes, Mothers can work miracles. We had at least two vegetables, a jello salad, and homemade yeast rolls to round out the menu. Dessert could be cakes or pies made the day before. The adults sat around the table with coffee cups being refilled over and over after dessert was finished. The kids were sent outside to play in our apartment courtyard or at the city park a block away. 

As my girl cousins and I got older, the playing outside was exchanged for helping with the dishes in our tiny kitchen. No dishwashers then. Instead, we had a sink full of soapy suds and a drainer with clean dishes for the ones with big flour sack dish towels to dry. After that was done, one of the dads drove us to the movie theater, dropped us off, then came back to pick us up after we'd been entertained by one of the great Hollywood musicals of that era. 

The rebirth of springtime flowers, trees and bushes still symbolizes the meaning of Easter for me. Christ’s resurrection created a rebirth for all Christians, and as He taught us to love one another, I also think of the love of family as part of our Easter celebrations. It isn’t only the ones of my childhood but for today, as well. 

Have you written your Easter memories to pass on to your children and grandchildren? If so, good for you. If not, consider making this the year that you do it. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Is Writer's Block Real?

Writer's Block is a term we hear on a frequent basis if we are part of the writing world. Even people who are not writers know those words and what they mean. The poor writer sits in front of the computer and cannot come up with anything to say. It's what a lot of writers will tell you is an inevitable part of being a word person.

Is there really such a thing as Writer's Block or is it an excuse? I have a feeling people will line up on both sides of that question. There must be. I say that only because if you google the term, you will get a lengthy list of cures or help for the illness. And yes, I think many writers do consider it an illness. Maybe that's a good thing.

It's good in the respect that we usually get over an illness like a cold, the flu or even chicken pox. So, doesn't that give you encouragement that you will also get over the dreaded virus called Writer's Block? 

The plethora of articles addressing the condition usually offer a certain number of ways to combat the problem. You'll find lots of titles like these. 5 Ways To Fight Writer's Block or The 12 Step Plan For Writer's Block or 10 Ways To End Writer's Block. I made up those titles but I guarantee you'll find many similar ones in google's list. Those numbers used in the titles are meant to give encouragement to suffering writers. Wow! This article is going to give me a step by step program. Maybe it will and maybe it won't.

You might still have the problem after reading the article. More than once, I've asked myself if the well has run dry. We all know ourselves fairly well. We know what makes us tick. We are aware of our pluses and minuses. We know how we react to this possible Writer's Block. If you've had it once, chances are that you'll have it again. 

What about the question that I posed earlier in this post? ...or is it an excuse?  It's possible. There are lazy people in this world and so it stands to reason that there are also some lazy writers. Isn't it easier to sit at your computer and tell yourself you can't write than it is to come up with an idea? I bet you've noticed that nothing comes easy in this world of ours. We have to work at being successful in what we do. 

Here's my list of things I do when I'm having trouble coming up with something to write about:
  • Leave the computer and take a walk, make a phone call, or run an errand.
  • Do a freewrite exercise--amazing what will come into your mind from the photo prompts or word prompt exercises.
  • Read a book or magazine for awhile; other peoples' writing might trigger your own.
  • Have a cup of coffee or a soda and analyze yourself to see if you can pinpoint the why part of your Writer's Block.
  • Pull out something you wrote that you especially like and read it again; prove to yourself that you can write. 
What do you do if and when Writer's Block hits you? Help another writer by sharing in our comments section. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Celebrate National Library Week

National Library Week  April 9-15, 2017

This is National Library Week. I don't suppose you are going to bake a cake and decorate it to celebrate this annual event. Nor are you going to call a group of your friends to join you at the library for a gabfest. Much too quiet a spot for that type of activity. You can, however, celebrate by making a visit to your local library.

I have been a lover of libraries since I learned to read in first grade. I learned the route to our local library at a young age and walked their at least once a week. I also visited our school library on a frequent basis. Yes, I was the girl who always seemed to have her nose in a book. Yes, I played outside with the other kids but kept that time to a minimum so I had more reading time. All those games we played on the school playground are a thing of the past but reading has served me all the days of my life since I opened that first book.

Once the internet became popular, there was talk of libraries becoming obsolete. Scary thought for those of us who have loved them for so long. Librarians rose to the challenge and began providing more services than had ever been offered before. Card catalogs went out the door and we found what we needed on a computerized catalog system. Technology rooms with time provided at computers and how-to classes popped up. The library became a place where patrons could find more than just books, newspapers and magazines--movies, audio books, music CDs and more are available. 

My local library has a wonderful Children's Room filled with books, computers for the children to use, story times throughout the week, Read To  A Dog sessions on Sunday afternoons and more. 

Those of us who use libraries on a regular basis are aware of these changes. If you're a person who purchases reading material rather than borrow it,make some time to visit your local library or stop in at the library in your child's school. 

