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Friday, December 29, 2017

A Writer's Self-Check List

Today's poster is though provoking. Three lines that should make us sit back and ponder for a good while. 

Consider the many happenings in your life. Some were good, others heart-rending. Even so, both kinds allowed you to change and grow as a person. 

What about your writing life? It's the end of the year when we often take stock of all the good and bad things that occurred in our writing life. Many of them allowed for change and growth. Ask yourself these questions.
  • How many times did you submit your work in 2017? 
  • How many of those submissions were published? 
  • How much money did you make from writing this year? 
  • How many of the goals you set last January did you meet? 
  • What major writing project did you complete? 
  • How many times did you abandon a writing project? 
  • How many books about writing did you read?
  • How many conferences did you attend?
  • How many notes of encouragement did you receive from an editor?
  • How many critiques of your word did you get from others?
  • How many critiques did you give to fellow writers?
  • How often did you do a writing exercise?
  • How many books did you read in 2017?
  • How often did you feel discouraged about your writing?
  • How often did you feel inspired ti write like there was no tomorrow?
  • How carefully did you edit your work? 
  • Did you ever want to stop writing for good?
  • Who did you go to for help when you were discouraged?
  • How much research for a writing project did you do?
  • Did you keep good records of submissions?
  • Was 2017 a better writing year than 2016? Why or why not?
  • Do you still enjoy writing?
This is a long list but it will allow you to take a good look at your writing life. Perhaps you'll see the places you excelled and also areas that need improvement. The list can also be a help in setting your goals for 2018. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Biggest Benefit Of Freewriting Exercises

Too many writers thumb their noses at writing exercises. I want to write. I don't want to do exercises. That's the thinking of many.  But guess what? These writing exercises can only help you become a better writer. 

The one I especially like is the freewriting exercise. 

What is the freewriting exercise?  Find a word (more on that later). Set a timer for 10 minutes. Type the word. Then let your fingers go as fast as possible with whatever the word brings to mind. Keep typing the full ten minutes. Don't stop to read over what you've written, don't stop to correct a word or punctuation, don't stop until the timer goes off. 

It doesn't matter if all that you have written is coherent or not. Some of it will be. And sometimes the entire thing is perfectly put together. The word you selected will trigger your innermost thoughts if you keep writing and let them come from the recesses of your mind. 

How do I select the word?  Open any book--dictionary, a novel or a book of poetry--close your eyes and point. Wherever your finger lands is the word you use for your exercise. Don't keep repeating until you find a word you think you like. Use the first one. It's always interesting to see what comes from a word like rapid or blinking. 

In my online writing group, one person selects the word for the week and sends it to the other members. Then, those who choose to do the exercise, send the result to the entire group. It is always interesting to see the many different angles taken on the same word. 

Does what I write have to be real or can it be fiction? You can go either way. One woman I know often takes the word and twists it into the name of a fictional person, then she writes the full ten minutes about that person, creating a story as she goes. Remember that she does not stop and think, just lets the words come for the full ten minutes. Some will be gibberish but some will create a story. You can also write about your feelings about whatever the word brings to mind. There is no set pattern.

What is the biggest benefit of freewriting?  The biggest benefit is allowing those things locked away in your mind to emerge. Maybe there's a topic you've tried to write about but get stuck every time. Your outer self doesn't want to let the inner self out of hiding. Why? There's a bit of fear involved. That wondering if I should expose my innermost self to others. But that's what good writers do. Readers look for writers who can express emotion and tell a story that will touch the reader. We can't do that if we put restraints on ourselves. Practicing freewriting helps unleash the writer within.

How often should I do a freewriting exercise?  That's up to the writer but, like most things, the more often you do it the bigger the benefit. Why not use that 10 minute exercise as the start to your writing session each day, or whenever you make time to write? Let it be your springboard. 

My observation of my group's freewriting exercises.  I have seen some profound statements within those exercises of my fellow writers. I've seen the bones of an essay or short story to be fleshed out later. I have had a chance to look into the heart and soul of the writers in my group. 

To give you a jumpstart, here's a list of words to use for a freewriting exercise, then try opening a book and pointing to find a word to use:
  • mule
  • bugle
  • sky
  • circus
  • blood

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Is It Too Late Too Start Writing?

I read a blog post this morning written by a woman who came to a decision making time in her life. She was about to turn 60. She had been writing for several years but not submitting her work. She decided it was time to begin doing that, to find out if her writing was publishable or not. 

Many people would have decided that 60 was a point where it was time to call it quits. If she hadn't subbed her work and been published by now, maybe it was time to give it up. I'm glad she didn't. Just reading her post let me know that she was a capable writer and I suspect she will get published if she subs on a regular basis. Not everything but some. Anyone who writes knows that every piece we finish will not be published.

Age is not limiting in today's world. There was a time when people reached retirement age and quit doing lots of things. It was time, they thought, to sit in the rocking chair and wait for death to claim them. A woman in my extended family literally turned herself into an old woman when she became 60. Life as she knew it was over. At least in her mind. Thankfully, that attitude has changed over the years. 

If you are 60, or 70, or even 80 and want to start something new--like writing--go ahead and do it. If you're in that age group and have been writing but never submitting your work, give it a try. I did not start writing until into my fifties. Do I wish I'd started sooner? You bet I do! I once interviewed several writers who had not started writing until later in life. Every one of them said they wished they'd tried earlier. All had reasons that those earlier years passed by without their attempting to write. 

