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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Fuel For The Writer

 We all know that our car, or truck, does not run without fuel. Nor does our body thrive without food. We need to feed both vehicles and bodies on a regular basis. We pay strict attention to both. We would not think of setting out on a trip without fuel in the car or food in our tummies. 

So, why would you start a new writing project without fuel of some sort to feed your writing spirit? Look at the words in red in the next paragraphs to learn what we can use as fuel for writers. 

Consider inspiration as high octane or fine nutrition. To practice good writing, we do need to be inspired. Ever gone to a conference, attended several workshops, and come home eager to write? It's one of the best ways to get inspired that I know.

Visit with another writer who is having some success. Sit across the table at the coffee shop and listen to his/her enthusiasm. Feel your adrenalin kicking in? Sometimes, it happens.

Read a good book on the craft of writing, filled with exercises that get your writing juices flowing. 

Find story ideas wherever you go. There are dozens in front of us every day. The trick is to train yourself to observe with your writer's eye. A few evenings ago, my husband and I walked over to the main building at our senior living complex to have a drink and dinner. In the space of exactly 3 minutes, I saw 3 story ideas. Golden nuggets to feed my writing spirit. I jotted a few notes when we got home so I wouldn't let the moment slip by. 

Online classes are also fuel for our writing spirit. There are myriad choices that you can find on your favorite search engine. Of course, they are not all of equal quality but study the selections, write and ask questions of the moderator/instructor and make a choice. 

Fuel for the truck, food for the body and the same for your writing spirit. Stock up soon!

Ever Thought About Writing Lyrics For A Song?

Last night, we saw the Smoky Mountain Opry show with a group of friends who have traveled here from three different places in the USA. We all lived in the same town many years ago, then everyone moved on but we meet somewhere once a year. One couple is host and selects the place we visit.

This year, we are in the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg and Pigeon forge area. It's a touristy kind of place but surrounded by natural beauty with the mountains and forests, hiking trails and more. Lots for shoppers here, as well, and those who like to eat. 

The show we saw was a musical revue touching on all kinds of music--rock and roll, Broadway, movies, gospel, patriotic and more. All very well performed by a talented cast. Beautiful costumes and sets, as well.

As I enjoyed the show, I thought about the people who wrote the music and lyrics for the multitude of songs we were privileged to hear. It's a kind of writing we don't always include  in our list of kinds of writing. We should. The people who write the lyrics to the songs we hear and often grow to love are telling a story just like writers of fiction. Their words are often more poetry than prose. 

Did you ever try to write lyrics for a piece of music? Or write lyrics and find someone to create the music to accompany it? I certainly never have. 

A few years ago, I attended my state authors convention and one of the workshops I chose to go to was about writing song lyrics. I found the leader had some fascinating information to share and I also came away with a much greater appreciation for the songs I heard thereafter. 

One of the nice things about entering the writing world is that we have a wide array of kinds of writing we want to pursue. Try one and then another until you find the place where you feel most comfortable. There is no rule that says you must write one and only one type of writing. Personally, I would be bored writing the same things over and over. But that's me. For some, it's perfect. I like to have a variety in my writing which is why I write creative nonfiction, poetry, short stories for kids, a few adult short stories, personal essays, memoir and articles on writing. That's a wide range but I do concentrate more on the personal essays and memoir. 

How about you? Do you stay with only one kind of writing? Or do you like to venture into several? 

Next time you listen to a song, pay attention to the lyrics and think about the writer. They have to say a lot in a concise amount of words. And make a statement--make it memorable. Not an easy task. They are to be admired.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Are Writers Worry Birds?

Submit a finished piece that felt satisfying to you and then what? Sit back and wait? Start counting days until you get a response from the editor? Bite your nails and worry? 

It seems to be a natural thing for humans to fret and worry. What good does it do us? All the worry in the world is not going to change the amount of time that it takes for an editor to notify his/her decision. It's not going to make the number of days we wait any less. It's not going to change the little things we wished we'd added or left out before we sent the submission.

The one and only thing worry does is make us miserable. Self-inflicted punishment! 

Even knowing that, it's difficult to control worry. Having a poster like the one above where you see it frequently might help. Read it over and over and the message could make the words and what they really say sink in. Use a mantra like I refuse to worry. Use it often. We know that we learn through repetition so repeat! And repeat!

Some of us are natural worriers. About everything! It's most likely harder for those people to rein in the worry bird than for ones who worry now and then. I'm guessing that people with negative attitudes worry more than those who look for the positives in life. 

