Friday, June 22, 2018

As Writers, We Sometimes Fail

Winners are not people who never fail, but people who never quit.

Today's quote is one that you might want to read several times. I did and found that the message came through a little stronger each time. 

As writers, we have fallen into the I failed! category more than once. It' likely that we have felt like failures more than we'd care to admit. Every time a submission flies back with a rejection, the old I failed! button lights up. The big problem comes when we allow those small failures to grow into bigger ones. The tragedy is if a writer ends up quitting.

We sometimes forget that we are in control of our attitudes. If it makes you feel better to beat yourself up over a failed writing project, that's your choice. But, does it truly soothe your hurt feelings to dig the hole deeper? I doubt it. Groom the attitude that it didn't work in one place but it might elsewhere; then move on. 

What if you have been working weeks, months, even years on a big writing project when you finally realize that it is not going to turn out as you'd hoped? I failed! Is that what you will yell as you run your hands through your hair and stamp your feet? What if you turned back to that project and tried to learn why it didn't work? Figure out the why and you might have a new how for either a new project or to rework the old one. 

If you write a personal essay that turns out to be nothing more than an anecdote and appears to be a real dud when you read and reread it, don't hit the delete button or rip up the paper. There are ways to salvage pieces like this. Personal essays are about things that have happened to us or others but they should also teach us something or enforce a universal truth. Bring that part out within your essay and readers will have an 'aha!' moment ranging in size from very small to gigantic. If you forgot that one essential ingredient for a personal essay, you didn't fail. You just didn't finish! Go back and add to what you've already written. 

No one ever told you that the writing journey is simple and satisfying with no bumps in the path. They didn't say that because it would be a big, fat lie. Every successful writer has dealt with failures on the rocky road from newbie writer to one that is published. The ones who go on to publishing success are those who don't quit and who learn from their failures. 

I'm going to repeat that last sentence because it is important. The ones who go on to publishing success are those who don't quit and who learn from their failures. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Do You Ever Write For Free? Or Pay Only?

Save, Piggy Bank, Teamwork, Together, Money, Finance

One of the women in my online writing group won Honorable Mention in a writing contest recently. The contest/website owners would like to publish her piece but are offering no pay for it. They are asking for first serial rights for 90 days. After that, she is free to market it elsewhere. She was in a quandary as to what to do. 

Writing for free or writing only for pay is an old debate in our writing world. Some are adamant about never giving away anything they have written. Others will do so without hesitation. Still others waver in-between.

Let's look at both sides and that middle ground.

The 'I do not give my work away'  group:

  • Many of the writers in this group are often professionals attempting to make a living by selling what they write.
  • They believe that hard work deserves to be paid.
  • Some say that, if you give your work away, you're degrading yourself.
  • Many here feel you lose your professionalism if you write for free.
  • Some will write for free under special circumstances.
  • Some will never, ever write for no pay.
The 'I will write for free' group:
  • Beginning writers often write for free to be able to say they are published.
  • They are looking for clips and freebies are good ways to get them.
  • Some writers give their work to groups who donate profits to charities.
  • Writers who are not attempting to earn a living with their writing feel freer to give their work to websites and journals who cannot afford to pay.
  • Some feel that, even though there is no remuneration, it's a clip and exposure.
  • Hobbyist writers are more likely to write for free; it's the writing, not the pay, that they like.
  • Many writers do a guest blog post for free; sometimes it's to help a blogger friend.
  • These writers much prefer writing for pay but are willing to do it for no pay on occasion.
The 'I write for pay and for free' group:
  • These writers see the benefit of both sides.
  • They are not rigid in their thinking on the question.
  • They probably prefer getting paid but are willing to donate some of their writing.
  • They are probably not trying to make a living from what they write.
  • They are people who like to help charitable groups by writing for free for them.
  • They might write for free but are selective about who they choose.
  • They don't write exclusively for free; much prefer paid venues.
I don't think that there is any doubt that we all like to be paid for the work we put into our writing. I get nothing monetary by writing this blog 5 days a week. I could if I agreed to have advertising on the blog. I never considered it because I think it is annoying to readers. What I hoped for with the blog was to get exposure for myself as a writer, to let others know about what I have published and to provide some tips and encouragement to other writers. In the nine years I have been writing here, I have made many new writer friends, continued to learn about writing in general and have felt satisfied that I have been of some benefit to other writers.

How about you? Which side of the Write for free--sometimes or never? question? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

You Are In Charge of Conversation

Bulle Gauche clip art

What's this little guy going to say? That's up to you, the writer. You are going to decide on the words he'll utter within this bubble. We might see the bubble, or cloud, in a comic strip but in a short story or novel, the dialogue is written to stand alone.

Some writers agonize over writing dialogue while others write it effortlessly. Dialogue is meant to do several things:

1.  Good dialogue will move your story along.

2.  It will aid in showing rather than narrative telling.

3.  It's a way to get information to the reader.

4.  It's part of character development.

5.  It shows relationships between characters

6.  It breaks up long spates of pure narrattion

A few things to keep in mind when writing dialogue:

Contractions:  People seldom speak in everyday conversation without using contractions. If that's the way conversation goes in real life, shouldn't your characters in a novel or short story speak in the same way? When I read a novel that has dialogue written in a formal way, in other words, no contractions, I can almost see the character standing straight as a toy soldier, arms at his sides and no expression on his face. The character begins to feel wooden, stilted, unemotional to me. One way to counteract that is to use contractions. Next time you're in a coffee shop or a waiting room where you're privy to other people's conversations, listen and learn. Do you hear formal speech in these everyday chats?

Actions within dialogue: Another way to keep from having toy soldier characters is to sprinkle actions into your dialogue. Let the character say something, follow with an action, or precede what is said with an action. It allows the reader to visualize the scene along with the conversation. It also breaks up lengthy amounts of dialogue which can bog down the person reading it.

    "Look at this, Tom. Do you know what I'm going to do with it?" Fred raised the paint-spattered hammer and waved it back and forth like a flag.

     Fred picked up the paint-spattered hammer. "Do you see this, Tom? Do you know what I'm going to do with it?"