Some said a teacher had criticized their school essays so much that they feared trying even though they wanted to. Others claimed that they let life get in the way (that was my own excuse). One said he started writing just to prove a critic of years past wrong. 

If you have ever had the desire to write, don't let age be a factor. Or technology. You can learn the ins and outs of the computer world just as well as a younger person. You can learn how to submit your writing to an editor. You can learn the proper forms to use in the work you submit; how to edit, how to make revisions, spell check and more. The keyword here is desire

Follow your heart and start writing, even if it is nothing more than writing exercises you find in a book. Or a memory piece. Or those family stories we all have in the recesses of our minds. Don't ever use age as an excuse for not trying to write. Older writers have far more life experiences to draw from than those in their twenties. 

Go ahead and follow your dream, set another goal. Live life to the fullest as long as you can.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Special Gift and A Lesson Learned

Today begins the Christmas week-end, a long one this year with the holiday falling on Monday. I have another Christmas story to share with you today. It's one of my favorites, something that happened when I was in the fifth grade that brought excitement, happiness and a lesson gleaned from it. The story was published in a Christmas anthology several years ago.

A Merry Christmas to those who celebrate this holiday. I will return next Wednesday with a new post.

The Best Christmas Present Ever
By Nancy Julien Kopp

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

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

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

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

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

It was to be a secret, of course, but we all knew about it, and whispers and notes flew back and forth. Our class Christmas party would be held the last day before the holiday break. We would have a grab bag gift exchange, punch and cookies and candy. We’d play some games, get out of schoolwork and give Mr. Bid his gift. The days trickled by slower than ever before, and our excitement grew steadily. We looked forward to our school Christmas much more than the one we’d each have at home.

 Finally, the big day dawned. Our Room Mother arrived bearing the punch and brightly decorated Christmas cookies and hard candies. But where was the big box Mr. Bid’s present was in? We didn’t see it. We wriggled in our desks and fretted. Whispers sailed around the room until Mr. Bid scolded us. “Settle down,” he said, “or the party’s over as of now.” Quiet reigned. The treats and grab bag gifts were passed out. We munched on our sugar cookies and slurped the red punch. The classroom door opened, and a strange woman walked in. Mr. Biddinger’s looked surprised at first; then a big smile crossed his face. We were soon introduced to his wife. The Room Mother disappeared into the hall but was back in seconds holding a good-sized box wrapped in Christmas paper and tied with a wide red ribbon. The chatter in the room ceased immediately, and all eyes were riveted on that box.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Memories of Childhood Christmases

A Family Christmas Somewhere in the World

We all have memories of Chritmases during our childhood. Many of them spur great memoir pieces for us to write. Or even a fiction short story based on something that occurred when we were children. Today, I'm posting a memory piece that might trigger memories of your own and inspire you to write. 

December Memories

When I was growing up, on December first my mother turned to the last page on the calendar and planted the seed of anticipation. “Oh look, it’s December,” she’d often remark. And immediately, my brothers and I started thinking about what we wanted Santa to leave under our tree. Our excitement grew day by day.

We turned the pages in the toy section of the Sears catalog over and over again, and we marked the initial of our first name by the items we wanted most, confident that Santa would bring at least one of our heart’s desires.

I looked forward to the time right after school in December because every year a Chicago radio station ran a serialized children’s story called “The Cinnamon Bear” which became a real part of Christmas for me over the years. The adventures of the two children and the Cinnamon Bear never changed, it was the same story every year, but that didn’t matter. I listened to each episode as if it were brand new and thrilled to the happy ending every time..

After a long, cold walk coming home from school on December days, the smell of Christmas greeted me the moment I reached home. I’d open the door to the pine scent of the Christmas tree mingled with the many delicacies Mother baked. She made an assortment of cookies that pleased every palate. Cinnamon rolls with icing drizzled over the top tasted so good straight from the oven. Coffeecakes, muffins, homemade bread and even her fudge, that never did get firm enough to pick up, graced our December table. Memories of a warm kitchen, the air filled with spicy aromas, and an after-school cup of hot chocolate and a fresh-baked treat remain with me these many years later.

Because our apartment had little storage space, Mother wrapped the gifts as she bought them and then stacked them up on the dressers in her bedroom. All through December, she sent my brothers and me on little errands to that bedroom. “Bring my pincushion,” she’d say, and off I’d go to the bedroom to get it. The sight of the stack of gaily wrapped packages made me unbearably curious, but I knew better than to shake the packages. All I did was look and wonder which ones were mine.

I enjoyed buying gifts for my family almost as much as receiving them. I was the neighborhood babysitter from the time I was about ten. I made the grand sum of 25 cents an hour and I saved part of that hard-earned cash all year for Christmas purchases. I bought gifts for each member of my family and also for some of the children I took care of. At our school parties, we were to bring a grab bag gift marked ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ with a limited dollar amount. They were always small things, but I looked forward to getting that grab bag gift every year. It was the highlight of our class party, always held on the final day before the Christmas break.