One help for writers is to have faith in your writing, to have self-confidence in yourself as a writer. Dwell on the positive things in your writing world and work on correcting the rest a little at a time. 

Chase the big. black cloud that seems to follow you away. There's sunshine behind it. Turn toward those rays to help your writing journey and ease your worries. A little at a time. Nothing changes overnight. Use some of that persistence and patience that I employ as keywords to our writing. It's just as important in the worrisome times. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Cherish The Common Bond

Jordy Nelson 

We are traveling this week. Sunday afternoon, we checked in at a hotel in Louisville, KY. Little did we know that a busload of people from Green Bay, WI had just arrived there, too. Ken and I are big Green Bay Packer fans for a couple of reasons.

One is Jordy Nelson, a top receiver for the Packers who is from a small farming community just north of where we live in Kansas. Jordy was a walk-on at Kansas State University and became a top player after being groomed by Coach Bill Snyder. On to the NFL where he has spent is career with the Packers. 

Ken played college football way back when at Valparaiso University in Indiana with another player who became a star player for the Green Bay and is in their Hall of Fame. Fuzzy Thurston was his name. Needless to say, when one of Ken's teammates made a great career there, my husband was going to be a fan for life. And, after we got married, I became a GB fan, as well.

After watching the Green Bay first half in our room, we ventured down to the lobby for a drink and fell right into Packerland! The whole busload of folks from northern Wisconsin were watching all the tv's in the lobby and breakfast room. We sat with them and Ken told them about our connection to the two celebrity players. We were soon one of the gang! We had a common bond. We all cared about the team and the players whether we had any other same interests or not.

It's the same as the bond that writers have with one another. We may write in myriad genres, at several different levels, and on every continent. Even so, we are a botherhood/sisterhood with strong ties. No one understands the writing world like another writer. 

Walk into a room filled with writers and say the word rejection and the groan will be collective. Say published and the smiles will be wide and lengthy.  Utter edit and deep sighs will emerge. Whisper first draft and watch all the heads nod. Every writer in the room knows what goes with each of those words. They have lived through it time and again. 

Every writer there will be able to relate to things like finding time to write, looking for story ideas, revising and editing over and over again and so much more. The common bond makes us care about one another. It lets us offer help when possible, a shoulder to cry on, another writer to celebrate victories with. And we don't even have to be in the same room. In our technological world, we can be in touch within seconds for that understanding and support we all crave. 

Like those Packer fans, we all have different ethnic heritages, various educational backgrounds, religions and political views. Doesn't matter when it comes to our writing world. We're a group who cares about one another. We cheer for the same things.

Cherish that common bond you have with other writers, nurture it and celebrate. Keep the bond strong.

One more thing--Green Bay won the game in overtime. There were a lot of happy people in the hotel lobby.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Stones On A Lake

Stones On A Lake

Try a writing exercise today with this photo prompt. Stones on a Lake is the title. I thought it an intriguing scene for the first day of fall in the northern hemisphere.

Ask yourself many questions before you begin. How did those stones get there? Who is going to walk across them? Is someone going to run across them? Who is waiting in the woods for them? Who is chasing them? Who is with them? What is their objective? And any other questions that come to mind.

Then begin writing and see where you go. Make it as simple or complex as you like. Pay attention to sensory details, a sense of place, descriptive phrases, showing instead of telling, and the glorious color.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Writing Your Trauma Without Too Much Drama--Part 3

Ronda Miller

Part 3 is the conclusion of my interview with Ronda Miller. 

Question 8:  Do you have any other thoughts about this kind of writing that we haven't covered?

Ronda:  I've learned a lot about my strengths, and that of other survivors, from telling my story and hearing theirs. Sharing helps us find ways to heal that we may not think of on our own.

People also ask questions which may lead to an entirely different process. We can get stuck with an idea, or opinion, about why an event occurred, or how we should respond to a traumatic event, then we find out there are a multitude of human condtions and reactions to them other than our own. It can be most enlightening.

I've been greatly rewarded, while sharing my story, to have someone thank me because they think it is an important topic of discussion or they experienced a similar trauma.

It can be important and helpful to ask permission of the family of a deceased loved one if you're writing about them. I have found it's also good to give yourself permission to write about a trauma.

 One of my sayings is: I don't write poetry, it 'rights' me.

Question 9:  You will be teaching a workshop on this subject in October. Where and When?

