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Monday, July 31, 2017

Do You Write Less In The Summertime?

Here we are at the end of another summer month with another one looming in front of us. Have you been slacking a bit on your writing these past couple of months? If so, you're not alone.

Isn't summer suppose to be the time of the year that we can kick back and take life easy? We were conditioned to that with our long summer vacations during our school days. Even as adults who perhaps have full-time jobs, parenting responsibilities and more, we still feel like we shouldn't push ourselves too hard in the summer months.

I've noticed that my online writing group participation goes down in the summer. Understandable with kids home from school, family and friends coming to visit and vacations cutting into the time when we usually do our writing. Do any of the slackers feel guilty? There are probably two schools of thought on that question. Some feel they deserve the time off while others take the break but have this squirmy feeling that they should be fulfilling a commitment they made when they joined. We're all individuals and have varied opinions on that kind of question.

Whether you take time off from your writing journey in the summer depends on whether or not you are trying to make a living from freelance writing. If your writing income is important to survival, you are not going to cut back. You have no choice. It's more often that the writer who is a hobbyist or only enjoying some added income as 'mad money' is the one who can afford to stop writing over the summer or slow down.

Now ask yourself if you're doing a disservice to yourself. I find that, when I take a break from writing, it's much harder to get back into the usual routine. Once you slow down considerably, or even stop writing altogether, it's much more difficult to get your engine revved up again. One more week, another day or two--what does it matter? Well, it does matter if it keeps going on and on.

Another consideration is that we learn and grow only if we continue to write and be involved in writing-related activities. Stop reading those writing newsletters you subscribe to and you have no idea who is calling for submissions. Your files might be filled with pieces that you could be submitting.

Maybe you could enjoy your summer activities this next month but set aside a small amount of time each day/week to write or work on submitting what is already written. If you write nothing more than a writing exercise, it's alright. If your writing group requires two subs a month, even one is showing that you're making an effort.

Slow down if you must in these lazy days of summer, but please do not stop writing!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Why Bother To Write?

Why in the world would anyone want to be a writer and subject him/herself to all of the things mentioned in the poster above? Today's post is a repeat of one from last year that answers that question. It's all still relevant today. 

Why Bother?

Does it appear that writing is meant to defeat a writer rather than buoy him/her to great heights? It may make you wonder why in the world you're beating your head against the writing wall if it is this hard to become a widely published writer. Why bother?

We bother, and I include myself here, because we love to write. We bother because we have something to say. We bother because we may want to prove something to ourselves. We bother because we know that the more we write, the more we grow as a writer. We bother because we've had positive feedback from readers. We bother because we've had some encouraging rejections from editors. We bother because we've had enough acceptances to know that we are not a washout as a writer. 

Now, aren't those enough reasons to stay on the writing journey? I think so. Just keep in mind that there is no express elevator. You move up one step at a time.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Writers--Keep Your Eyes Open Wide

Are your eyes wide open when you receive a critique on something you've written? 

One of the women in my online writing group sent me a thank you for the crit I had done on a two part essay she had subbed. At the end of her message she said,  "I never, ever tire of receiving constructive crits to get my eyes open to what I couldn't see before subbing!"

That is definitely one of the reasons we benefit from having our work critiqued, or 'critted' as our group says. It is so much easier for someone else to spot the problem areas in our writing. We seem to be too close to be able to pick out the areas that need revising or dumping or having something added. We gloss right over those small mechanical errors when we attempt to edit our own writing. 

But give me a piece of writing by someone else and I can spot the places that need reworking instantly. 

I have been in a couple of writing groups where those who sub their work for critique keep their eyes closed to what others tell them. They come in eager to hear what the critiquers have to say but they want it all to be positive, to be told that what they wrote is wonderful. And many times, it is. Even so, there are always changes that can, and should, be made. That's the hard part to hear. No one likes to be told that they should do this a different way or that in another viewpoint or anything else that might be taken as negative. 

I lost a writing friend many years ago because I did an honest crit of a short story she'd written. She was a beginner and her work showed it. She had asked me to be a writing buddy outside our full group, wanting a one on one sub and crit. I pondered long and hard as to whether to be honest about the story she'd given me or to feed her ego. I chose the honest approach and she was furious. End of the one on one and end of friendship. I felt bad but I also thought that she'd never be published if she was not willing to open her eyes to her mistakes and to be willing to learn more about the craft of writing. 