When I got to the pre-teen and teen years, my friends and I rode on the elevated train to downtown Chicago for a visit to the famed Walnut Room in Marshall Fields. We seldom got to eat there as the lines were long and the food a bit pricey for girls our age. Instead, we stood in the entryway and gazed at the spectacular tree decorated more ornately than any at our homes. The dining tables closest to the tree were those most coveted, and it seemed more old ladies sat there than people with children who would have loved to dine so close to the magnificent tree.

Close to Christmas, the postman delivered a big box filled with packages from my aunt and uncle who lived in Phoenix, so far from our Chicago home. Aunt Jane wrapped her gifts fancier than my mother did and the sight of those gaily wrapped gifts brought sheer pleasure. I’d check all of them to see which one was mine and wonder if I could wait until Christmas morning to open it. But wait I did, as there was never any opening of gifts until the specified time. On Christmas Eve Mother sent us into the bedroom to bring the stacked packages to Dad. We watched as he placed them around the tree. Oh, what a glittering array it was by the time he’d finished. All evening I kept my eye on those packages, while little shivers of excitement ran up and down my spine. Mother shooed us to bed early, but not until we’d pinned one of our everyday socks to the back of a chair. No fireplace mantel for our stockings in the small apartment we called home. “The sooner you go to sleep, the sooner Santa will come.” It was her Christmas Eve mantra.

In the morning, my brothers and I tumbled out of bed and rushed to the living room to see what Santa had left us. Santa’s gifts were never wrapped but sitting somewhere near the tree. We all knew which one was ours for hadn’t we marked our wishes in the Sears catalog? After the excitement of seeing the surprises from Santa and checking our stockings, which always held an orange and walnuts in the shell, we opened the gifts one by one as Dad passed them out. Often, the packages held little things or something to wear but a few had new toys that thrilled us.

When the last gift was opened, we had a big breakfast, and it was the one day of the year I was allowed to eat fudge early in the morning, a special Christmas treat. The rest of the day we played with our new toys and I helped Mother in the kitchen with a special Christmas dinner. Often it was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, a special recipe my grandmother passed down. Sometimes my Aunt Vivienne and Uncle Jimmy came for Christmas dinner. Their daughter, Carol, was my age and an only child. She always got many more gifts than I did but it never seemed to bother me. I accepted the fact that she didn’t have brothers to share with like I did.

December holds many happy family memories. Our Christmases today are somewhat different than those of long ago, as we’ve made our own traditions with our children, as they are doing with theirs now, too. But the warmth of a family celebrating together remains constant, and I pray it always will.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

8 Life Rules For Writers

Today's poster gives us a good guide for our everyday living. I think most of them can apply to our writing life as well. Let's see how they work for writers.

1. See failure as a beginning, not an end. When those rejections come, we shouldn't let it be the end of our writing career. Move on and make a new beginning either by submitting elsewhere or writing something new.

2. If you don't go after it, you won't have it.  This one is a no brainer. If you sit in your chair and grump about your writing journey having too many bumps or stalling, blame no one but yourself. Get up and get moving. Go after it!

3. Always do more that is expected of your. If you write something you think is good, that's fine. But you can always make it better by revising and editing more than once. 

4. Teach others what you know. You'll benefit by sharing your writing knowledge and skills with others. I do it by blogging and teaching an occasional workshop at conferences. You can also do it one on one with another writer over coffee or while on a walk in the park together. Share your expertise.

5. Assume nothing and question everything. If you're not sure about what an editor wants, don't hesitate to ask. It will save both of you a lot of grief later.

6. Make peace with the past or you'll pay for it. If you fret over past problems or failures, you will only make yourself miserable. You will find more success and inner peace if you look forward, not back. 

7. Stop thinking so much and start acting. Sometimes writers ponder far too long about a topic before they begin the actual writing. Think a little, then get going. You'll find more ideas come as you write. 

8. Never compare yourself to others. You are unique. So am I. As is the writer on your left and the one on your right when you attend a conference. Celebrate you as a writer.

So, there you have it--8 Life Rules for Writers.

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Very Special Christmas Gift

Today, I'm posting a story that appeared in a Christmas themed Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology about 10 years ago. The story is about a very special Christmas doll that I received at age 6 and how it has lasted through the many years since I received it. 

Think about the very special Christmas gift you received as a child, one that you remember to this day. It's the perfect topic for a new writing project.

My Special Christmas Doll
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 A special doll named Katherine lives in my four-year-old granddaughter’s room. The doll perches on the window seat, arms out and head cocked a bit. Muted red polish covers her fingernails, and a few of her fingers and toes are chipped. The doll’s dark blonde hair could use a bit of attention, for it looks limp and badly in need of a stylist.

 “This was my mommy’s doll,” Jordan tells me.

I pick up the doll, smooth the flower-print flannel gown she wears. “A long time ago, she belonged to me.” I give Katherine a little hug and place her on the window seat again.

Jordan grasps my hand. “I know that, Grandma. Will you tell me about her?”

I scoop Jordan into my arms. “Time for bed now, but maybe tomorrow we’ll talk about Katherine.” I tuck her into bed and kiss her twice.

Later that evening, I sip a cup of tea and think about the doll Santa brought me more than sixty years ago. The decades slip away like quicksilver, and I am six years old again. My parents and little brother are asleep, still snuggled under warm comforters, but I’m tip-toeing down the hallway early on Christmas morning. It’s so quiet and very dark in the hallway, but I know my destination and continue on.