Ronda:  I'll be presenting this topic Sunday morning, October 15th at the State Kansas Authors Club Convention in Coffeyville, KS. The workshop is for the general public as well as writers of all ages and genres. 

Thank you, Ronda for some very interesting and pertinent information on writing about traumas in our life. If any reader has a question for Ronda, put it in the Comments section and I will forward it to her.

Here is a sample of the kind of writing Ronda has discussed with us. I can attest that she is a fine poet, who has two books of her poetry published. MoonStain and WaterSigns  She is working on a memoir titled Gun Memories Of A Stone-Eyed Cold Girl. 


Barn doors pushed shut
an indication something worth
investigating was within. It took
all my strength to open, slide
to close again. New birth
in pungent urgency led
me to the still born calf
quite warm. I nestled
in the hay beside it, placed
my arms around its neck.

I knew what death was, heard
whispers of my mother's
not long before. I could hear
the mother cow's loud bawling
from outside the back barn door.

I felt the spirit of the calf lift,
swirl around me, disappear. It
grew cold. I felt damp fear.
I sat in the caliginous stall
until my sister came, took
my hand, ran with me past
my grandmother's moonlit
garden of hollyhocks,
strawberries, rhubarb and iris,
past the spot where a rattlesnake
soaked up water from
a sprinkler one August day,
past the rotted elm
where fire ants swarmed
in balls before they
tumbled to the ground.

We opened the rusted
screen door and
tiptoed to bed,
where I lay crying,
because it felt so wondrous,
because it felt so good,
until the moonstain
no longer spread
across the floor.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Writing Your Trauma Without Too Much Drama--Part 2

Ronda Miller

Part 2 of my interview with Ronda Miller:

Question 5:  What benefits have you received writing about difficult times?

Ronda:  I've found that in some cases my perceptions, or story, changes over time. I've written and rewritten my mom's suicide in many poems (The Milky Way Woman, Mama Slam, What My Mother Didn't Teach Me I Learned From The Prairie, and Moonstain). I've written about the experience from the perspective of a 3 year old child, a child of 7, a teen, and as a mother with children of my own. It has been interesting to see the difference in my emotions and my understanding of what transpired.

Question 6:  Can keeping a journal be part of writing about trauma?

Ronda:  Yes. Trauma often presents itself in our dreams, awake and asleep. We don't often recognize a pattern unless it is recorded. I may ask myself aren't you dreaming that same dream often? Then I might second guess that I have. A journal helps me verify and if the dream repeats.

The actual process of writing something down  with pen/pencil and paper actually changes our brain waves. It also puts abstract thoughts into concrete form. They are tangible instead of floating in the subconscious or dream state. It's fascinating to see, over time, that we can and do make sense of what transpired, thereby learning a great deal about ourselves.

A great technique is to write the traumatic event from another viewpoint or medium, prose instead of poetry, or vice versa. I've written some traumas using second or third person narrative. Sometimes, it isn't as painful. Whatever the individual prefers. And if fiction is easier, do it that way. I've no doubt that many fine novelists or poets are writing from the emotion, if not the actual memory, of the event.

Question 7:  What can sharing our human experience do for us?

Ronda:  It allows us to be human! Sharing our life experiences gives others permission to share their own. I am a believer that none of us are so different or unique that we can not on some level understand what another human has experienced.

It has been pointed out to me that the exception may be if the person is mentally ill such as a sociopath.

Tomorrow Part 3 will be posted along with an example of a poem written by Ronda Miller.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Writing Your Trauma Without Too Much Drama--Part 1

Ronda Miller

Many, perhaps most of us, have experienced some type of trauma in our lifetime. Perhaps several times. Writing about what happened can be one of the steps to healing and learning to deal with what occurred. I'm very pleased to post an interview with Ronda Miller, Lifetime Coach and Poet, who lives in Lawrence, KS. Her answers should be of help to anyone who would like to write about a trauma, as well as of interest to other writers and readers. 

This is the first of three posts addressing the topic:

Question 1:  You have lived through multiple traumas, so you address this subject with first-hand knowledge. What prompted you to write about it?

Ronda:  I seem to have been writing about my personal traumas since my earliest days of writing in one form or another. I wrote a short story called "Gun Memories" in a Creative Writing class at KU decades ago. It was about a man I knew who sold me a gun just like the .22 pistol he owned. He eventually kidnapped a young woman, held her hostage for days and repeatedly raped her. He then killed himself. The story I wrote was based on that. I also wrote a short story about my father's homicide about that same time.