When someone critiques your writing, remember that those crits are meant to be:
  • constructive criticism
  • to help you learn more about writing
  • to open your eyes to what you couldn't see in your own work
All the items in the list above are positives. Nothing there is meant to hurt your feelings. If you truly want a fair, honest crit of your work, push the emotion aside and concentrate on the benefit you receive from other eyes on your writing. Keep those eyes open!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Three Calls For Submissions

Reading 1

Bards Against Hunger is asking for submissions for an anthology to celebrate five years of their project to help provide life-sustaining food to those in need. There will be no pay other than the good feeling you'll have by helping a charity group like this one.  They allow up to 3 poems, no longer than 100 lines, to be submitted.

An unusual guideline is that you are to paste the poem(s) in the email and also attach them. You are also asked to provide the name of your state in the subject line. You'll note the guidelines also ask for a 3-4 line bio. The submission date says 'May' but I have been told that the deadline has been extended. Poetry may be on any subject. I'm guessing that something on world hunger might catch an editor's eye. Only a guess, however.

Chicken Soup for the Soul has added a new book in the possible book topics in their submission section. This one will be a book using the theme of Love. They're looking for a wide range of stories that tell of dating, romance, marriage. They may be serious or hilarious. Read more on the link above and then check that guidelines page to refresh your memory. Deadline is October 31st. While you're on the Possible Book Topics page, you might check the other books still needing submissions. This anthology series pays $200 per story. Competition is high so send your very best work.

The Moments anthologies group is looking for Christmas stories for a 2018 book as well as a few others. Check this page for what the editor is looking for. Some are already past the date but there are others for 2018 publication. Again, this one is a no pay with all royalties going to Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian organization . I have a story in one of the Moments anthologies that was just released and had another in the most recent Christmas Moments book. The newest title is Loving Moments. The book cover is an especially nice one. They will accept previously published nonfiction stories which helps some writers justify the no pay, donate for a charity situation.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Positive In Rejections

I love my rejection slips. They show me I try. ~ Sylvia Plath #amwriting

Do you love your rejection slips? Probably not. Usually, we'd like to tear them into shreds and throw them to the four winds to never be seen again. At least, that's how we feel when one arrives. 

High hopes are so easily dashed when the notice from an editor thanks you for submitting--ever so polite--but then goes on to tell you that the story just isn't right for their publication. Sometimes, they even invite you to submit something else another time. It's a long drop from those high hopes to the floor and the crash hurts more than our backside. Our ego suffers. Our self-confidence plunges. Our temper flares. 

So, we get through all that and then what? Maybe we should take a hard look at what Sylvia Plath, the American poet, novelist and short story writer, says in today's quote. Go ahead look at it. Read it aloud. Then take a little time to think about it. 

Perhaps we should take some pride in our rejections if, for no other reason, they let us know we made some effort as a writer. We wrote, we edited, we revised and edited again and then, we took a great leap of faith and submitted our work somewhere. And we waited to hear from the editor. And we waited and waited. 

Those writers who submit their work are the courageous ones. Far too many write and write and never submit a thing. Those writers are thinking What if they hate my work? What if it isn't any good? And worse yet--What if they accept it and want more? Can I produce more? Can I deal with success?

You'll never know the answers to those questions unless you actually submit your work. Every rejection you receive shows that you made some effort to get your work published. Those who do are the heroes/heroines. The longer you wait to start submitting your work, the harder it might be. 

Submitting is no assurance that you'll be published but you'll know you gave it a try. Who can do more than that? The one thing that you should do is to submit again and again. I've often referred to the Submission Ferris Wheel. Keep it going round and round with a new piece of writing in each seat. 

Whether you're successful in having your work accepted and published or not, derive satisfaction in knowing that you gave it your best. You did not let your stories, articles, book manuscripts and poetry gather dust in a file. 

Go back and read that quote one more time. Then start searching your files and markets and submit something. Today!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Mystery Trip--Day 5 & 6

Jelly Belly Factory Shop

 We left Milwaukee Friday morning and traveled about half an hour to our final tour of the trip. The big, purple bus pulled up in front of the Jelly Belly Factory! We rode in a tram through the factory and ended up in the Jelly Belly Shop, pictured above. I had no idea that they made more than jelly beans. Almost everyone left with a Jelly Belly bag filled with goodies.

We traveled south and crossed the border into Illinois, which is our home state. As we traveled south, Ken and I had many memories triggered as we went by the area where we met in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago, then the western suburbs where I grew up. We passed right by the cemetery where family members are buried, then on farther south to the area where I went to college in Normal, Il, home of Il State University. 

Before we left the Chicago area, we stopped in Joliet at another mansion where we were served a sumptuous lunch and took a self-guided tour of the 40 room home. Closets were unique in the late 1800's and when the owner added a closet to each bedroom, he was taxed for each one as the tax was figured on the number of rooms in a home. The assessor saw those closets as more dollars! 