When I reach the living room, the early morning light filters through the windows. I kneel in front of the decorated Christmas tree, and a little shiver runs up my spine. It’s cold in our apartment, but the shiver comes from what I spy next to the gaily wrapped packages. Santa left me a beautiful doll looking very much like Shirley Temple. She’s dressed in a bridal gown made of a snowy, gossamer material. Tiny satin rosettes run from waist to hem, and lace adorns the neckline and sleeves. The matching veil, trimmed in lace, surrounds her head like a billowy cloud. A white nightgown and soft blue robe lie beside her. It’s the kind seen only in the movies. So pretty! Her dark blonde hair curls to perfection, and her eyes appear to glow. I inch as close as I dare, for I know I should not touch her yet, not until Mommy and Daddy wake up. For now, the anticipation of holding her seems to be enough. I name her Katherine while I wait for my family to wake up.

Years later, I learned that my mother had made the bridal gown and night clothes for the doll in the late hours on December nights. My grandmother was the one who took
hair she’d saved from my mother’s first haircut to a specialty shop where they created a wig for my doll. Hearts and hands joined in this special gift.

I played with Katherine for many years, then saved her in hopes I might pass my special doll to a daughter someday. My daughter, Karen, loved the doll too, even though she no longer had the original clothes. Once again, Katherine made a little girl happy. Karen secreted the doll away in hopes that she, too, could pass her on to her own child someday. Now, Karen’s daughter, Jordan, is the keeper of the doll. Though a bit tattered, Katherine’s smile is just as sweet, and her blue eyes still appear to shine. Even her wilted curls are precious to me and to Karen.

I think one day Jordan will feel the same, for she is our special family doll and always will be. I will tell my granddaughter about the Christmas I found Katherine under the tree, and later, when she’s older, I will relate the part of the story about Jordan’s great-grandmother who made special clothes for Katherine, and about her great-great grandmother who saved her child’s hair to make into a wig for a doll.

This one cherished doll holds five generations of my family within her heart. Two created her, three have played with her, and all have loved her. I hope Jordan will have a daughter one day so that this chain of love might continue.


Realizing A Dream

Happy Grad

We had the great joy of attending our oldest granddaughter's graduation from Southern Methodist University in Dallas this past week-end. That's Alexis beaming as she departs the stage where she picked up her degree folder. Graduating from SMU was a dream of hers when she was in high school.

While her friends applied to several universities, she sent in the application to only one. Being accepted at SMU would not be a given. She knew that. In fact, they probably turn away far more applicants than they can accept. Even so, she believed in herself and her dream. 

The acceptance arrived in the middle of her senior year in high school. To say she was elated is definitely an understatement. She counted the days until it was time to move to a dorm on campus in the fall.

Alexis wanted to be a writer but she figured out pretty quickly that she'd need another job to support herself and would write on the side. She majored in English with Creative Writing as a special interest. She took Journalism classes and wrote for the university newspaper. She joined a sorority, danced on the Pom Squad at football and basketball games for two years, was president of the Golden Key Club. This next semester, she will be a student teacher in an 8th grade level at a middle school in the Dallas area and then on to graduate school. 

As I watched the graduation ceremony Saturday, my joy in seeing her realize her dream knew no bounds. And yes, this grandmother did shed some tears. I knew that the dream had not come easy. There were funds to be found for 4 years at a private school, lots of hard studying, keeping up with other parts of college life and more. She didn't waver but persisted to make that dream come true. 

I thought about how often I have urged writers who read this blog to persevere if they want the dream of seeing their work published come to fruition. We doubt ourself at times and that's only natural when you're in a job where you get rejected more often than you get accepted. Sometimes we writers must push ourselves to keep motivated and to follow our dream. Alexis did that and her dream has been realized. I have no doubt that she'll pursue that next dream of teaching English and becoming a writer with the same attitude she's had these past four years. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Talk To Your Mirror

I write a lot on my blog about believing in yourself, having self-respect, and looking at your writing journey with a positive attitude. One of my purposes here is to encourage writers and after years of being in the writing world, I know that all three of these things are necessary to succeed and that we can change by facing each day as a new day.

I am also aware that it's pretty easy to tell someone to work on the three things mentioned above but a lot harder to achieve them. It doesn't happen in an hour, or a day, or even a week. Change can be achingly slow. It's why we try to make changes and then give up when we don't see results as soon as we'd like. Kind of like those New Year's resolutions we'll make next month.

Many years ago, in the very early days of my writing journey, I attended a writers conference in Kansas City. The keynote speaker at the luncheon spoke to us about being brave enough to call yourself a writer. Too many writers, she told us, don't think they can claim the name until they are published. "Not true!" she bellowed, startling many in the room. She said that anyone who writes a story, an essay, a poem, an article can and should call themself a writer. She recommended that we practice saying I am a writer. while looking in the mirror every day.

Think about that. If you utter those four words to your image in the mirror day after day, you might suddenly begin to believe it. You could even add a word and tell yourself I am a good writer. What a good and simple way to learn to believe in yourself as a writer. When someone asks what you do, tell them whatever your job is and then say I'm also a writer. The more you say it, the easier it will become.

If you believe in your writing ability, self-respect should follow. It's the natural flow. The next station your train will stop is a place where you acquire a positive attitude about your writing journey. If you put your own writing down time and again, you'll end up wallowing in a pool of negativity. Try the mirror exercise and maybe your attitude will be positive more often than not.