It was only 11 years ago that I started writing about my mother's suicide which occurred when I was three. That's when I began writing poetry and I found it unsettling that the poetry presented itself so forcefully. I didn't seem to have a lot of say in it; the poetry wrote itself.

Writing has been a great release for my personal experiences. When I wasn't emotionally ready to discuss what happened, I incorporated the incidents into my short stories. I think I hoped classmates and professors who read them would think it all pure fiction.

Question 2:  Where did you find the inspiration to write about difficult times in your life?

Ronda:  The short answer is 'from others.'

There is that inner voice of the creative spirit, where we try to make sense of horrific incidents, that begs to be released. For some it can become a destructive force. For others, it becomes a an expression of creativity in the form of poetry, dance, athletics, song, visual arts etc. For another, it might be cooking or nurturing.

I do know that going to other peoples' art presentations, whatever form that takes, gives me permission on a very deep level to talk about my experiences. It's great to be in the safety net of the humanities.

Question 3:  Do you think that writing about traumas in life can be a step in the healing process?

Ronda:  I know for myself it has been. I've seen what writing can and has done for fellow artists repeatedly. Trauma wants a voice. It generally finds it one way or another.

Children are given tools in which to act their trauma out through, crayons, paints, dolls etc. Adults need them, too. When we aren't given means to express what happened, emotions build like a pressure cooker. The explosion can be directed outward, but it's often directed internally, too. This can lead to self-harm like cutting, stealing, promiscuous behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, certainly suicide.

Question 4:  What guidelines would you give a person who wants to write about a trauma in their life?

Ronda:  I think it's helpful to make a list.of personal traumas--we all have several. Choose one of the lesser ones first. A trauma can be a move, a job loss, divorce, death, abuse, illness, an attack.

It's important not to judge our own trauma. Write it like you're telling a trusted stranger your story. A friend or family member may already know the story and have their own view of it. It's usually easier to be honest with a stranger. You don't have to worry about their emotions or perhaps their denial of the incident.

Don't judge yourself. Your feelings are real even though they may not have been validated in the past. Writing helps validate them.

Some traumatic experiences are scary to write alone, which is one reason I offer group writing classes.

Go to a safe place like a library or coffee shop, your home office or deck, wherever you won't feel afraid or overwhelmed with emotion. Start small. If you write one sentence the first time, that's a fantastic start. Don't force it. Let it tell you when it wants to be written. Honor how long it may take to put into words. This is not a race.

Come back tomorrow for more about this timely topic.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

One Thing Writers Fear

I have been reading William Kenower's book Fearless Writing that came highly recommended by a fellow writer. I think the one thing that stood out for me more than any other is the author's premise that the greatest fear of writers is what other people think of what I write is more important than what I think of what I write. 

How many of us fall into that trap of writing only what we think our readers want? Probably a good number. We watch the trends and, if horror is the hottest thing on the market, we try to write a horror story. Or, if chick lit is flying off the shelves, we decide to try our hand at it even if we've never attempted to write for that audience before. It might sell, we think, and we're here to sell what we write.

Yes and no to that last statement. Of course, we all would like to be published, to slip that check into our pocket and rush off to the bank to deposit or cash it. We also need to write what pleases us, what makes us feel good when we finish the piece. 

One of our human traits is to want to please others and another is to be accepted by others, as well. Our innermost mind might think that we need to write what pleases others so they will like us and keep reading what we write and we'll keep writing what they want whether it pleases us or not. 

My thought on this is that we must produce a piece of writing that pleases us. If we are happy about all those words that have tumbled forth, then I think that is going to transfer to the readers. We need to remember that it may not be the writing itself a reader doesn't care for. Subject matter enters in, too. We should have learned long, long ago that there is no way to please everyone all the time. If the writer is satisfied, I think the reader will sense it. 

Have you ever finished a first draft, read it over and thought This is pure drivel! and filed it away as quickly as possible? It's in your files, you skim across the title now and then and hurry right past it. No way do you want to get the darned thing out and work on it. As an exercise this week, how about pulling one from the many languishing in your files and rework it in a way that pleases you, the writer, and nobody else. 

The writing that pleases you the most is almost always going to be something that you wrote from the heart. Passion for our subject comes through your words to the reader. 

Work towards believing that what you think of your writing is more important than what your readers think of it. You'll probably become a better writer and please your readers, too.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Writers Spend Time Alone

When I'd been writing for a relatively short time, one of my close friends said "But you can't be a writer. That's a lonely kind of thing to do. You're much too social for that."