The St. Louis Arch

We didn't know our destination for Friday night but with traveling all the way down the state of IL, how could it be anywhere else but St. Louis? The Arch welcomed us to that city on the Mississippi. Our next bit of nostalgia came when we pulled up to a Marriott Hotel in Chesterfield, MO which is the suburb where our first grandchild was born 21 years ago. 

Dinner was on our own that evening and having no car, most of us opted for the Marriott restaurant. Off we went the next morning for the last leg of our Mystery Trip. Our lunch stop was a nice surprise. We pulled up in front of Jack Stack Barbecue in downtown Kansas City. The famed restaurant lived up to its reputation for good barbecue.

Two hours after we finished eating, we arrived at Meadowlark, the Senior Living place where most of the travelers on the trip live. After the pleasant temps in Milwaukee, the 107 degrees we stepped into from the bus felt like an oven! 

Now, we have memories of the Mystery Trip that two staff members at Meadowlark planned so very well, down to the last detail. Would I take another Mystery Trip? Yes, I would. Now, it's back to our everyday routine and my writing world once again. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mystery Trip--Day 4

I've thought a lot about how we were a bit hesitant to join this Mystery Trip. Go to an unknown destination? That was against my character traits bigtime. I like to have a plan. No plan this week except follow directions and be surprised. Pleasantly surprised all the way. If we'd stayed home and just heard the other travelers' tales about what they'd done this week and where they were, I most certainly would have regretted not being there. I've learned a lesson about having the courage to take a chance.

We had another fine breakfast--did you ever have scrambled eggs with bits of bratwurst, onions, peppers and cheese in them? Take my word that they are scrumptious!

We were kept in the dark about our first tour of the day until we arrived at the Basilica of St. Josophat. Once there, we had a docent talk to us and show us the basilica which was built by members of the Polish Catholic church here in Milwaukee in the late 1800's. Polish immigrants gave their time, talent and treasures to build this magnificent church. The smallest part of that trio was treasure as they were working families. They found others to help with the funding and they did much of the work themselves. A true labor of love.

Our next stop was the Milwaukee Art Museum located on the lakefront. Designed with great wings on the roof that resemble the seagulls that abound on the lake, it is an architectural piece of art as well as housing great art collections. Another docent led tour showed us several areas of the museum. We had a wonderful boxed lunch, then free time. Many of us met at the Wine Bar for a restful time on the patio where we had coffee, tea or wine and watched the many sailboats on a day filled with sunshine, gentle breezes and a temp of 78. Several mentioned they'd love to have a summer place in this city. I, who have lived in northern IL, know that the summer is just a cover-up for the strong gales that blow in off Lake Michigan bringing snow and temperatures that will frost your face in a hurry when winter arrives. And winter arrives much earlier than it does for us in Kansas and, yes, it lasts longer, too.

So, do visit Milwaukee in the summertime. Our evening excursion was to dinner at a lovely French bistro on the lakefront.We both had trout with a perfect salad and French bread so good I wanted to take a loaf home but it would be hard as a rock when we got there!

We leave this fine city on Friday morning heading south and west to Kansas. I'll post about that trip once we reach home. The city where we will stay on Friday night is another mystery!

Mystery Trip--Day 3

We had to think long and hard before signing up for the Meadowlark Travelers Mystery Trip but after three days, we have no regrets. It's been a great trip with a lot of interesting sights to see and some very fine people to travel with. All thanks to Becky and Monte, tour guides exceptional!

On Day 3, we started with a tour of the Pabst Mansion here in Milwaukee. A steamboat captain, turned Beer Baron, built this magnificent home with 34 rooms and 14 fireplaces. We were given a tour by a knowledgeable docent. Along with viewing the home, we learned a lot of the history of Milwaukee, as well. The whole group posed for a photo on the steps which Becky sent back to Meadowlark to be put in the weekly newsletter. We're famous!

Next, our big purple bus took us to the War Memorial Building on the shore of Lake Michigan. The temperature was in the 70's, a blessed relief to all of us who had been enduring a very hot spell home in Kansas.

We moved on for a food tour. Yep, a food tour! As if we hadn't been eating ourselves into looking like the Pillsbury Dough Boy already! But never say no when it comes to food. The first stop was the Milwaukee Public Food Market, an indoor market of numerous stalls with every kind of food imaginable. Nice picnic tables outside to enjoy whatever you bought.

Next, we stopped at a cheese shop where we had appetizer plates of summer sausage, two kinds of Wisconsin cheese, pretzel bread, Dusseldorf mustard and a heavenly piece of cheese fudge. Yes, that's right--cheese fudge. It was so good that Ken ran right over to the shelf where it lay waiting and he grabbed a package to take home. Alas, we noticed later that it said "Keep refrigerated" so we might have to eat it all before we leave!