Tags:  Lose the adverbs when writing tags in dialogue. We don't need to be told that Sally said something grumpily or nastily or hurriedly. he said or she said are quite sufficient. Use an action before or after if you want to convey an emotion in the speaker. She said, "Look at what we're doing, John." She slammed her book onto the kitchen table. Using more than he said, she said tags distracts from what is actually being said. Remember that you do not need to have a tag after every sentence in dialogue. If it's a back and forth conversation, use the tags sparingly, the reader can generally figure out who is saying what. Give them that guidance in the opening lines, then carry on without them. Maybe sprinkle the tags in if it's a particularly long section of dialogue.

Complete sentences: It's not necessary to always use complete sentences in dialogue. Don't worry, your old English teacher will not appear out of nowhere and smack your hand. Once again, in normal conversation, we often speak with phrases rather than complete sentences. Of course, you will have complete sentences for a great deal of your dialogue but toss in those phrases now and then. It will result in a more natural conversation.

There's more to writing good dialogue than these few things that I've touched on today. Google the topic or find a book about writing dialogue. Read it, digest and apply to your own writing. Have fun making your characters speak to one another. I started doing it long ago when my friends and I played with paper dolls and made up stories about them along with lengthy conversations between the paper doll each of us held. Little did I know I was a writer in training!

(This is a post from past but still pertinent today for fiction writers and creative nonfiction writers)


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

My Newest Anthology Stories and a Tip For Writers

I received a new anthology in yesterday's mail.  Yvonne Lehman compiled and edited the book, which is another one that donates all royalties to The Samaritan's Purse. This International disaster and relief organization helps worldwide. Right now, they are aiding the victims of the volcano eruption in Guatemala. 

Samaritan's Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization. They have a page in the book thanking the publisher for the continued donation of royalties from this book and nine previous anthologies. Yvonne Lehman is the woman responsible for this book and several previous ones. 

I submitted two stories for this fun little book and both of them were accepted. Turkey in the Raw is a story about a turkey disaster I had one Thanksgiving when I was trying to be a good hostess to my husband's family. Love On A Plate is a memoir piece about Muffin Days when my grandmother came to visit. It includes the recipe for these much-loved goodies I still make today. 

You can purchase the book at Amazon for $12.99.  If you enjoy cooking, you'll want to read the good, bad and humorous stories in this book. Might be a fun addition to a bridal shower gift or other gift-giving occasions. 

There is no pay for the authors in the anthologies that Ms. Lehman compiles and edits. For her, it's a labor of love and a way to help a worthy organization. Each author receives one copy of the book. 

Anthologies became popular years ago and the trend has continued with more and more of them for readers but also for writers to submit to. Check your favorite search engine for calls for submissions. I found one source that listed a great many looking for both fiction and nonfiction in several categories. Check this one out. Then keep looking on your own. Note that there is more than one page and you can click to go to the next one. 

Cup of Comfort was one of the first along with Chicken Soup for the Soul. The first one lasted only a few years but the second is going strong and still has calls out for stories for several upcoming books. Do check their submissions page regularly.  Remember that the more popular the anthology is, the more competitive for writers. Try for some of the lesser known ones first to give you better odds. Start small and work your way up. Or go for the big one and hope for the best. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Now is the Time To Write Stories About Dads

Image result for free clipart or image of writing family stories

I noticed a lot of tributes and family stories told on facebook this past weekend as we in the USA honored our fathers. Both Mother's Day and Father's Day serve as great inspiration for telling or writing a family story. 

Author, Sue Monk Kidd, is a little dramatic in this quote but it hits home for lots of us, nevertheless. 
She says stories have to be 'told' but I will go one step farther and say they must also be 'written.' If only verbal, the stories will eventually become lost. You don't want that to happen.

My mother told the story of her elopement during the Depression years. It's a wonderful story involving a Justice of the Peace who stopped the ceremony to take a phone call and plan a fishing trip, a red linen dress the bride wore, my dad having only enough coins in his pocket to buy one plate of spaghetti when they went to dinner after the ceremony, the bride and groom each going to their separate residences on their wedding night, and my grandmother confronting Mom about being married a full six weeks later. Not only was it a good story to tell but one I loved writing

I was relating the story to a friend one day when it hit me that I needed to be sure to write it so that my children and grandchildren and on down the line will know what happened, what the times were like then and more. It was the next day that I made some time and wrote the story. I have it in my Family Stories section of the book of hard copies of everything I've written. I might consider submitting it to the editor of a magazine like Reminisce or Good Old Days.

This past weekend honoring our fathers and grandfathers probably brought back some memories for you. Bringing the memory to the forefront of your mind is fine but not enough. While it is still fresh, write the first draft of that great tale about a place you and your dad went for special times together or the time you fooled your dad and didn't get in trouble because all he could do was laugh. How about the first time any of you women danced with your dad as a young girl? I sold the story to Good Old Days about doing exactly that several years ago and also have it posted at Our Echo.

You can benefit in two ways if you take the time to write your family stories. They will be preserved for your family and you might even be able to sell some of them to magazines. Memoir stories and memories never seem to go out of style. The trend remains strong. Have you jumped on the bandwagon yet? Maybe now is the time to do so. Write a story about your dad--not a tribute--but a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. Be sure it's true but write it using fiction techniques to bring it to life. If you've never tried it, this could be your first piece of creative nonfiction.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Seven Ways To Sell Yourself To Readers

Number, 123, Pay, Digit, Birthday, 7
This is an article I wrote for a writing ezine some time ago. I ran across it in my files recently and felt the information is still pertinent so am sharing today. 

Writers know that the first person in line that we need to impress is an editor. Without him/her, our work never sees the light of day. But selling what you've written is only one step in becoming a successful writer. You also need to see yourself to readers. They're the ones who will come back for a second helping if they like what they see the first time.

It’s not easy to constantly promote yourself, especially if you don’t have a balloon-like ego. Quiet, introverted writers find it difficult to sing their own praises but it’s almost a necessity if you want to make it in the writing world. Even social extroverts aren’t always aware of what they can do to make readers seek them out nor are they completely comfortable in doing so.