She was right and she was wrong. I truly am a very social person. In the first half of my lifetime, I didn't like being alone. I wanted people around me. When my husband wanted to move out to a rural area, I literally shuddered. I told him I could not live without people nearby. Most likely, part of the reason was that I was raised in a family of six in a small apartment on the top floor of a very big building. I was never alone in the apartment nor when running up and down the stairs as I came and went. Someone was always outside. I had been conditioned to be around other people. It was all I knew.

I did come to savor my weekly walks to the public library all alone as a pre-teen and teen-ager. Down the next block, past the Garfield Conservatory where jungle plants thrived in a humid atmosphere, on past the park and across the railroad tracks. From there, I zipped along a cinder path that ran behind the elevated train platform. I used that time for thinking about a lot of what seemed important things at the time.

In my late forties, I started to enjoy time spent alone when my husband was at work and the children at school or moved away. I found solitude to be desirable for the first time in my life.

Once I began to write, I actually craved time alone when I could be creative without interruptions. 
I must admit that after a certain amount of time all by myself, I did feel the need of other people. Easy enough to remedy by calling a friend to come over for coffee or go out to lunch. I learned to balance my 'with people' and 'alone' times. 

I will agree with today's quote. Some of us do have to learn to be alone and to like it. It's then that we find that freedom and empowerment and realize that we do appreciate our own company. 

How about you? How much alone time do you like? Lots or just a small bit? 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Writers--Keep Your Eyes Open

I critiqued a business article last night for one of my writing group members. She talked about overlooking the obvious things right before our very eyes. 

It occurred to me that when we write our first drafts, we inevitably do exactly that. We could look through those big binoculars the guy above has and still not see the little things that another reader/critiquer finds. Immediately! 

That old cliche about not seeing the forest for the trees might apply here. The overall picture of the story we wrote might be hidden because of a list of small errors. Like what? It could be any one of these: 
  • lack of clarity (writer knows exactly but reader cannot see it from the writing)
  • too wordy
  • sentences too long
  • unnecessary words (this one's a biggie)
  • cliches
  • use of same tense consistently
  • overuse of adjectives and/or adverbs
  • passive verbs'
  • repetition of words close together
  • lack of sensory detail
  • poor dialogue
When I critique someone's story, many of the points above stand out like a neon light. When I proofread my own work I skim right on by many of those blips from the list. Why?

Perhaps we are too invested in the story itself to be conscious of all those little things that make a good story a great story. 

One way to help yourself be aware of your own errors is to finish that first draft, then put it in a file and forget it for several days--even a week or two. I promise that you will see it from a new perspective. Some, but not all, of those minor problems will wave a flag in your face and you can fix them before submitting to either a writing group or an editor. 

Editors often say "Send us your best work." That would mean a piece of writing that has been edited and revised by you and, hopefully, at least one other reader. When I sub a story to my writing group, I am delighted if several people choose to critique it. What one misses, another sees. And, if all who critique mark the same spot, then I know that is a place to rework. 

You may not need those big binoculars but do read your work with eyes wide open.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Unfinished Writing Projects

If your name is Karma, then the poster's advice is fine. If you have a different name, then it's up to you to bring out those unfinished projects and work on them. But do stay calm!

Most writers have at least one, if not more, unfinished story, book, poem, article--whatever kind of writing there is. When inspiration first hit, you worked on the story with enthusiasm. Then something happened.

You finished the first draft, put it in a file to simmer a bit and moved on to another writing project. Or, you came to a tough spot that you couldn't seem to get through, so you put the piece in a file and vowed to come back to it later. Or, you sent your finished draft to your writing group for critiques and you got so many negative responses that you dumped it back in the file and walked away, frustrated and unhappy. Leave it! you told yourself.

There are valid reasons for putting unfinished projects to the side. If you've ever done it, have you found that piece of writing popping into your head at the oddest moments? Does it occur to you that if it continues to swirl in your head, there may be a valid reason? That perhaps you are meant to pull that file and start working on the story again? 

What if you've taken this attitude of Keep calm and let karma finish it? Good way to get around some hard work but the story will never see the light of day, let alone be published if you do that. 

I've had a middle grade fiction novel in my files for longer than I care to admit. I've subbed it to crit groups twice and gotten good responses and lots of advice. I tried marketing it way back when it was in its first stages of development. Even then, there was mild interest but no takers. I know it's got possibilities but it's not quite the best it can be yet.