Next stop was a spice shop which held more spices and extracts than I'd ever thought existed. After a taste test, I bought some crystallized ginger to bring home.

On to a Sicilian Bakery where we were treated, and I do mean 'treated' to a mini cannoli that was some kind of marvelous.

In the evening, we had a dinner cruise with the Edelweiss Cruise line on a river and then out into Lake Michigan. A lovely dinner with music of our era playing and so much to see on the lake and the shoreline that it was hard to eat for fear of missing something.

So, yes, we are doing the Happy Dance that we signed on for this trip. Wondering what tomorrow will bring. Becky and Monte keep some things a mystery as to what and where. One tour for Thursday is a complete mystery, not even a hint given last night. Just be on the bus at the appointed time.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mystery Trip--Day 2

We saw many churches in our Destination city

On our second day, we were up early, luggage outsidqe the door by 7:15. We had a nice breakfast and all hopped on the big, purple bus. Scratch that, we all boarded the bus--no hopping among senior citizens!

Crossing the Mississippi River, I wondered if we would be turning north soon, but it wasn't until we sighted the sign for the highway to Rockford, IL that we headed north. We lived in Rockford for a few years at one point so had a bit of nostalgia as we passed by familiar sights.

Once in Wisconsin, we headed to a town called East Troy where we had a delightful journey on an electric railroad. The engineer and conductor kept us entertained over every inch of the track we followed. A lot of laughing at this duo that could have been a vaudeville act. Bordered by trees, bushes, wildflowers and houses, it proved to be an interesting ride on a pleasantly warm day. The train stopped at The Elegant Farmer's which turned out to be a restaurant and market. We had a picnic lunch at outdoor tables, sandwiches made on Kaiser rolls made in their bakery, the meats from their meat case.

Back on the train for the return trip to the old depot. Climbing on and off the train was a feat as the steps were steep but we all made it!

By mid-afternoon, we knew our destination city was Milwaukee, WI. When Ken and I were first married, we lived an hour south of Milwaukee so sometimes came to this city to shop, have lunch and enjoy the sights.

Our first stop was at Lakeside Brewery. No trip to Milwaukee can overlook a brewery visit. Lakeside is a small brewery with a big heart. The beer hall was a lively spot and the tour director entertaining. Those who weren't beer drinkers sampled the Golden Maple Root Beer. 'Very sweet' was what I heard numerous times.

On to the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Milwaukee where a small reception was waiting for us. All was well until it was discovered that one person's luggage had not been delivered to her room. It was lost until later in the evening but turned up allowing the poor woman to sleep better than had it still been wandering around the hotel.

Dinner at Mader's well-known German restaurant was good but too much food, as we find in most restaurants today. I had one of the best pieces of salmon I've ever eaten. Cooked to perfection! A long hallway by the private room where we ate was lined with photos of celebrities who had eaten at Mader's. Stars from the 40's on up to today were there for all to see. More nostalgia!

On Wednesday, we'll explore more of this city on Lake Michigan. Many of the people in our group had never been here so all will be new to them. For us, some will be new, some will dredge up memories of years past when we spent time here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Mystery Trip--Day 1

Kansas--what we left Monday

Day 1 of the Mystery Trip was spent on the road with 36 on the big purple bus.  All we needed was a K-State logo on the side.  Becky and Monte, our tour guides, did not tell us where we are going all morning, afternoon or evening.  Tonight, they said we would learn our destination at lunch tomorrow! Today, we headed east on I-70, then north on I-35 to I-80.

We stopped for lunch at a place in Bethany, MO called the Toot Toot Family Restaurant. And yes, it did have a train theme, as well as a huge buffet. Way more than anyone needed for lunch.

As we were getting ready to leave, I saw a young woman with long hair, tight long pants, and a strapless sun top hoist herself into the driver's side of a big semi. I couldn't imagine driving a rig like that, and I started thinking that there is surely a story there. But no time for an interview!

We stopped in Davenport, Iowa for the night at a lovely Holiday Inn and Suites. Very contemporary. We had dinner at the hotel in a private dining room. The food was outstanding. Ken had a wonderful steak, cooked just the way he likes it. I feasted on an unusual presentation of chicken, Italian type ham, potatoes all layered on a bed of spinach. Dessert was either a giant piece of cheesecake or a chocolate torte. We both had the torte. It was like eating fudge! No way I could finish it.

The waitress in the breakfast area was beside herself with curiosity as to where we are headed today. One lady claimed she knows the destination and the waitress said, "Oh, please tell me before you leave. If you don't, it will drive me crazy all day!" Her eyes were sparkling as she said it. So, off to a corner they went, and now the young woman knows but I don't. I said I thought it was Milwaukee, and the other woman shook her head. So now, I'm really perplexed.