Maybe you’re a writer who prefers solitary confinement, spending your time doing what you do best—writing. There comes a time when you need to raise your head and make a concerted effort to promote yourself. You’ll see results, although they may not be immediate. So, what can you do to sell yourself as a writer?

  1. Share Your Published Work
When you have an article or story published, don’t hesitate to send it to all your friends and family. They, in turn, will probably share it with others and your work and your name spread to untold places around the globe. I had a hard time doing this in the early days of my writing life. I feared that people who meant something to me would look at me as a braggart but I’ve learned that it is a benefit to me and truly liked by many of those recipients. I try to add an out for them by saying they should hit the delete button if they have no interest. That makes it guilt-free for any who aren’t interested.

  1. Submit to Ezines As Well As Print Publications
There are benefits when you submit your work to ezines, better described as online magazines. They can reach many thousands of people while a print magazine may only have a circulation of 5 or 6,000. There’s value in keeping your name in the cyberspace of the writing world regularly, as readers begin to recognize your name.  Print magazines are normally published in one country but ezines reach across the seven seas to multiple countries.

  1. Capitalize On the Electronic World
What better way to plug your work than on Facebook and Twitter? I have a Facebook account which I use for social networking but also to let others know when I’ve had something published or when I have a blog posting that might be of interest to writers and also non-writers. I post the same information on my state authors’ organization Facebook page and other Facebook pages that are for writers. Consider a personal website. You may need to hire someone to help you design and set it up, but it’s probably money well spent. Like all things, you can start with something basic or go for the Cadillac right away.  Leave comments on other websites and blogs with your website/blog address. Curious readers click on links.

  1. Join Local, State and National Writers’ Groups
Become active in writers’ groups, the face to face kind. I’ve entered my state authors club contest ever since becoming a member years ago and I’ve placed many times. More than once, when I’ve introduced myself at a state convention, someone will say, “Oh, I’ve seen your name before.” It works in small groups or large. Make your work visible in every way you can and your name becomes recognizable. If the group has a newsletter with writer news, make sure you send in your publishing successes. Let your name appear as often as possible.

  1. Accept Speaking Engagements
If you have an opportunity to speak to a small group at your church or a civic organization, accept it. It can be nerve-wracking at first but it gets easier each time and more people in your community will label you a writer whenever they see you. One
appearance may lead to more invitations to share your work. And again, your name becomes familiar. People in your community and surrounding area will soon know that you write great science fiction stories or that your travel articles contain insight and humor. They’ll remember you when seeking a program for some other organization. It’s not necessary to wait until asked either. There’s nothing wrong in letting groups know you would be willing to speak. Don’t do it meekly either. Tell them you would love to speak at one of the meetings, that you have a couple terrific programs that would be informative and entertaining. Sell yourself to get your foot in that first door.

  1. Be A Blogger
Another way to sell yourself is to become a blogger. Starting a blog connected to your writing is not enough. You need to let people know about your blog. Leave comments at other blogs and sign with your blog address. Use your blog address as a set signature on all your e-mails. Advertise your blog on Facebook and Twitter. Add as many labels at the bottom of your blog as possible. The more keywords you have, the better your chances of a search engine zeroing in on your blog. Take time to study all the gadgets and stat tracking that your blog host offers. The more extras you use, the more visible you’ll become.

  1. Take Advantage of Publisher’s Press Releases
Publishers often send press releases to TV and radio stations in your area, also newspapers. I’ve appeared on an afternoon TV show several times because of press releases sent by the Chicken Soup for the Soul publishers.  I’ll admit the initial appearance gave me butterflies in my stomach all day long but the host of the show put me at ease once we were on the air as he interviewed me and discussed the process of getting a story into an anthology. I’ve read several of my stories from other Chicken Soup books on this same show, and now I enjoy doing so. No more butterflies. I’m helping the publishers but I’m also selling myself. If you receive an invitation to do something similar, remember that it’s up to you to accept and it’s a terrific way to become known to the reading public. Don’t pass up a golden opportunity like this.

At this point, you may be thinking that selling yourself amounts to bragging. You might remember your mother teaching you to be humble, to not blow your own horn. That’s still true in some instances, but when your writing career is the subject, it’s more than okay. Go right ahead and inform the world about you and your writing. No one can do it better than you. Believe in yourself and go for it!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Beginnings Of A Writer

The urge just keeps gnawing at you until you sit down and just write. A thought, a poem, a song, maybe a whole book if the urge is strong enough. Writing takes away the longing but only for awhile, then we must write again.
From laughloveliveitall.wordpress

Yes, 'real writers' have a constant itch to be writing something. Even when they experience writer's block, that itch is there. The problem then is that they can't seem to be able to scratch it!

Do you remember when you first wanted to write or when you took step one to becoming a writer?
For some of you, those days were a very long time ago but others may be in initial days of their writing journey here and now.

Do we get hit like lightning with a thought that we should try writing? Does the desire to write come on gradually? Do we act on our first thoughts about writing? Or do we wait an interminably long time before taking step one? I imagine there would be yes answers to each of those questions if we polled a group of writers. 

I wanted to become a writer for many years before I actually tried. When I had to deal with a double tragedy in my early married life, one of my first thoughts was that I needed to write about the experience to help others. That's as far as it went--a thought. It took 30 more years of living for me to be able to write about that time in my life. Maybe that's alright. Who knows for sure? Perhaps I wasn't ready to share until all those years had passed. 

I do know that I could have (should have) started my writing journey much sooner than I did. Even though the desire to write burned within, I made excuses for not acting on my feelings. I couldn't be a writer while raising children or doing lots of volunteer work in our community. There was not enough time, or so I told myself. That was a pretty poor reason since there are many writers who hold down full-time jobs and run a household but still find time to put words on paper. Obviously, their passion is greater than mine was. 

I also know now that the excuses we make for not having time to write or a life where writing doesn't fit are exactly that--excuses! It's a big part of that self-doubt problem many of us have, especially in the early days of being a writer. Fear is a monster that seems to grow if we cower in the corner instead of facing it head-on. The longer we wait, the bigger he becomes.