All this time, that novel and its characters appear in my mind at the strangest times. It's almost as though they are calling out to me for help. And I do know they need help. They can't stand on their own as the novel stands now. 

And guess what? Karma will have nothing to do with this project getting finished. It's up to me and only me. So, why do I keep stalling? That's the key question for any of us who have unfinished pieces of writing. 

I can think of several reasons that we do not finish a project: 
  • it's hard work
  • fear of not being able to succeed
  • too many other projects in the works
  • self-doubt
  • already worked on this too long and maybe I can't do any more
  • won't be able to work out the rough spots
  • sick and tired of it
  • didn't care enough about the project anyway
  • not as inspired as when first starting the project
  • it's hard work (yes, same as the first one in the list--it's a biggie)
If you think about that unfinished story off and on, it must mean something to you. If that's the case, isn't it worth allowing yourself another chance to create a better story? Give it another go so you won't end up regretting ignoring what was once an enthusiastic project. I'm going to take my own advice here and aim to revise and edit my novel one more time.

You started, now finish it!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Writer Responsibility

We are the master of our own ship and where and how far we sail is entirely up to us. Whatever we decide to do in our writing life is our choice. It is not our best friend's decision, nor our spouse, nor our children. It's ours!

We decide if we want to keep writing in one genre or try out another one or two.  The grocer, the butcher and the baker have no say in what we attempt to write. We decide!

It is our decision to keep our writing private or to make every effort to get our work published. The teacher next door, the pastor of our church or the lady who does our alterations cannot tell us what to choose in this instance. It's up to us!

We must take full responsibility in our writing life. Does that mean that we cannot ask for another opinion? Of course not. Listening to others does give us assistance in making our choice. Make no mistake, however, that final choice is our own. 

Should we disregard all the things we read in a book on the craft of writing? Never that. We read, take what we learned into consideration and then apply it to our own writing life in some way. How we do it is our choice. 

So, if we are responsible for every decision and choice we make, does that mean we have to shoulder the blame when things go awry? Probably so, but we also learn from what did not work and use that knowledge to help us make the next choice. 

In our writing life, we have choices and decisions to make on a daily basis. Experience, the thoughts of others and what we learn from books or workshops or classes are the aids we use to decide and choose. The longer we write, the easier it is to make those decisions and choices. 

Believe that you are the one in charge and the choices and decision making becomes much easier.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Saddest Birthday Remembered

Never Never Never Forget

It's become a tradition with me to post a short piece I wrote awhile after 9-11-2001 occurred. Lives were shattered that day, hearts broken, but hope rose from the ashes in many small ways. We were far away from New York that fateful day but we mark the memory every September 11th when we also celebrate my husband's birthday. Here is the essay I will once again share with you. 

The Saddest Birthday

Birthdays are special in our family, celebrated and recognized all the waking hours of the specific day. Not only a cake and gaily wrapped gifts mark the occasion. Extra smiles and hugs come the way of the birthday person, as well. Treasured memories of other birthdays seem to pop up during dinner table conversation. Daily chores might be cancelled for the honoree. In short, the birthday person reigns as the star of the day.

But in recent years, my husband’s birthday has been clouded over with a sense of sadness and grief. His special day happens to be September 11th. Never again will we celebrate without remembering that ill-fated day in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. 

That morning I’d greeted the birthday boy with a kiss and a hug and presented him with a card and gift. He smiled broadly as he fingered the purple and white shirt with the Kansas State logo gracing its front, and I knew thoughts of wearing it to Saturday’s football game ran through his head.

After the gift-giving we settled into our usual routine. Since Ken had retired, we spent our early mornings reading the newspaper from front to back and keeping an occasional eye on the Today show on TV. We both looked up from the newspaper at the urgent sound in the broadcaster’s voice as she narrated film showing a plane flying into a skyscraper in New York City. In less time than it takes to sneeze, the tragedy repeated itself. And we knew immediately that it was no accident.

The remainder of the day found us tuned into further reports of the devastating occurrences which are seared into the memories and hearts of all American citizens. I never made the cake I’d planned on. The birthday greeting calls our children made to their dad were not filled with good wishes and teasing remarks. Instead, these adult children of ours were as overwhelmed with the day’s happenings as we were.

Late in the day, we received word that a baby boy had been born to one of our daughter’s childhood friends. Shadows of grief surrounded the joy we felt for Jen and James and their new son. As evening fell, it occurred to me that the birth of this baby and all the other babies born on this day might be taken as a sign from God that no matter what had happened, life would go on. These new lives became seeds of hope sown in sadness.