Have to wait for lunchtime before they announce our destination.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Poetry Collection Worth Reading

Ronda Miller's latest book of Poetry has recently been released. WaterSigns follows an earlier success titled Moonstain, a book I read multiple times and thoroughly enjoyed. So, I looked forward to swimming my way through WaterSigns, poem by poem. I was not disappointed. In fact, just the opposite.

In the foreword of the book, Ronda Miller says "...emotion flows like water," and I found it to also be true that her poems have a flowing trait to them. They move fluidly, line by line, bringing the reader much to digest and like. 

A mystery writer, Louise Penny, wrote a piece of dialogue spoken by a poet that I have thought of often. It came to me again when reading WaterSigns. The old poet in the book says "Poetry begins with a lump in the throat."  Many of Ronda Miller's poems must have begun that way. More than one brought a lump to the throat to this reader, as well. 

The book is divided into sections, each one headed by a very fine black and white photograph by Crystal Socha.  Sections are titled Aquifer, Confluence, Raindrops, Mirage and Reservoir. Each section is filled with poems about nature, people and life as seen through the eyes and memories of the poet. She intertwines the high plains of her childhood and memories with raw emotion. Her poems give a sense of place, are visual and filled with sensory details. They are sometimes touching, sometimes surprising but always from the poet's heart.

To conclude the foreword of her book, Ronda Miller says "I don't write poems, they right me." 

I especially liked a poem about her grandmother's glasses and one that shows Grandmother standing against the wind. In "Harvest," we see a hired man who is kind to children but has another side, as well. One titled "In Japan" made me laugh and "The One" wrought sympathy from me. Ronda Miller bares her soul in these and other poems. 

WaterSigns can be ordered from Meadowlark Books with free shipping through July 2017.  Or order WaterSigns at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Kansas readers can find the book at The Raven Bookstore in Lawrence and at Ellen Plumb's City Bookstore in Emporia.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Where Am I Going?

We're gonna have fun! Aren't We?

Are you a free spirit? I never thought my husband I fit in that category but, suddenly, we are a part of that group of people who are willing to take a risk now and then in exchange for having fun. 

Ken and I are going on vacation next week with a group on a tour bus that is sponsored by the senior living place where we live. Those of us who live in independent living are still active and ready to have fun. Meadowlark is known for having great trips.

There is one difference with this one. We don't know where we are going! It's a Mystery Trip! I am an organized person who likes things planned ahead. So, doing this is totally out of character. So much so that I wrote a personal essay about it and submitted the story to Chicken Soup's upcoming book Step Outside Your Comfort Zone. Haven't had a response yet. 

Meanwhile, we have been given a few hints about the place we are going. Most of you know I live in Manhattan, KS--a hundred or so miles west of Kansas City. We've been given a few hints over the past weeks. Here's the list:
  1. Where we are going, you won't get lost, but you can guarantee there will be frost!
  2. A steamboat captain became a captain of industry, and his grand home stands the test of time. With 76 rooms and hidden compartments, the 19th century architecture is sublime.
  3. In summertime, we have no doubt the locals will treat you fair. You can cruise around while letting breezes blow your hair. The sights are festive--there's an international flair. An abundance of visual arts will prompt us to stop and stare.
  4. It's not the destination, but the journey, or so the saying goes. Whether going or coming, we'll rest where the water flows.
  5. On this adventure, there's plenty of variety. You may have your doubts, but trust Becky and Monte. Imagine our smiling faces and little round bellies, shaking when we laugh, like bowls full of jelly. Imagine a ship that you don't need to steer, or consider something weird, like a deer drinking beer.
The trip is 6 days with 5 nights in hotels. We'll stay at one for 3 consecutive nights, the other two will be on travel days, 1 each coming and going. 

If any of you figures out where we're going, send a comment! Ken and I have been thinking it is either in Wisconsin or Michigan. We had been told the average high temp is 83 and average low is 66, so that meant going north. Right? We know a good many of the people who will be on the trip so we're packing our sense of adventure along with the casual clothes, Becky and Monte, our tour guides, recommended. 

My writer self will be looking for stories along the way. I hope to be able to post a travel journal of sorts on this blog, so stay tuned. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Write With Clarity

Writers must write clearly, as well as the good thinking part. When I sub something to my online writing group, one of the comments that often comes back is that 'such and such is not clear to the reader.' 

I see the comment on the subs of other members of the group, too. Why in the world do we write something that confuses the reader rather than lets them know exactly what the situation was or what a character did? It's not a deliberate action. 