Do I wish I'd started to write earlier than I did? Absolutely! My writing path has never been one that leads to supporting myself with writing. I am a hobbyist writer who has also had the great joy of being published many times. Besides that, the old teacher in me wanted to start a blog about writing to help other writers with tips and encouragement. It's why this blog was birthed and why I continue with it. 

How about you?
  •  When did you begin writing?
  •  How long did you wait from the time you wanted to write until you actually did it? 
  • What kept you from starting sooner? 
  • If you had it to do over again, would you follow the same path or a different one?
  • What advice would you give someone who expresses the desire to write?
  • Do you depend on writing income?
  • Are you a hobbyist writer or a professional?
I do know one thing. I have no regrets in putting my foot on the path to the writing world, even if it was later than I wanted it to happen. The passion-for-writing embers grew into full flame once I put words together to create a piece of writing. I can now say I am a real writer who, like today's poster says, has to write.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Bits and Pieces On Description in Writing

Image result for free images of quotes by writers

Stephen King's quote started me thinking about the use of description in our writing. When we use words to describe a scene, a person or place, we do it to create a mental image for the reader. When I read a novel, I like to have bits and pieces of description sprinkled through the story. I gather these bits and develop a complete picture of the character. Sometimes, it helps me like a character but it can also create the opposite reaction.

Description not only helps us see something or someone but aids us in feeling, too. If I read that a character is trembling on a hot June day, I know it is probably from fright. Say that she skips down a path swinging her school bag and I am pretty sure she is not worried about going to school that day. 

As the writer, you can tell me how that character feels but, if you show me through descriptive writing, the image will stay with me and mean more to me. 

What to use to describe: 

Adjectives tend to be the parts of speech we use to describe people, places or things--you know the group--nouns. It's fine to use adjectives as long as you don't overdo it. Beginning writers tend to think that, if one adjective is good, three must be stupendous. Use too many and you lose something. One, or even two, words to describe a noun is more than enough. It actually makes a stronger, clearer statement. Use three, or Heaven forbid, four and you're in overkill. 

Similes compare one thing to another but use as or like in the phrase. 
  • A kite is like an eagle soaring high above the earth. 
  • This storm is like a nightmare.
  • Tony's speech was as boring as watching it rain.
Similes are helpful in describing but you can overuse them just as easily as you can the adjectives. I once knew a writer who was able to craft a good story but she loved similes and she peppered her manuscript with them page after page. I finally got to the point of screaming, internally, No more!

Adverbs describe verbs. We all know that. So, they must be words we can use to help the writer see what a character does or what happens.  The problem with using adverbs to describe is that they often tend to be telling rather than showing. 
  • Mary ate hesitantly. 
  • John ran the last mile of the race, shakily.
  • Mr. Brown gulped his beer hastily.
How can you change each of the sentences above to show instead of telling?

Description allows writers to offer beautiful prose to their readers. As Stephen King tells us--the scene or person is a part of the imagination of the writer but he/she must be able to transport it to the mind of the reader. 

My one personal rule regarding description is that 'less is more.' I do not like novels that spend paragraph upon paragraph describing one tiny part of the scenery. Unless it is of great importance to what happens later, keep it short and sweet. Nor do I want to read five paragraphs that tell me exactly how Susie Q went to the fridge, what she took out, where she put it, how she made the sandwich. I don't care about that if it doesn't move the story forward. Just tell me that Susie Q made a sandwich and sat down to read John's letter with the startling news in it once again.  Which of those two things are more important? 

Here's another scenario:  The text says John's alarm rang. He turned it off before opening his eyes. He swung his feet to the side of the bed. He stood up and walked over to the window. We don't need to know that he swung his feet to the side of the bed nor that he stood up before he walked to the window. That's a given, isn't if? If he's in the bed and walks to the window, our mind tells us how he did it. The writer does not need to go into detail. 

This is a mixed bag today on description but maybe something here will resonate with you as you work on your next writing project.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Story Seeds

Image result for free clipart of planting seeds

 The seeds above will be sown, fed with rains from above and grow to a lovely flower. It doesn't happen overnight. To plant a seed, then nurture it to fruition takes time, patience, and some faith.

Our writing is much the same. Have you ever been out for a stroll when a glimmer of an idea for a new story pops into your mind? Maybe something you noticed while walking triggered it. Or perhaps the mere state of being alone with your thoughts allowed the thought to come. That is the seed. Now, it's up to you to do something with it.

Most seeds left untouched will eventually dry up and blow away. No one will ever see the flowers they might have become. The story seed will do the same unless you take some action. How? What? When? After all, this seed came while you were outside, far from your computer or notepad.

We can retain the thought until we return home, especially if we keep thinking about that tiny seed of an idea. How can we expand on it? Play the What if...? game with that bit of an idea. At home, make a few notes. If you're really inspired, go ahead and start on the first draft. It's not necessary to do it immediately. 

When I have that tiny seed of an idea, I often let it swirl in my mind for several days, or even weeks. The more time I give it, the more sprouts it shoots out. When I'm ready to plant, I start that first draft.

The feeding and watering of the seed you've planted take place with every revision, every edit that you do.  Call your story finished and you can consider it in full bloom. 

I used the example of receiving the seed of a story while out on a walk but it can happen anywhere, often when you least expect it. That's what is so exciting to me. Out of nowhere comes an idea for a new writing project. It could hit you while you're filling the dishwasher or walking down the aisle of your grocery store. You could be having lunch with friends when a casual remark one of them makes becomes the seed for your next story. 

Story seeds are everywhere. It's up to you to find them and use them and bless each and every one.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Pick A Title For Your Writing

Image result for free image or clip art on Story Titles

Running late today as my husband had a minor accident in his garden this morning. Tore his arm on a tomato cage, and since he is on blood thinners, it bled. A Lot!  So, off to an urgent care place to get the bleeding stopped, treated and tetanus shot and antibiotic prescription. That 2 1/2 hours was not in our Monday morning plan. 

I did have time to think about what today's post would be. A short word--titles. Yes, it's short but also of major importance. A title is what draws a reader to a story, a book, a poem or an article. How many times have you been in a bookstore or library and scanned the shelves until a title jumped out at you? What about the ones you passed up? Why did they not appeal to you?