I'm reminded of a story my daughter told me when her little girl was about to enter kindergarten. Their family attended a Meet the Teacher night at the school. The school library was not open that evening. As they were walking out of the school, Jordan made a beeline for the school library. She stood by the big glass windows, peering in at all the treasures locked inside. My daughter said it was obvious that Jordan wanted nothing more than to get inside that room with all the books lined up on shelves waiting for her. I saw this great poster honoring school librarians earlier today which gave me a smile. Maybe this little miss will do the same for you.

National School Librarian Day was April 4th

My school librarian in my my K-8 elementary school was Miss Peterson. Sometime during my 9 years at the school, she married and became Mrs. Peterson! What are the odds you would marry a man with the same last name? I will always credit Mrs. Peterson as being the person who taught us to push our chair in after we stood up so that the library tables and chairs always looked neat. To this day, I am often reminded of her as I push my chair in when I leave a table. 

Celebrate Library Week by visiting a library or perhaps by writing a memory story about your experience at a library in your growing-up years. Did you adore it or was it a place that kept you hemmed in when you wanted to be outside playing ball? Did your librarian help you or shush you? Do you have a great fondness for libraries or not? Why? The poster at the top of today's post gives you a good question to answer in writing. Share with us in the comments section.

We are often encouraged to thank a veteran or a military person now serving. We're reminded to thank a teacher for their service to children. Maybe this week you should thank a librarian for what he/she does for you and others in your community. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

How Do You Celebrate These Springtime Holidays?

This week both Easter and Passover are celebrated--Easter by Christians and Passover by those of the Jewish faith. Besides the religious meaning of both holidays, it's a time for special meals with family and traditions of various kinds, decorations and special foods.

If you celebrate either one of these holidays, you surely have some stories to tell that might go into your Family Stories book or would make a fine personal essay or memoir piece. 

Here are a few questions to trigger your memories:
  • Did your family celebrate the religious part of the holiday?
  • If so, how? 
  • If not, why?
  • What special foods did you have?
  • What traditions did you follow?
  • Were special clothes a part of this holiday in your family?
  • Did you continue those childhood traditions when you were an adult and had your own family?
  • What kind of decorations were used at this time of year?
  • Do you remember a particular Passover or Easter that impressed you for some reason?
  • Do you have any bad memories of this holiday time?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Springtime Photo Prompt For Writers

Here are two spring photos to use as a writing prompt. At my conference last week, I was reminded of what great merit our writing exercises are. We did several interspersed with the presentations and the results were mighty interesting. Amazing how a group of writers all look at the same photo and come up with a different idea. Try the one above or the one below. Remember to study the photo, not just give it a look.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Writers Must Believe In Their Work

I think one of the biggest problems we writers have is giving up too soon on a writing project that is close to our heart. It's often easier to step away from that beloved project after several rejections or running into a brick wall when seeking an agent or never placing in a contest with a piece that you know is darned good. Book or short story, memoir or personal essay--it's worth persisting.

Last week at my writing conference, I looked around the room at the talented women gathered there. Several had books published; others were published in journals, magazines, newspapers and online. One, whose book had just been released, spoke to us about her publishing journey. Over and over again, she was met with defeat when trying to get her memoir with an agent or publisher. Many, many times! She pursued her dream, despite the negatives she'd encountered. Finally, a publishing company came back with a positive response and she was off and running through the forest of the publishing world. Was it all smooth? No. But she persisted, agreed to certain changes in her book (including the title and some rewriting) and her longtime dream was realized. 

She never stopped believing in herself. That's so important that I'm going to say it again in bold. She never stopped believing in herself. 

I fear too many of us give up long before we reach our goal. The harder road is to continue looking for a publisher. We wonder why we would willingly put ourselves through such punishment. If we believe in our project, we'll do it. Every time we get knocked down with a rejection, we need to stand up, brush ourself off and move on to the next place on our list to submit to or query. 

So, what about the writer who does not believe in him/herself and the project? They are the ones who will put it away in a file and spend many moments wishing things had gone differently but not willing to take a new approach. Ask yourself How much do I believe in what I am doing? Be honest when answering that question and you'll know whether you should continue your journey to see your work published.  

Whenever you see a bird perched on a branch, think about the poster quote above. The bird believes and so can you.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Wringing Poetic Inspiration from the Depths of Winter

Roy Beckemeyer and Friend

Today, Guest Blogger Roy Beckemeyer has some interesting thoughts about perception and writing poetry. Thank you, Roy, for enlightening us as poets and also prose writers. 

Wringing Poetic Inspiration from the Depths of Winter

by Roy Beckemeyer

Winter sometimes seems to be devoid of poetic subjects; spring has tulips and daffodils, summer her roses and trees arching over village streets. Fall's leaves light themselves up right there on the branches. You feel as if the poetic muse may have retired to Arizona for the winter. But I can generally find things in winter's bleakness that inspire me if I work at it a bit: tree branches that look like skeletons, the shadows of those branches on the neighbor's roof, snow drifting up and ghosting the world into unrecognizable shapes.