One reason is that we are oblivious to what we've done. In our mind, as we write, we see the scene with total clarity. We know where it is, who said what, the placement of this or that, the motivation of a character. We see it because we created it. It's especially true when writing memoir or creative non-fiction or family stories. There was an old tv show called You Are There! Sometimes, writers are there all alone; the reader is not and they are depending on the writer to put them there. 

If you are not already checking your work for clarity when you proofread, add it to your checklist. It's very important that we write so that the reader sees and understands what is going on or who is saying what. Sometimes, it's crucial.

One way to be able to catch this problem is to let your piece of writing sit quietly all alone for several days after you finish writing. Go on to some new project and come back to this one later. The problem is more likely to show itself then. 

Having someone else read your work is always helpful. These readers will catch myriad errors that your own eyes have passed over. I see the errors in other writers' work much faster than when proofreading my own work. It's just the way it is. And that is one good reason to either belong to a critique group or have a writing buddy who will read your work. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Writers--Do You Have A Grateful Heart?

We all get discouraged as we tread along our writing path. At times, it appears that the rejections and disappointments far outweigh the joys in this journey. It can drag us down. If we fall prey to that which pulls us on the downward spiral, we sink lower and lower.

Those who read this blog regularly know that I am definitely a 'glass half full' person as opposed to those who see the glass as 'half empty.' I choose the positive path more times than the negative. That's not saying it is a 100% thing. I get down just like everyone else but not a lot of the time or for long.

Thus, I loved this poster that says today, I will have a grateful heart. A simple sentence that can help you sail smoothly on a glassy sea. Those words can warm you throughout. They make you appreciate more than you denigrate. 

Take a few minutes and make a list--actual or mental--of the reasons you have a grateful heart today. What are the positives in your writing life? Maybe the good things in your entire life. We are all writers but we all have another side to our life, as well. Some of us are wives, husbands, parents, community leaders, workers, worshipers and more. 

If you're in a real funk right now, it might be hard to find enough items to construct a list. Search your heart and I'm sure you can come up with a good list. We all have things in our lives, writing and other parts, that drag us down to the depths at times. It's up to us to remind ourselves now and then of the reasons we have to be grateful.

For starters, you are ahead of the game if you have food, shelter, clothing, friends and that blessed gift of writing talent. And believe me--feeling grateful feels a lot better than being hateful.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A 2-Part Writing Exercise

places restaurant food glass glassware wineglass table interior

Today's post is a writing exercise with an A and a B. With any luck, you'll have the beginning of a new story.

For Part A:  Write a descriptive paragraph based on this picture. You may think there is not much there but if you spend some time studying the photo, you might realize there is more than you first thought. Use your writer's eye. Write only about what you actually see here, not what you think might happen.

For Part B:  Using the same photo and parts of the paragraph you wrote for Part A, write a few paragraphs with what you think will happen when people arrive upon this scene. Let your imagination run free. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Consider What You Write

Our Sunday newspaper had an article about a museum in our community that has been featuring programs for children this summer. They highlighted a story time where an adult read a book to the children. This particular story for preschool age kids features some cows who type notes to the farmer demanding electric blankets. The farmer says "No." So, the cows go on strike. No milk! The farmer gives in. How easy it sounded

My first thought was that I didn't especially care for the idea of teaching small children how to protest and strike to get what they want. A lesson in temper tantrums, perhaps. After that, I began to ponder the amount of influence writers have on their readers. 

Children are fairly easy to impress and to sway to the thinking by whatever adult is either writing a story, or reading it to them. For that reason, I think that children's authors need to be very careful. Of course, they are writing to myriad kinds of parents who pick out the books they read to their little ones. Some would be happy with that cow tale while others would not.

Nonfiction writers who write for adults also need to be cautious. Most readers take what is offered at face value. If this is what the writer tells me, I should probably believe it. We want to trust writers to tell us the truth and to tell us all of a story, not just the part that illustrates a point. In the political world we live in today, writers do influence readers a lot. We sometimes allow the writer whose political persuasion is the same as ours to cement our own opinion. He's on my side, so I'm going to believe him. When it's a writer whose views are the opposite side, we tend to be more doubtful. We scoff at what the writer tells us. This works with both parties, both ways. I'm not singling out any one affiliation here.  

Fiction writers influence their readers, too. If the hero or heroine does this or that, we want to believe it's the way we should all act. When the author is one we admire, we take all he/she tells us at face value. We don't question. That's alright but keep in mind that this is fiction, not the reality that we live in on a daily basis. Sometimes,we do use fiction characters as role models and that's probably a positive. Hopefully, we'll strive to be the good guy (or girl) and ignore the character whose morals and actions are less than good.