Writers seem to fall into one of three categories when it's time to choose a title for your precious piece you've written, edited, revised and more. One group excels in picking good titles. The second group does a so-so job while the third group tries one after another until they find a workable title. 

Are you one of the lucky ones in the first group or do you struggle with titles? Those writers who are excellent with titles have probably the fewest in number. Then, there are the rest of us in one big, frustrated clan.

What should you consider when choosing a title:
  • Length--short is fine if it says the right thing. Longer is alright, too, if it reaches out to the reader  
  • Keywords--there should be some keywords that alerts the reader to what is to come within the text.
  • Pull quote--use something that is in the story itself. Pull it out and make it your title. It could be a phrase or a short sentence
  • Names--a character's name can serve as a title. Huckleberry Finn is one example. The reader is drawn to the title mostly because it is an unusual name, not a Tom, Dick or Harry.
  • Impending disaster--is your story about a storm or some kind of disaster? Use it somehow in your title. 
  • Question--you could ask a short question. Readers might want to find the answer within your text
  • Alliteration--many writers use alliteration in a title. Readers like the way it trips off the tongue.
  • One word--if you find the best 'one' word, you will be successful in drawing readers.
  • Personal--use 'my' or 'I' in the title and the reader knows it is a first-person account.  Some readers are drawn to that type of story.
I do not recommend finding a title and going with it right away. Play around with several titles. Make lists. Try different variations of one title. Let it simmer a couple days before you make a final decision. 

Don't take choosing a title lightly. It's your first chance to 'sell' your full piece of writing to an editor or to your reader. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Loss and Family Stories

Image result for free clipart of family gatherings

This is a short post today as my heart is heavy but I still have a message to bring to my loyal readers. It has been nice to acquire a few new Followers recently. Many more read than Follow but the Followers seem a bit like a Blog Family. 

It's no secret that I push writing family stories any chance I get. Right now, I am so thankful that I have written so many of my own and there are several more swirling through my mind begging to be written and included in my family stories section of the binders where I keep hard copies of all my writing. 

Three months ago today, I lost a younger brother. He had health issues but death was not imminent. He went to bed one night and never woke up. A peaceful death, one we might all wish for when it is our time. Still, it was a shock to our family. He was almost 8 years younger than I.

On May 13th, Mother's Day, another brother called me from Phoenix with shocking news. His wife had died suddenly and unexpectedly. She was his caregiver as he had many health issues. On May 23rd, he ended up in ICU with multiple problems which continued. His already weakened condition would not allow his body to fight. He passed away last night. He was 4 years younger than I. His two children are now dealing with the death of both parents in less than a month's time. 

To lose 3 close family members in a mere three months is overwhelming. Memories are flitting through my mind of our growing up days, of weddings and family gatherings when we were adults. 

Families are not perfect. We have our occasional grudges and gripes about siblings but, as the image above says, the roots are deep and strong. Despite those "I'm gonna tell Mom!" statements we all made to a sibling, our love for one another runs as deep as those family roots. When illness and death appear, we suddenly realize how very much we do love our siblings, our parents, aunts and uncles and cousins. Tell them while you can.

Write those family stories now. Share them with present and future family members. Don't put it off. No one knows how much time we have left with one another. I am the oldest of 4 but I never dreamed I'd be dealing with the loss of two younger brothers in such a short time, as well as my sister-in-law. I will continue to write the family stories for their children and grandchildren.

Image may contain: one or more people and text

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Renewing Inspiration To Write

Typography wall art that makes a great gift for any writer. Victor Hugo typewriter art.  "A writer is a world trapped in a person."

I like the Victor Hugo quote above. It's framed and for sale at Etsy. It caught my eye because I had recently heard from three writer friends who say they are having trouble finding inspiration to write. They have all been successful writers in the past. 

What happened? It's hard to say when we are such individuals but that 'world' mentioned above can definitely get trapped inside a person. Maybe it's burn out. Maybe it's lack of creative motivation. Maybe it's being bored with writing the same kind of thing over and over. 

I fear that the longer a person stays away from writing, the more difficult it is to return to it with the kind of passion a writer has at the beginning and at the height of a career. 

So, how does an uninspired writer find the motivation they need to pump up their writing passion again? No one thing will work for all people. You might need to try several things before you hit on one that works. 

Take a break:  Too much of anything can turn us off. There is nothing wrong in taking a break from your writing life. Go on a mini-vacation or a great big one. It's possible that the places you go, the things you see and do will bring up a fountain of inspiration. Don't go searching for it. Let it happen naturally. If it does, great. If it doesn't, don't despair. Move on.

Talk to other writers:  Gather a small group of writers or just call one writer friend and meet for lunch. Talk about your problem and ask his/her opinion. If they are enthusiastic, it could trigger some of your own. It's always better to talk about a problem than to keep it bottled up inside. 

Attend a writing conference:  I have been inspired to write at every conference I've ever gone to, be it big or small. The workshop speakers are there to teach but also to inspire. Inspiration floats through the air at writing conventions. It's up to you to reach out and grab a handful.

Read a book about writing:  Not guaranteed to inspire but it could. Especially if you select a book that offers a part of the writing world that interests you. 

Freewrite Exercises:  You know the drill. Find a word by pointing a finger in a book. Freewrite at your keyboard for a full ten minutes without stopping. Let it all flow from your subconscious. You may end up with drivel but you might hit on something that will inspire you to write more. I have done so many a time in my online writing group. Victor Hugo says that we writers are a 'world trapped in a person.' Our job is to let that world emerge through the words we write.

Be aware of your surroundings:  When you go out for a walk, use a watchful eye. Go to a social event and keep an ear and eye tuned to what people say and do. Inspiration pops up in the strangest places. 

Switch genres:  Is it possible you are bored with writing in the same vein all the time? Try something entirely new. An excellent fiction writer can switch to creative nonfiction with some comfort. They use fiction techniques but are telling a true story. Never written any poetry? Give it a try. You might get excited over being able to say a lot in a few words. 

These are only a few things you can do to renew your desire to write. The words desire to write are key here. Ask yourself how much you truly want to continue your writing life. If the desire is still there, you'll find a way to share the world trapped inside you with readers.  Go for it!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Should I Consider Selling Reprints?