The American people banded together on that tragic September 11th. They picked up the shards of their lives and soldiered on. Hearts shattered, but prayerful resolve pieced them together again.

This year we celebrate another birthday for my husband on September 11th. We’re back to those special celebrations once again. I’ve been mulling over cake possibilities and worrying about what to give him to commemorate the day. Even so, we’ll take time to remember the saddest birthday he ever experienced and to honor those who’ll not have an earthly birthday anymore.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Each Memory Is A Pearl For A Lifetime Necklace

We do not remember days,

we remember moments

I love the quote above on a Happy New Year greeting someone once sent me. It fit perfectly for a topic that I had been pondering. I wish that the person who wrote this quote had been named. Sadly, it is anonymous.

We do remember the special moments in our lives with a clarity that I find amazing. I've had special moments that have stayed with me for the many decades I've walked this earth, and they've been ones that have created those memoir stories that seem to be perfect for many anthologies. 

Each one of those special moments is like a pearl, and as writers, we can string them together to create a memoir of our lives. The individual moments shine in our memory bank like the pearls on a necklace. They shimmer and glow and step forth clearly so we can write about them. 

One of my favorite pearls is a story I wrote for a Chicken Soup Tea Lovers book. My grandmother and I had afternoon tea at the famous Walnut Room at Marshall Field's department store in Chicago when I was four years old. Only a young child, I still remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. Because the memory remained vividly in my mind, I found I could recreate the event well enough to write a story that was published. 

Another is a story about a valentine box my dad made for me during my second grade year. I remember it so well, I think, because a revelation hit me while Dad and I spent time together making the box. 

Yet a third special moment memory that produced a publishable story is about the first time I had surgery. I was four and staying in the hospital proved frightening until a beautiful and compassionate nurse eased the experience for me. She set me on a path of service to others for the rest of my life. 

When an event occurs in our life that has some importance in shaping our character or signifies love and family, the memory becomes more important than the mundane things in our days. The memories are stored until we pluck them out and add one more pearl to our life's necklace. All it takes is a little trigger to bring the memory forth. Once it's there, it's up to you to write about it. 

When those memories emerge, don't let them slip by. If nothing else, jot down some notes so that you can write a first draft later. I find that those notations you make will help you bring the memory moment into sharper focus. When I write the first draft, the situation, or scene, truly comes alive for me and I feel as I have traveled back in time and am reliving the experience. 

How many pearls will you add to your life's necklace this year? 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

For Readers and Writers--The Making Of A Book

It's a bit difficult to read the small print on today's poster so I'll copy it below in a more readable form. 

It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it & you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millenia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.

Yes, a book is truly an astonishing thing. Consider the many steps that must be taken before a book lands in your eager hands and after.
  1. an idea is born in the mind of a writer
  2. the idea swirls in his/her mind for months, even years
  3. an outline is made (sometimes)
  4. a first draft is written, a little at a time
  5. the writer revises and edits
  6. writer asks friends and family to read the manuscript
  7. writer submits chapter by chapter to his/her writing critique group
  8. writer makes more revisions; edits line by line
  9. some hire a professional to do a final edit
  10. writer must shop the book to various agents and/or publishers--can be endless
  11. Eureka! Someone wants to publish the book
  12. More revisions and editing
  13. the publisher takes over and goes through a many step process to produce the book
  14. the writer holds the first book in his/her hand and probably weeps with joy and relief
  15. the marketing begins with the publisher
  16. the book hits the shelves in the books stores and online
  17. the marketing continues with the writer helping with book signings, speaking engagements
  18. writer must seek reviews from myriad sources
The next time you go to a book store or your local library, pick up a book, hold it open with both hands and consider what it took for that book to come from a person's mind into your hands. Yes, a book is an astonishing thing. 

If you've ever tried to write one, you know that better than most. If you've ever had a book published, be ever so proud of yourself. You are a big part of that astonishing thing.

If you have never written a book but read many, you also have an appreciation of this blessing we have--books!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Six Quotes On Writing

Today's post is a series of quotes on writing that speak for themselves. Thanks to pinterest for sharing with us. Look at each one, ponder it a bit, then try to apply to your own writing life. Which is your favorite?