How about poets? Do they also impress their readers? I think they definitely can. They, too, should give careful consideration to what they write and the way they hope to reach their readers' inner beings. Some poets will come back with something like I write poems from the heart and I don't care what my reader thinks. That's the personal choice of every poet and every writer but readers still leave with an impression of some kind.

I feel that, as writers, we need to consider the influence we have on our readers, both young and not-so-young. With that in mind, we should be responsible stewards of the word. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Writing Is Not Easy

 Did you ever think starting on a writing journey would be easy? If you did, it wouldn't take too long for that idea to deflate like a pin-pricked balloon. 

Writers jump hurdles all the time. Look at the list of things they deal with:

  • finding a topic or story idea
  • being motivated to act on the idea
  • writing clearly
  • writing what appeals to readers
  • research, if needed
  • the all-important first draft
  • revising
  • proofreading
  • editing
  • searching and searching for a market to submit to
  • preparing the submission
  • waiting for a response
  • receiving a rejection and dealing with it
  • receiving an acceptance--great, but time to start again
  • marketing already published work for another publication
  • finding time to write
  • dealing with a difficult editor
  • helping other writers
  • finding time and money to attend writing conferences
  • building a platform
  • speaking engagements for some
  • book signings for some
  • continually learning more about the craft of writing
  • deciding to join or not join a critique group
I'm sure I've missed a few other things that writers wrestle on a regular basis but the list above should scotch the idea that writing is easy. Only those who have tried it will understand. Following a tough road just might result in a beautiful experience.

Some might wonder why we pursue the writing life. We do it because it sometimes brings us great satisfaction, because we love to write, because we want to give something to readers. We are passionate about the subject of writing--enough that we jump all those hurdles we encounter to keep moving on our journey.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Please, Please Read The Guidelines


I saw an article on facebook yesterday that piqued my curiosity, so I clicked and read. It's geared to the beginning writer but I'm thinking that those who have moved on to intermediate status could benefit from reading the article, too. Check it out here. It's the first part of the article that I'm going to concentrate on in today's post.

The article, written by an editor, highlights all the things that mark a contributor as a person who is either a beginning writer or a writer who does not pay close attention to guidelines. Far too many writers skip right on by the guidelines, looking for that all-important address where they can send their story. What are they thinking?

Guidelines are posted for a very good reason. They are meant to let you know myriad things. Guidelines might include a theme the publication is using, specifics for formatting what you send, payment information, what rights they will purchase, a certain form for the Subject line in the email you send, a request for your information (name, address, email address, phone), perhaps asking for a short bio.

You might find out if the publication accepts work in one lone genre or if they want only poetry, no short stories. A very important item in some guidelines is a statement telling if they will accept finished articles or queries only.

Chicken Soup for the Soul put something in their guidelines that not all publications provide. They tell you what a Chicken Soup story is not. They let you know that they are not looking for essays--they want stories with a beginning, middle and end. Take a look at their guidelines page. It's quite lengthy, very specific. But guess what? Many will skip right by most of it. All they need to know is where and how to submit. Right? No--the writer needs to read all of the guidelines carefully. Study them just as though you were in high school prepping for a test.

Why bother? If you read and follow the submission guidelines carefully, you're increasing your chances at being accepted. That's why. Many editors will toss a submission that does not adhere to the publication's guidelines.

Yes, it takes time to go through those steps an editor has provided to help you. The editorial staff took the time to let you know what they want and how they want it. It's up to you to respond in kind.

Take a look at the guidelines for the following publications. Read them carefully. Think about them. What do they have in common? Which ones give you the information you might need? Not all publications provide good guidelines. The ones who tell you very little are hurting both writer and editor.

Narrative Magazine

Yes Magazine

Grist Magazine

Cricket Media (several magazines for kids)

Bird Watcher's Digest

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Writers Need Practice


Remember the old Chatty Cathy doll that talked? Little girls were overjoyed with her but the doll repeated the same thing over and over. At the risk of being compared to Chatty Cathy, I am going to repeat something I've referred to many times. 

Writing is no different than athletics as it takes a great deal of practice to reach the pro league. A basketball player or one who runs down a football field didn't start out great. Star status comes after hours and hours and hours--maybe years-- of practice, learning techniques and more. 

Becoming a star in the writing world is much the same. We need to work at learning and polishing our skill. A great number of writers dream of writing a bestselling book. Nothing wrong with a dream like that. It's the kind of thinking that spurs us on. But it's not very realistic to think we're going to write a bestselling novel the first time we try. 

As our quote today tells us, we need both some talent and acquired skills. We must also learn from our mistakes. Oh my, oh my--that is the star sentence of today's post. That's why I'm printing it in bold. 