Remember my friend who pedaled her essay to seventeen editors before one accepted it? She did it because she believed in her ability to write a good essay, thereby believing in herself. She respected herself as a writer and she carried a positive attitude with her. Maybe for her, it was a natural thing. How fortunate are those people who have that natural self-esteem. Lots of others have to work hard at achieving it.

Maybe a teacher or a parent, a friend or a sibling criticized your writing or your desire to be a writer. Experiences like that push you down pretty fast and it's not easy to change. The best part is that you can do it with time, with effort and maybe by looking into the mirror and telling yourself I am a writer. I am a good writer.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A New Writing Project

Christmas in Prague

We have visited Prague several times but never at Christmas, always in the summer. I love this picture of the city known as The Jewel of Europe dressed in snowy white. How lovely the Charles Bridge must look covered in snow with the river gliding underneath. Prague Castle must take on an even lovelier demeanor than usual in the winter scenes. 

Think about favorite places you have visited. Most of us do our traveling in almost any season but winter. What do you think Sweden is like in December? Or Paris? New York? San Francisco? Or your summer lakeside cabin? A national park where you camped? All of these places seem different in the chilled winter days.

What a perfect topic for an essay. Choose a spot and compare a summer visit to a winter one. What would change? What would stay the same? Would the people behave differently in summer and winter? What might you see in the shops in each season? How does each season affect you?

It's also a good start for a fiction story. Your hero meets a girl on a sunlit summer day and falls for her. What has changed by the time winter arrives and the city is lit up with holiday charm? Can he find her again in the darkness of the late winter afternoons or in a concert hall warmed by the music being played? 

Think about a favorite place and create a story, essay or poem describing it in winter. When I say 'think.' I don't mean to let it flit through your mind. Ponder on the whole idea for a day, or two, or more. The more you muse over it, the better you'll be able to write. 

Write about the feel of the air, the crunch of snow beneath your feet, the taste of the warm liquids people love in winter. What smells might there be from an outdoor Christmas market? What about the sound of sleigh bells? Or children playing? There are riches galore if you take the time to bring them to life in your mind. 

What is one of your favorite places to visit? Have you ever been there in the winter? Did you like it better than in the warm summertime? Keep thinking, then start writing. Nothing like a new writing project to kindle inspiration.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Lighten The Journey In Busy Times

This seemed like a good reminder at this extremely busy time of year. Simplify. A one word piece of advice we might all heed.

In December, many people, writers included, move into double speed mode. We want to do all the usual routine things as well as get ready for the holidays--whichever one you celebrate. If it's Christmas, there are cards to send, shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating, more church services than usual, parties to attend or give. Wow! That's a lot, isn't it? How are you going to do all that and get some writing done, too?

Simplify. Maybe you don't have to decorate the entire house this year. Perhaps a little less baking would be alright. There are ways to cut back on all that you do for the holidays. It's our choice as to whether we go for it all or simplify. No matter how much or how little you do connected to whatever holiday you celebrate, it is still going to happen. I've found that if I miss doing a few things I normally do, no one realizes it but me. So no big deal!

How about our writing journey? Can we simplify that, as well? Of course we can. It's our choice whether we pour ourself wholeheartedly into the writing business or choose to do the basics. It's up to us if we want to submit a dozen pieces of writing per month or one.

We can cut down on the amount of reading about our craft that we do for this month. You can catch up in January or February. Maybe you don't need to read all the writer's newsletters you subscribe to the moment they appear in your inbox. Save them for a calmer time. You'll enjoy them and get more out of them when you're not so rushed.

If we give serious consideration to simplifying, there are a number of ways we can achieve it. Do a bit less but do it with gusto. Sift and sort to decide what parts of your writing life are most important to you. Stay with the top ones and set the rest aside to be addressed later, if and when you have time.

There are times when we are our own worst enemy. Keep in mind that you are in control of what you do in this life. Do as much or as little that makes you feel comfortable. No one is going to judge you but you alone. Go ahead and simplify.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Do You Overwrite?

One of the problems writers have is telling the readers too much. They overwrite wanting to make sure the reader understands clearly what the writer is trying to convey. 

We've all read books, short stories or essays where the point is made in a paragraph and then the very same point is made all over again in the next one or two paragraphs down the page. Yes, I know what you're thinking  It doesn't matter because they obviously got published. Lots of of writing gets published despite blips like this but that doesn't mean it's alright to continue disrespecting your reader.

Disrespect? Yes, in a way it is exactly that. Writers want to make sure the reader gets what he/she is trying to say. They treat the adult reader as though he/she is a child and needs to be reminded repeatedly in order to learn. 

Readers are a whole lot smarter than writers think they are. We don't need to repeat and repeat for them to get the point. The majority will understand and those who don't are probably going to pick it up somewhere later in the story. 

There's another reason writers occasionally repeat a point, only using different words. It can be because they've run out of additional things to say about their subject. So, hey, why not just repeat what was already said but maybe using different words? That is not the fault of the reader. It falls to the writer to admit that guilt. 

I've seen this situation in some of the critiques at my online writer's group. The critiquer will write you already stated this in paragraph 10 above or something similar to that. If the critiquer sees it, then most likely the reader will, too. 