This past winter it was birds that caught my fancy. I have always loved the way the winter sparrows can scratch food out from under the massing snow. In early mornings before anyone else is out and about you can see the virgin snow impressed by the tiny tracks left by foraging birds. And in the late evening in Wichita, KS huge flocks of crows return to the city from their feeding trips to the fields outside town, arching their way across the sky and into neighborhood treetops to roost for the night. I know that those images were an impelling reason for a poem I wrote last winter.

But I also know that somewhere in my mind, as I worked on turning those images into words, my subconscious was sifting through lines of other poets' work I had read. And winter, after all, is prime season for catching up on reading, wrapped up in a blanket, a cat on your lap, a dog on your feet. I went back and found lines from three poems I had read this winter that I believe had something to do with my word choice, the shape of the sounds I used, the images that appeared in my poem.

From a long time favorite poem I first read 40 years ago, Sydney Martin's "Letter to an Absent Friend" (Gazebo, 1977, Wichita State University Student Government Association), these lines are vivid in my memory:

"Some mornings
without my glasses
I think the black
leaves have come
but it is only
the fat cold birds
puffed up feathers"

From a new book, Marilyn Nelson's Mrs. Nelson's Class (2017, World Enough Writers, Tilamook, OR), from her poem "The Children's Moon," I found the these well-rounded lines particularly meaningful; the moon and all the "o" sounds brought to my mind a barred owl I had heard many mornings late this winter:

"Look, children, I said as they found their desks:
 The children's moon! A special good luck sign!"

And, from another new book, my friend Kelly Johnston's Kalaska (2017, Blue Cedar Press, Wichita, KS), from his poem, "Going Home to Stay,"

"In the fog of a warm December dawn,
a lone crow beckons from a cottonwood.
The rest of the murder remains quiet."

I think that, as you read my three-part poem, you will see how what I saw on my morning walks this winter, and how the words and phrases I retained in my memory from my winter's reading, influenced the shape and tenor of my own poetic vision:

Three Winter-Bird Poems

winter birds, fluffed-up puffs dark
against snow  hop,  stop,  hop,  peck
at seeds scattered, peppered, thrown hap-
hazardly, their beaks mustached
with fuzzy snowflakes with shattered
shells of sunflower husks their downy
coats filling with snow their footprints
y   y   y   yy  y  y's on the white ground

big owls, round
eyes on round bodies
drawn by first graders, under
a big round moon their
mouths, oh, so open
O's, hooting

crows bound down
the sky, caw to one
another and curve
in arcs and droops
and deviant drops
onto barren trees,
blobs on skeletal
limbs, with croaks,
creaks, rustles, they
pull night's darkness
into themselves

—Roy Beckemeyer, March, 2017

The message is, of course, that you can find inspiration without end in any season if you open your eyes to the world around you and open your mind to the words written by authors whose work you love. So go forth and write: fill poetry month with what you have seen and read and then written.

Thanks to Nancy for making the pages of her blog available to me once again. I am proud to have had her allow me to share her writing space. Happy Spring, Nancy!

Bio: Roy J. Beckemeyer is a retired engineer who conducts research on Paleozoic insect fossils and writes scientific papers and poetry. His first poetry book, "Music I Once Could Dance To," was published in 2014 by Coal City Revew and Press, Lawrence, Kansas (

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Small Writer's Conference Was A Success

Writing Conference 2017

After a long day of delayed flights, I am home from my online writing group conference held in Algonkian Regional Park on the banks of the Potomac River. Only 20 minutes from Dulles airport, it's a perfect spot for a small group conference. 

Three came from Japan, two from Canada, and the rest from various parts of the USA--from Seattle to South Carolina and states in-between. Among them were poets, novelists, essayists, those who write for kids and young adults. 

We had three days of sessions presented by the talented women in attendance. They ranged from computer info to character development to ghost writing to ekphrastic poetry to creative nonfiction to writing reviews to blogging and photography and more. Writing exercises were sprinkled throughout the presentations. I hope to share some of what was gifted to us with you. And yes, I do consider what these women gave as a 'gift.' 

We had wonderful meals prepared for us by a great southern cook who does this for us at every conference out of the goodness of her heart. She is also a computer expert, giving two sessions on various computer issues. The last evening, appreciation gifts were given to Nita and our group moderator and her husband who do so much work to coordinate the whole event. Nita's fun gift was an apron that suited her well, for she truly is a Wonder Woman in the kitchen and at the keyboard, as well as other ways. That's me in the purple to the right in this photo of Wonder Woman. 

Our very own Wonder Woman

The large conferences who have celebrity speakers from the writing world are just fine but they are a bit impersonal and those shy, introverted people don't get as much as they should in mingling with and conversing with other writers. At a small conference like this, there was no chance of the more introverted people being left in a corner. They were drawn into the group with love by others who wanted to get to know them better and to glean whatever they could about each person's writing world. Try both kinds of conferences. I guarantee you'll get something out of each one but, for me, this small conference is tops.