Consider that the first novel you write is a good practice round. You'll learn a lot from the experience. It may be something you never try to market. Instead, it could end up in a drawer, never to be seen again. Or, you could take it out now and then, read it and ask yourself what went right and what went wrong in this initial effort. Learn from it.

Practice novel writing by trying the short story first. I think writing a novel for your first writing experience is like diving into the deep end of the pool before you learn to swim. Write short little vignettes for practice. Write character sketches. You might happen upon a character that can be included in a longer piece later. Try various writing exercises--google to find them if necessary.

It's all these short bits of writing that will help develop your natural talent and hone your knowledge of the craft of writing. We all want to start out writing the one thing that will make us a household name. No one knew who Michael Jordan was the first time he made a basket on a playground. Nobody recognized a kid named Brett Favre when he picked up that first football to toss down a field. They both had natural talent but they worked hard to turn it into star stuff. You can, too. Take your time,

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Freedom From Censorship Is A Blessing

Fourth of July 2017

I received a wonderful message via email about the founders of our country, the men who signed the Declaration of Independence. We read about them in our history books but really know very little about these courageous individuals. Read about the fifty-six and what happened to them after they signed here. Is it 100% fact? I can't guarantee that, but I am quite sure that the vast majority of what is written in this piece is based on fact. 

Seven years ago, I posted a short piece on our freedom to write and read here in the USA. I'm reposting it for this Independence Day. Never take our freedom as writers for granted. We are blessed in this country and we often forget it. 

Posting from 2010:

I read a short article this morning about the controls China is putting on publishing e-books. They also control which blogs the citizens of China can read. No doubt in my mind that they also ban books the government leaders don't approve of.

When I first started my blog, I announced it to my online critique group, and most of them hurried right over to the site to check it out--loyal friends that they are. But a day or two later, I received an e-mail from one of the writersandcritters members who lives in Shanghai. 

She wrote that my blog had been blocked in China. "...probably because of all the evil things you write," she finished. I was laughing here in the USA and she was laughing about it in Shanghai. But somehow, it's no laughing matter. 

The article I read today and the memory of my friend's dilemma made me think that we sometimes take our freedom of the press issue a little too lightly. When you have it, you don't think about it. It's only when you are denied that it becomes an irritation. Rub a sore long enough, and it ends up a painful wound. 

In our country, writers can write what we want in most instances, although we need to consider libelous statements, unethical or hurtful things when we write for publication. Libraries guard the right to put all books on their shelves. Even so, an occasional library makes the headlines when they remove a book deemed inappropriate, and if it goes so far as a courtroom, they usually lose. Rightly so. To write and read anything is only one of the many freedoms Americans are privileged to have, but it's a biggie. 

We don't always agree with what's written. If something offends us in a newspaper or book, the simple solution is to put it down. No one forces us to read--that's something we choose to do.

I hope you'll think about the many precious freedoms in our country. Don't take them for granted. Many of our ancestors fought in various ways to attain and preserve those freedoms for us, our children and our grandchildren. The next time you write a story or article, find a little joy that you can do it without censorship.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Writers--Play It Safe Or Take A Chance?

 motivational quote: If you don’t fail now and again, it’s a sign you’re playing it safe.
Woody Allen – Actor and Director

Can't you just hear Woody Allen saying the quote above? He's shared something we could all ponder      or chew on for awhile. 

Do you play it safe in your writing life or are you willing to take a chance that might find you failing      bigtime? Play it safe and you may never know what waited for you down the road. How about       Robert Frost's poem that highlights two roads in the woods, giving a choice? Read The Road Not Taken here. I'll post the final lines that I have always liked: 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

If we take that less traveled by road, we stand a good chance of running into something bad but it's also possible that good things are waiting. What would you do if you had to make a choice regarding the roads in your writing journey? Would you stay on the path that is known to you, the one where you feel confident? Or would you take a chance and traverse the other road where something glorious might be waiting for even though you could run smack into a brick wall?

Taking chances means we're going to win some, lose others. If we falter, it's perfectly alright. Stay where you are and never submit to magazines you thought beyond your writing and you will probably feel comfortable. You convince yourself it's better to keep subbing to places where you've achieved some success. Why set yourself up for a slap in the face--that nasty rejection? Why? Because something good could happen.

What about sending query letters to big publishing houses even though you know you could self-publish your book? It's a longshot but how will you know if you don't try? Writers routinely send queries or proposals to multiple--and I do mean multiple--publishing houses. Failure is going to happen but maybe one will write back requesting some sample chapters. 

Venture into new territory. Take a chance. The worst that can happen is a few blows to your ego but you can recover from that if you approach it with the proper attitude. Try your wings; you just might be able to fly.