When you edit your work, check to see if you have overstated a point, repeated more than is necessary. When writing that first draft, we are probably not aware of doing so. That's why we don't ever submit our first draft to an editor. Catch those little errors that need cutting or polishing to bring the diamond to light. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Winter Scene Photo Prompt


I have two photos for you today, both of winter scenes. I selected the winter theme because we had our first dose of it today. No snow but really cold. Time for heavy jackets, hats and gloves! 

One reason to use photos as writing prompts is to give us an opportunity to do two things:  create a story and write descriptively. 

It's up to you whether you want to write a full story or a slice of life or merely a descriptive paragraph. If you have the time, you might try one of each. 

Choose the photo that appeals to you the most. Study it and then begin writing. Freewrite--write without stopping--and see what comes from your inner self. 

These photo prompt exercises can turn into a full story or essay that you can submit somewhere after you've edited and revised it a time or two. Maybe three! 

Some writers turn up their nose at the thought of doing one of these writing exercises. Big mistake. They have lots of benefits if you let yourself get into the process. Go for it!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Writers--Believe in Yourself

This poster made me think of my writer friend who subbed one personal essay seventeen times before it was published. I wrote about her a couple days ago. If you missed that post, read it here.

I emailed her after the post was published and she was pleased that I'd used her experience as a blog post. She said that I had gotten it right, that the reason she persevered for so long and subbed so many times was that she believed in what she'd written. Undoubtedly, she had faith in herself as a writer and in the essay she'd worked on for so long.

I'd label her a strong, determined woman. Were you to meet her in person, you might not realize the inner strength she has. Outwardly, she is small, and kind, and a lovely person. Inside, there is steel and I learned that through her long submission process and the fact that she never gave up. I have liked her a lot but now, I also admire her greatly.

Will you try subbing a rejected piece again? You will if you are convinced it is a good piece of writing and if you 'believe in yourself' as a writer. No one can make you believe in yourself. Each of us has to do that on our own. We're a committee of one when it comes to that/

One way to come to believing in yourself as a writer is to continually consider your successes. If you were published once or a hundred times, doesn't that say something about your worth as a writer? Sure it does.

When you finish a writing project and you feel satisfied with the end result, shouldn't you think you're a worthwhile writer?

Too often, we tend to tear ourself down instead of building ourself up. How about that old song, words and music by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer that gives us all good advice. The refrain goes:
   Accentuate the positive,
   eliminate the negative,
   and latch on to the affirmative
   and don't mess with Mr. In-between

Good advice to help us believe in ourself as a writer. Try it!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Emotion Enhances Writing

Maya Angelou's quote above can be summed up in one word--Emotion! But she's a poet and words were her specialty, both in poems and prose. Her quote is far more eloquent than me telling you to write with emotion. 

Even so, whether you prefer the word or the quote, it's a very important point in what we write, whether it is fiction, a personal essay or poetry. We want our reader to react with emotion when they read what we've written. 

One good way to accomplish that is to write with emotion. If it's not there in your writing, the reader is not going to feel it. It sounds so easy to advise a writer to use emotion. In their mind, they accept it and even agree wholeheartedly but that does not always connect with the actual words they write.

Why? We're human and we can have a difficult time exposing our own emotions to others, even when that is one of the tools of writing that we need. If we pour it all out onto paper or the screen, our subconscious wonders what people will think. They'll know the real me, not the public figure I want to show others. They might also know what a fine writer you are.

There's nothing wrong with being able to expose our feelings. It's a form of release and it lets people know who we are as writers. Maya Angelou's poetry is loved and one of the reasons is that she could transfer her own emotions into the words of a poem. She could reach out and touch the reader. 

Next comes the way you should put emotion into your writing. If you tell the reader that someone is heartbroken, it's not gonna work. If you show that person feeling heartbroken, the reader could very well feel it, as well. I cannot tell you the number of times I have cried in a book,usually in the final chapter when something a character has done touches me deeply. It could be a loss or a great achievement but some authors are skilled in making the reader feel what the character is feeling. 

In summary:
  • Allow your own emotions to come through your writing
  • Don't lock your own emotions inside 
  • Show emotions in what you write
  • Don't tell the reader what emotion you're writing about

Maya Angelou knew how to laugh and cry and more and she knew how to make her readers do the same.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Submitted 17 Times and Then....

Perseverance! It's one of my two keywords for finding success as a writer. The other one is Patience. 
Another oft-repeated phrase at this blog is "Believe in yourself." 

I have a writer friend who has shown all three of these traits with one personal essay that she wrote some time ago. Like all of us, she created the first draft, edited it, revised it and then began submitting the piece. After ten unsuccessful tries, she sent it to her writing group. Maybe they could see something missing that had not come to her. They read, they critiqued--she edited and revised some more and sent it to seven more publications.

That's seventeen tries with the essay. On the seventeenth submission, a journal accepted and published her work. Ecstatic? You bet she was. And rightly so. She lives on another continent but I can almost see her smiling from here. I admire her for staying with the essay and continuing to submit until it found a home. 

This true short story about a writer who practiced patience and perseverance and who believed in herself can be a good lesson for all of us who write. 

Think about work that you have submitted once, twice, three times and been rejected each time. What did you do next? Did you give up? Revise and resub? Turn to a writing group or writer friend for help? Would you have submitted the same piece seventeen times? 