Do you ever try to find a second home for a story you have written and had published? The term we use is reprints and it can bring in a little more cash if you adhere to a few guidelines. 

Consider these when thinking about selling reprints:

What is considered a reprint and what isn't?  If you want to sell the article/story again exactly as you originally wrote it, then it is a reprint. However, if you make substantial changes, then you have a new article to sell. 

What about rights?  This is one of the most important considerations in reselling your work. Always check to see what rights were purchased the first time the article was published. Some publishers buy first rights but also stipulate the article cannot be sold again for X period of time. If you signed a contract that gives the publisher all rights, then you can never sell it again. Most writing guides will discourage a writer from ever selling all rights. I did it once early in my writing life and I've regretted it ever since. Some publishers will buy only electronic rights. In that case, you can sell a second time to a print publisher. Whatever the case may be, the rights you have sold are extremely important. Save yourself a lot of grief later by checking first.

Where can I sell reprints?  Surprisingly, there are publications that actively seek reprints. They don't mind being the second one to publish your work and they are happy that they can offer you less money than the first publisher did. You've done the boatload of work the first time around so less cash the second time is probably alright. 

Use your favorite search engine to find markets for reprints. What this requires from you is time to do the research, time to prepare and submit and time to wait for a response. I don't see that as a problem because, if we want to sell our work in any form, we have to invest some time in finding the right place--new or reprint--it does not matter. 

Is there anything else I can do with an already published article/story?  Yes, you can rewrite it using a different viewpoint, a new argument to a problem or inserting new information that will change the entire piece. If you do that, you have two benefits:  1.  You already have the bones of the article/story and 2. You can sell it as new rather than a reprint. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Stories In Two New Anthologies

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman: 101 Stories about Being Confident, Courageous and Your True Self by [Newmark, Amy]                                                 

Today, I am taking time to let you know about two new anthologies. I have a story in each one.

Chicken Soup for the Soul's latest book is titled The Empowered Woman. I love the word 'empowered' as it appears to show strength in the way it looks and when you say it. You'll find a wide variety stories in this anthology of 101 stories about confidence, courage and being true to yourself. They range from learning to do simple things to fighting back against sexual harassment.

My story is about a simple sentence my husband uttered when discussing his upcoming retirement some years ago. He informed me that he thought one car would do fine once he retired. The story is about my reaction, silent at first but building to a climax when I finally had to let it out. Let me assure you that, 20 years later, we still own two cars. The title of my story is Don't Take My Wheels!  I'm pleased to say that this is the 21st time one of my stories has appeared in a Chicken Soup for the Soul  book.

Amy Newmark, publisher of this series has selected a charity to receive the royalties from this newest book. I loved that she chose the Dress For Success program which is a nonprofit program to help women who are either returning or entering the workforce and need assistance with proper clothing. The group began in a church basement in 1997 but is now global with 30 countries involved.

You can find The Empowered Woman at your local bookstore or order it here from Amazon for a reduced price.

The second book is a of an entirely different theme. It is filled with stories written by mothers who have lost a child, whether infant, teen or adult. There are also sections with advice for people dealing with the grief that feels unending at times. My husband and I lost two of our children as infants from two unrelated causes. My story, Heartache, Hope and Faith, tells what happened, how I was affected differently with each death and how my faith gave me what was needed to survive and be a whole person once again.

These are not happy stories. Even so, they can serve to soothe those who have walked in the same footsteps. Other family members and friends will find a new understanding about what parents who lose children experience. Some can even be inspirational. Trisha Faye is an author who has created this book for others who have lost children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, children of good friends--for many people. You can order the book here from Amazon.

I received two copies of this book, no pay for this one. This is one of those projects that I feel is one I don't need to be paid for. If it is helpful to even one person, that's enough.  One copy I will keep and the other I plan to donate to a new group of mothers in my community who have lost children. They meet on a monthly basis to support one another. I plan to attend their June meeting and will bring the book to present to them at that time. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

What About Your Spelling?

Credited to Laugh A Day

 We've been reviewing the mechanics of writing the past several days. There's no way I can pass up the wonderful world of spelling.

The poster above should bring a smile or a chuckle but, there are many who do exactly what Goofy tells us. If it's too hard, choose another word! 

That is one solution but spelling in today's world should be pretty easy. Write whatever you want and then use Spell Check on whatever program you are using to write. The only problem is that some writers can't be bothered to take the time to do that, so they fly by the seat of their pants and sometimes put misspelled words into their otherwise glowing stories. 

It's a matter of training yourself to do a spell check. I have a button to click here on Blogger and I do use it after finishing a post. It helps me find any misspelled word or a typo. I can't say it is perfect as I've found words that were highlighted that were spelled just fine. Not many but a few. They mark learned as incorrect every time. Why? No thing's perfect, is it? Besides giving other spellings, they have a place to click on ignore, so that is what I do when I use learned.

For some reason, people fall into categories in spelling ability. Some are good spellers while others are abysmal and the rest fit in-between. I was one of the lucky ones in school that found spelling very easy. I learned to read phonetically and I attribute part of my good spelling to that. 

When my brother started school, there was a new school of  thought on reading. No more phonics because 'sight reading' would be the new standard. The poor boy could not spell the simplest words in the early grades and it continued right on through his PHD. I remember my mother testing him on his spelling word list before he left for school. She'd get so frustrated because he could not sound out a word like she had learned to do and so had I. 

Is correct spelling important? You bet it is. Consider what an editor is going to think when he/she receives a submission with myriad misspelled words. More than likely, the piece will never be accepted unless it is so good that the editor is willing to correct the errors. Sadly, that seldom happens in the publishing world today. 

There are rules in spelling, ones we all should have learned in school. The problem with our English language is that there are so many exceptions to the rule! Learning the rules is still not a bad idea. There are plenty of sites online that can help. I especially like 'grammarly' for all kinds of help with words. Take a look at this page for help on the rules of spelling.