Writing quote from Richard Bach

Writing and Self-Publishing - Community - Google+ Right? #amwriting #youshouldbewriting #BookFuel

A lonely job


Henry Miller

Sylvia Plath quote

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Read Your Writing Aloud When You Self-edit

Most of us had our first experience with books that an adult read to us. Sitting cozily with Mom or Dad helped enforce the joy of stories and books, a feeling that stays with us into adulthood. In school, we learned to read by reading aloud from those primary readers, some with fingers running under each word, some painstakingly and others sailing along with amazement and joy. 

But now, you're an adult and a writer. You edit and revise your work by sitting at your computer and silently reading paragraph by paragraph looking for ways to make your story or poem better. One way to increase the odds that you will improve your work is to read it aloud. All alone. Not to any other person. Just for your own ears.

You're probably thinking that you'd feel stupid sitting there reading out loud to no one but yourself. What if someone in your family walked by and saw you? They might think you've finally lost it. Right? Doubtful. 

We all want to create as polished a piece of writing as possible so that our chances of getting published will be increased and also because we want to be proud of what we produce for others to read. 

During that editing and proofreading process, take the extra step of reading your work out loud. Listen to what you've written. Watch to see places where you stumble in your reading. Why did that happen? 

Reading your work out loud:
  • helps you see the rhythm and pace
  • makes unnecessary words stand out
  • shows you parts that don't work
  • reveals sentences that are too long
  • lets you see where more punctuation is needed
It's better to print the piece, move away from the computer and read aloud. Go to a window or a blank wall; it doesn't matter where as long as it is away from the place where you wrote originally. If you bring a highlighter with you, places that need work can be easily marked. 

We are often blind to our own errors, especially when we read our work silently at the computer. That's one good reason to have someone else critique your writing. They see things that would never come to light for you when doing your own editing. Try reading your writing aloud and see if you find it worthwhile. Don't do it one time and quit. Give it a few tries before you decide if it is beneficial. Yes, it is one more step that takes up precious time but go for it.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Two Sides of Critiquing Writing

Having your writing critiqued by another writer comes with a mixed bag. We want the one who critiques to like our work and say nothing needs to be changed. Fat chance of that happening. 

We'd like to find out if the draft we've sent out with an S.O.S. is worth revision on our part. We hope to hear good things along with what needs to be worked on. Let's look at both sides to see what is needed and hoped for. 

The person being critiqued wants:
  • some praise along with suggestions to make the writing better
  • help in polishing a rough draft
  • to know where there are parts that are not clear to the reader
  • to know how to tighten the writing
  • help with mechanical issues
  • to pinpoint the strong parts 
  • to find the weak areas
  • an objective opinion
  • a little kindness with the criticism
  • to be helped
The person doing the critique should:
  • be fair but honest
  • not give praise just to make the writer feel good
  • be kind in the way problems are pointed out
  • be able to back up their suggestions if needed
  • give reasons for changing this or that
  • show ways to reword unclear areas
  • not be too general, be specific
  • tell what they like and what they don't like
  • point to ways to tighten the writing
It's not easy to toss your work to the wolves. Not that those who critique for us are actually wolves but sometimes it feels like that is what we're doing. We send it to another writer for help but we're thinking Here it is, Chew it up and spit it back at me. Like me, hate me. I can take it. Maybe this will make me stop writing forever.

What we should be thinking is Help me make this a better piece of writing so that it is likely to appeal to an editor and be published. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

September Thoughts

September is Here!

September arrived today and thoughts turn to autumn even though it still looks like summer outside. Before long, the mornings will be cooler but still bringing warm afternoons. Fall flowers will be in bloom and summer ones fading away. Trees will begin to make some changes, as well. No riotous colors yet for us here in the central part of the USA. We don't usually see that kind of change until October. Even so, with the onset of September our mindset begins a change to let us slowly slide out of summer and into fall.

Our thoughts on what we write can change now, too. We start to consider the fall holidays and more. Here's a list of some of the things that might trigger your writing now:

  • the beginning of school (depending where you live)
  • fall sports in grade and high schools
  • college football
  • pro football
  • tailgating
  • Labor Day
  • new year for clubs and organizations
  • family birthdays
  • 9/11 anniversary
  • weather changes
  • fall foods--apples, pumpkins, squash and more
  • transitional wardrobe
  • Grandparents Day
Write the family stories connected with this time of year. Add to your memoir collection. Write stories to submit to publications later this year with the thought of publishing next fall. Definitely must plan ahead with seasonal or holiday stories. Work on them now and put in a file for later.

Let the new month, new season inspire your writing. When the mood moves you, write!