I feel certain my friend felt depressed when rejection after rejection assailed her. Who wouldn't? She obviously did believe in herself and her essay enough to continue to submit. She was tenacious in her quest for getting the piece published. 

How about digging out some of those rejected pieces that are perishing slowly in your files? Approach submitting again, after a new edit and revision, with patience and perseverance. Most of all, believe in yourself but keep learning and refining your skill as a writer. 

Use the comments section to share any thoughts you have about the number of times you will submit your work. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Wars and Rumors of Wars--A Three Part Look At The Past--Part 3

Wanda Molsberry Bates

Here is the final part of Wanda Bates' essay about how the wars in the past have affected the life of her family and others like them. With all the talk recently of possible war with North Korea, I thought about this three part essay and wanted to share it. I pray we will not have to face this war of which we hear incessant rumors. If Wanda was still alive, I'm quite sure she'd look at me with a smile and say "Well, here we go again." Please share this post written in 2006 with others.

Part 3: 

"And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars...For nation shall rise against nation, & kingdom against kingdom:" (Matthew 24:6,7)

WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS--Part 3--Later Wars and Military Service

Other conflicts began soon after the end of WWII. America was involved in the Korean War during the years when my nephew, John Molsberry, served in the Navy. While in the NROTC program during his college years at Iowa State University he participated each summer in Midshipman cruises, with his first assignment on the USS Iowa during his freshman year. During the summer cruises he had shipboard responsibilities with assignments in most operations of the ship. Summer activities gave a taste of being on a troop ship, assaulting a beach, and spending time on an aircraft carrier. His last summer was spent on a destroyer.

At the time of his graduation from college in 1951 he was commissioned as an Ensign and received orders for active duty. His NROTC agreement was to serve l5 to 24 months, but because of the conflict in Korea, President Truman increased the time to 36 months. Immediately after graduation John was married and had a short honeymoon. In stories he has told of his days in the Navy he has described the separations from his wife and family as the most difficult part of his years in the service.

His first assignment was on the Pine Island (a seaplane tender). The ship was to serve as the admiral's flag ship for the task force assigned to support operations in the Far East. This ship was not directly involved in conflict but they were aware that at any time they could be directed to Korean waters. One assignment in the Formosan Straits was precarious as

Chinese Nationalists threatened to return to the mainland and Communist forces on the mainland were determined to prevent that. These units were in a constant state of readiness for conflict. The Pine Island and a sister ship patrolled the area. Our government's hope was to prevent hostilities there. John describes the ships as mobile gas stations with large supplies of aviation fuel. During his years in service he visited many "far away places with strange sounding names," such as Kwajalein, Keelung, and Sasebo. He carried out many shipboard duties and responsibilities and gave several years of his life to military service.

The baby boy, Rodney Bates, who shook his rattle on VJ day in 1945 grew into manhood and the day came when war touched him personally. He attended ROTC classes in college at Kansas State University and was awarded the rank of Second Lieutenant. He received a 1A military classification on his wedding day, July 20, 1968. He was trained at Ft. Huachuca in Arizona and Ft.Riley, in Kansas, and was on call but he was not sent to Vietnam. 

Our son-in-law, Tom Lowe, did see duty in Vietnam. He received training at Ft. Campbell in Kentucky and was in Vietnam from May, 1968, to June, 1969. He hasn't discussed the conflicts, but he told a story of being in a restaurant in Sydney, Australia, when he was able to go there for R&R (Rest and Recuperation). When a car backfired outside the restaurant, he and other service men in the room instantly dived under the tables.

Years passed, and Grandson David Bates enlisted in the Air Force in December of 1998 for a four-year period. He was trained at Lackland AFB in Texas and at Keesler in Biloxi, MS. During his four years with the AF he served in Saudi Arabia twice for 60 day periods at the Prince Sultan Air Base. He has commented that there were many Bin Laden construction signs in that area. At the time of 9/11 he was working on servicing planes at the Offutt Air Base in Omaha. Seeing President Bush's plane landing there on 9/11 is
a vivid memory for him. Shortly after that happened he deployed for a stay in the Azores and had two 60-day tours at the Omni Air Base in Oman. Other operations were at Katar (Qatar). He completed his years in the Air Force as an E4, Senior Airman in December of 2002. After that he worked for a time for the Air Force as a civilian at the SAC Air Base in Omaha. The enlistment period was for eight years. He has had four years of inactive duty with the possibility of recall. (David tells me his gas mask is not as frightening as the WWI masks. See Part 1). 

We hear daily reports of wars and rumors of wars on the news and are very much aware of operations taking place very close to us. Just recently the Big Red 1 has returned to Ft. Riley, which is just a few miles from our town. The Fort is alive with activity with many more troops with their families coming into the area daily. Providing for their needs is a major concern for surrounding cities as well as at the Fort. We are very much aware of the sounds of war when we hear loud booms of gunfire when training exercises are being conducted.

We are all touched today by the turmoil in our world. Unfortunately, there are no signs of any peaceful end in sight.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Wars and Rumors of Wars--A Three Part Look At The Past--Part 2

Today, we have Part 2 of Wanda's interesting memoir. She was frail physically but so very sharp mentally and kept writing well into her 90's. Today's post reveals what life was like during the WWII years. Please share with others who might find this memoir piece of interest. 