Don't be like Goofy and choose another word if you don't know how to spell the one you wanted to use. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Adverbs and Dialogue Tags


When we write dialogue, we use tags to let the reader know who is speaking. The preferred word is 'said.' Beginning writers often have the urge to use many others to let the reader know how the speaker is saying whatever it is.

Instead of Mary said, the writer will use Mary screeched, Mary moaned, Mary cried. If you want to let the reader know how Mary is saying her lines, there are better ways. Examples below:

    "I hate the things you do, Sam," Mary said. Her voice rose higher with each word.

     "I'll never get this paper finished in time," Mary said. She put her hands over her face and heaved a great sigh.

     "Do you think this has been a picnic for me?" Mary said. Sobs shook her body.

When you say Mary screeched, Mary moaned, Mary cried, you are telling. In the three examples above using 'said,' I've tried to show what Mary is feeling. 

We use 'said' because it is a perfectly good word and readers subconsciously slip right on by. What the person says is more important. You don't want to take away from that by using fancy tags. 

Another thing we are prone to doing is using an adverb after the 'said.' Let's look at a few:  Mary said angrily, Mary said, sadly, Mary said, gleefully. Again, this comes down to telling the reader how Mary is saying the piece of dialogue. It comes under the heading of Lazy Writing. Let's look at other ways to show the reader how Mary feels. It takes a bit more thinking on the part of the writer but is better writing.

     Mary stamped her foot and shook her fist at John. "You have crossed the line this time, mister,"
she said.

     Mary wiped the tears off her cheeks with the back of her hand. "I have something terrible to tell you," she said.

     Mary clapped her hands and giggled. "You'll never guess what happened this afternoon," she said.

In the examples above, I've shown the reader how Mary is feeling before writing the dialogue.  I've used the 'said' tag with each one but you could do without it because you've established that it is Mary speaking. 

If you have established a habit of adding an adverb after the 'said' tag, work on breaking it. Your story will become stronger and more interesting. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Puzzling Punctuation

Punctuation is puzzling!

 I imagine the caption below Snoopy's photo tells us what he is thinking. At least, for today, that is what he is pondering on. It's all too true--punctuation is puzzling. There are so many rules to learn and memorizing them is not much fun. 

We were suppose to master all that in grade school and be able to use punctuation correctly in Junior High and High School. Some did and others never grasped it. 

What if you're a writer and you throw a handful of commas into your story, letting them land wherever? Maybe you pose a question in a piece of dialogue and you end with a period instead of a question mark.Does it matter? It does if you want to give your readers your best work and are looking for some 4 or 5 star reviews. 

It's also best to use correct punctuation so you can be proud of what you've written and submitted for publication. Editors today don't have time to correct mechanical errors, no matter how much they like the story or essay. 

For those who are fearful of relying on their own store of knowledge, there are websites that offer tools to help you use the proper punctuation and other items grammar-related. Try grammarly. There are others, of course. Use Google, or some other search engine, to find one that suits you. 

Fourteen Punctuation Marks
  • period
  • comma
  • question mark
  • exclamation point
  • colon
  • semi-colon
  • dash
  • hyphen
  • parentheses
  • brackets
  • braces
  • apostrophes
  • quotation marks
  • ellipsis
Each one of the above have rules. I am not going to list them here as they are far too extensive. Choose three from the list and do a search for rules. There are many good sites that give detailed information on the use of each of these punctuation marks. Find the ones you like and bookmark so that you can refer to them when you are not sure about the usage of commas or quotation marks or when and how to use an ellipsis. 

With so many punctuation marks that we use in our writing on a day to day basis, we need to have a working knowledge of the main ones, if not all. Puzzling? Yes. Even so, you can master the use of all of them with a bit of effort. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Writer Granny's World by Nancy Julien Kopp: Repeating Words

Writer Granny's World by Nancy Julien Kopp: Repeating Words: What we strive for in our writing Today is our first day of addressing the mechanics of writing--the how you say it  part of writing...

Repeating Words

Image result for free image of many words floating
What we strive for in our writing

Today is our first day of addressing the mechanics of writing--the how you say it part of writing a story, article or essay. 

In my online writing group, one of the things critiquers mark over and over again is repetition of words. Using the same words two, even three times in one sentence or within perhaps two sentences or paragraph is a very common error. It's one we should catch when we edit our own work but, as we read what we've written, our eyes glide right over those repeated words. 

Yes, there are times when we use words close together to make a point. Note the first sentence of the paragraph above. I said ....over and over again. It's used for emphasis. Now, take a look at the sentences below and you'll see words that should be changed. 

A.  Bill left his shoes under the bed, climbed into the bed and fell asleep immediately.
      Better:  Bill left his shoes under the bed, climbed in and fell asleep immediately. 

B.  I've left the bread on the table for you next to the peanut butter on the table
     Better:  I've left the bread on the table for you next to the peanut butter. 

C.  Susan exited the stage she had danced on only hours after she found her ballet shoes and she knew she could be in the recital.
     Better:  Susan exited the stage danced on only hours after her ballet shoes were found and the recital went on.

D.  Timothy noted the long stretch of stairs ahead, climbed the stairs, then looked down the stairs to see if anyone had followed.
       Better:  Timothy noted the long stretch of stairs ahead, climbed them and looked down to see if anyone had followed.

If you've already told the reader about the 'bed' as in Example A, there is no need to repeat 'bed.' Sentences written with repetition of words can end up being boring.

Is it possible we repeat words to make sure the reader knows exactly what happened? Is it possible we don't give our audience enough credit for figuring things out on their own?  

Do we sometimes repeat words because we find it easier than thinking up a new way to say the same thing without using them again and again? (yep, I did it again but for emphasis!)

I think we often make this error subconsciously. What we must do is be conscious of looking for the problem as we revise and edit our writing. 

Just for fun, pull out a story or essay from your files and look through it to see if you have been guilty of repeating words. The vast majority of us are going to find some, myself included. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Why Mechanics Matter In Writing

It has been three weeks since I had my hip replaced. All went well but recovery takes time. I finally feel like I can get back to blogging again. Thank you for the many get well wishes. I greatly appreciated them.