Part 2:

“And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars...For nation shall rise against nation, & kingdom against kingdom." (Matthew 24:6,7)


There have been many books written and stories told about World War II. It is a temptation to write of fascinating stories I have heard, but for this post I will limit my writing to memories of some of my own experiences during the war years. I was teaching school in Jefferson, IA, at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 and was engaged to be married to Herbert Bates, a doctoral candidate in Chemical Engineering at Iowa State University in Ames. After his graduation we married in l942 and moved to Cleveland, OH, where he was an instructor in the Navy V 12 program at Case School of Applied Science.

Women were urged to find jobs and I volunteered at a nursery school and was soon employed there. I rode a streetcar at 5:30 AM to a church where the school was held. We opened at 6:00 AM so the mothers could bring their children to us and get to a 7:00 AM job. Many women were working in wartime industries. We cared for children as young as two years old. They seemed like babies, and many of them cried bitterly as their mothers departed, but in almost all cases the tears would stop instantly, once the door closed behind the mother. One little girl was extremely upset and sometimes threw up after she arrived, but her mother’s comment was that she just had to adjust since the mother had to have a job. The children were given breakfasts of cereal, fruit, and milk at around 8:00 o’clock and lunch at noon. In the afternoon they lay down on cots for naps and later had afternoon snacks. We stayed open until 6:00 PM to accommodate the working mothers. Two very kind black ladies, Hallie and Lottie, prepared the food and did cleaning chores and sometimes gave some TLC to troubled little folks. When I first started working at the nursery I would often fall asleep at night with visions of milk coursing along a table, for nearly every day some child would spill his milk. We had to be aware of food allergies. We weren’t always sure whether the allergies were real but we couldn’t argue with a child who shouted, “I’m ‘lergic to green beans.”

New children needed special attention. I remember a little boy who held onto my pinkie finger and walked around with me for awhile each morning until he decided he was interested in the toys and could let go of my finger.

One father, a policeman, would sometimes phone early in the morning and ask us to tell his wife when she arrived to drop off a child that he was home safe from a night patrol. We later left the church and moved to a school building where space was available for the daycare we were providing.

There were many scarcities during the war. We tried to follow the motto “Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Do without.” Food was often hard to find. I remember trying to buy meat and finding only liver available but observing a large package which looked like meat being brought out of a back room and handed to a customer. On one occasion at a grocery store I asked if there were any chocolate chips available and was told “No.” Later, as I was checking out my groceries the clerk quietly slipped a package of chocolate chips into my bag and said, “Next time don’t ask so loud.” People were quick to grab things when they were available and, in spite of pleas to the contrary, there was lots of hoarding. I was able to use a washing machine in the basement of a friend and I was surprised to see many boxes of soap on cupboard shelves there. We had ration books for such items as sugar and gasoline. We often stood in lines to get the ration books or to buy various items. We bought war bonds when we could afford them.

Clothing was also hard to find. I made a suit for myself out of a discarded suit of my husband’s which still had enough unworn area that a woman’s suit could be made from it. Men’s suits came with two pairs of pants in those days and the leg pieces made panels for a skirt. Skirts were short but the jackets which were made from the men’s coats were fairly long. Following the war, when the styles changed and skirts became longer, women added pieces of fabric at the waistline to make the skirt longer. This trick could be hidden by the long jacket.

On one occasion a friend was delighted to buy a banana as they were rarely found in the stores. She planned to feed it to her baby. However, she had an unexpected dinner guest so she hastily put some fruits, including the banana, in a basket and used that as a centerpiece on her table. The guest, seeing the banana, cried out as he reached for it, “Oh, a banana. Wonderful! I haven’t had a banana for a long time,” as he promptly peeled it and ate it. A story was told of a man carrying a couple of eggs in his shirt pocket while riding a streetcar and meeting with disaster in the crowded car.

Many people rode the streetcars as gas was very scarce. Since my husband’s car had completely given out, we were among the riders. On some weekend mornings we rode a streetcar at 5:00 AM to a farmers’ market to buy lugs of peaches or pears for home canning. 

After I became pregnant it was necessary for me to give up the job at the nursery school. When it was time for our son to be born, a friend who still had a working car, drove us to the hospital at 3:00 AM.

Trains were very crowded as they were often used for transporting service men, but my husband’s mother was able to find space to come to Cleveland to help out with the care of the new baby.

Of course there was great sadness and worry during the war. We grieved as we heard of casualties and said many prayers for the safety of relatives and friends who were on active duty and for all the troops everywhere. A funeral service for a young service man was held in the church where we had formerly had the nursery. He was buried on the day when he was to have been married. One news story told of the death of a soldier at Omaha Beach and the subsequent premature births and the deaths of twins which his wife had been carrying. The news man added the comment, “There’s a girl to remember in your prayers.” 

People tried to be in good spirits and to endure the inconveniences without complaint “for the duration.” (A common expression during the war years.) Some popular songs of the era were “Don’t Sit under the Apple Tree (with anyone else but me),” “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.” A memorable movie was “The Best Years of Our Lives.”

When the conflicts finally ended, great joy and relief were felt on VE day (Victory in Europe) in May and VJ day (Victory in Japan) in August, 1945. Crowds lined the streets in jubilation. I took our 6-month-old baby out in his carriage on VJ day and we joined the crowd, with him adding to the celebration by shaking his rattle. 

(To be continued)