The photo today is telling us to have a dream. Don't most writer have a big dream that they will be published someday and then have it happen again and again? They dream that they'll write a bestseller someday. They dream that they will be a household name when they write works no one will forget. 

It's fine to have those dreams so we have something to shoot for. Our writing dreams can help us set goals, too. 

Recently, I started thinking about writing having two sides--what you have to say and how you say it. Whether you write novels, essays, articles, op-eds, stories for kids or poetry, how you say it is of prime importance. What you have to say ranks very high, as well. No matter how good your story is, or how meaningful your essay, if you don't use good mechanics in your writing, your dream has little chance of being realized. 

Mechanics! Yep, those things we were suppose to master in grade school, middle school and high school. Key word here is 'suppose' because many of us worked on the grammar exercises the teachers gave us, listened to what they said and then went merrily on our way not worrying about mundane things like grammar, punctuation, clarity and more. 

Those who decided to pursue writing, whether for a career or hobby, suddenly had to deal with those mechanics. There are writers who take a handful of commas, toss them in the air and let them fall on their story. Some have no clue what to do with an apostrophe when writing something possessive. Others write sentences that are so long they can stretch the length of a freight train before the final period is found. How to use quote marks is a merry mess for a few.

Then, we have writers who mix up tenses, flitting from past to present and back to past like a hummingbird seeking nectar in multiple blossoms. Some writers are great fans of adverbs in dialogue to tell their readers how the speaker is talking or feeling. Why not? It''s a whole lot easier to tell the reader than it is to 'show' them. Spelling should not be a problem with today's computer aids, but it often is.

Do all writers make all these mistakes? No. Do some writers make some of them? Yes. Are there any writers who earn an A grade for mechanics? Absolutely! My point here is that all of us can use a review and work on establishing good habits in mechanics. 

The next several days, I am going to address the mechanics of writing as a help to those that need it and a review for those who do just fine already. So, do come back and see if there is a particular area that might be of help to you. 

Keep in mind that what you have to say is a way to your dream, but how you say it is what will get you there.

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Memorial Day Story

The following personal essay was published a few years ago but I think of the place where it occurred every year on Memorial Day. Give thought to the true meaning of this holiday. Our military men and women are buried here in the USA but in many other places around the world, as well. This story is about one such place.

Soldiers and Angels
By Nancy Julien Kopp

On a two week visit to France, I didn’t expect to be moved to tears and left with a memory etched on my heart forever.

 After a day and a half exploring Nice, our group of forty-two Americans boarded a motor coach to travel to a river cruiser for the next leg of the trip. Our program director announced that we’d be making a stop at the WWII Rhone American Cemetery in Draguignan where 861 U.S. soldiers are buried. These soldiers were ones who died in this part of France during the August 1944 invasions.

The southern invasion of France is not so well-known as the D-Day invasion along the beaches of Normandy in northern France. The invasion from the Mediterranean Sea began in August of 1944 and holds its own important place in the history of the war and with the French people.

We were informed there would be a wreath-laying ceremony for our group of seniors, many of whom remembered those war years as either veterans or children of vets. I was a small child during those years, but I still remember many little things about our life at the time, and I have read a great deal about this period in history because it feels personal to me.

We filed silently through impressive iron gates. The brilliant blue sky was dotted with fluffy white clouds, and the sun warmed us. The rustle of leaves in the many stately trees that surrounded the cemetery proved to be the only sound as we gazed at the rows of white crosses and Stars of David. No one spoke as we moved between the graves on the pristine grounds, reading names until the cemetery director arrived.

He told us the soldiers’ families all had the option to have their loved one’s body repatriated or to have them buried near the place they had died in battle. How difficult, I thought, such a decision would be. Sometimes, there were no parents left at home, or a young wife had already moved on with her life and needed no reminders of an earlier marriage, and so the fallen soldier never went home, staying in France where he died.

Everyone strolled slowly along the path that led to a large stone memorial depicting an angel. It served as one outside wall of an open air chapel.

Inside the chapel, a stone altar was dwarfed by the huge mosaic picture that towered above it. The mural-like picture, done predominantly in shades of blue, featured an angel in the center. My eye was drawn to her first, and though I studied the other, smaller figures, my gaze kept returning to her. The angel was seated. She cradled the body of an American soldier. The artist managed to capture a pure love in this figure. He succeeded in drawing visitors’ eyes to this central theme. Gazing at the two figures, I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes brimmed with unshed tears. Yet, I could not stop looking.

I thought about my uncle who flew missions over Germany but came home. I thought about my friend’s uncle who spent half of the war in a prison camp. I thought about my dad’s cousin who died in a plane that exploded on a runway. I thought about the memorial plaque at my grade school that listed the names of graduates who had not come home. The angel and soldier in the mural spoke for all of them.

Our program director held a large bouquet of fresh flowers. She asked if there were veterans of any war present who could participate in the wreath laying. The red, white and blue ribbon tails on the floral piece fluttered in the soft breeze that swept into the chapel from the two open sides.

Three men stepped forward. I learned later that two were veterans of WWII, having been very young men in the final days when they were called up. The third appeared to be a bit younger, although all had gray hair. He had been a pilot in the Korean War. Their shoulders were a bit rounded, and wrinkles creased their faces. As they neared the altar, they stood side by side, the rest of us gathered behind. The trio marched forward and laid the floral tribute between the Christian cross and the Star of David.  The three men snapped to attention, standing taller than they had in years and saluted the soldier lying in the angel’s arms. For one magic moment, they were young soldiers again. Even these many years later, they shared a common bond.

The gentle breeze of only moments earlier turned stronger, and the now-frantic rustling of the leaves surrounded us on both sides of the open-air chapel as we were invited to sing our national anthem. One or two people began slowly, and soon others joined in.

I tried to sing, but the emotion of the moment rose up and blocked my throat so thoroughly, I could not have sung had my life depended on it. Instead, I listened to the strong words of the song that is the pride of our nation.

As we retraced our steps through the cemetery, passing row upon row of graves, I thought of what so many Americans had sacrificed during the war fought on foreign shores during my childhood years. Lives were lost and families grieved, but others lived freely because of it.

I thought of a well-known quote that seemed to fit this small cemetery. All gave some, some gave all.