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Friday, December 14, 2018

Writers Need Organization

NOTE:  I am going to be out of town for a long weekend. Next new post will be Tuesday, the 18th.

How many times have you heard someone say Do you have all your ducks in a row? This photo certainly illustrates the saying. 

But what about that question? DO you have all your ducks in a row when it comes to your writing life? Are you organized in the way you write, in how you file your drafts and finished pieces? How about the marketing game? Got your ducks in a row there? Do you keep records of your submissions? 

What about your desk or wherever you write? Ducks all in a row there? (I'd hate for you to see what is spread across my computer desk next to my laptop!) I read somewhere that people who have a messy room are very intelligent. When my kids were teenagers, they must have been brilliant if their rooms were any real measure. OK, having a messy work area might not be as important as the items mentioned in the preceding paragraph. 

Some of you are probably wondering why it's important to be organized--ie getting your ducks in a row. For one thing, it's a whole lot easier to find things. And, keeping good records allows you to track a submission and know in a flash what date you submitted, what the response was, if published or not. 

Do you dump your drafts and finished pieces in an overall document fil?. Or do you make separate folders for drafts and ones you feel are complete? How about your writing process? Do you have a certain method to write a piece? By sections or all at once? Write the ending first and then what leads up to it? 

There's nothing wrong with being a creature of habit. We'll never feel like we're floundering in a sea of what's first or last. Developing good writing habits will make your writing journey a lot easier. We're approaching a new year. It's the perfect time to get your ducks in a row. How about giving it a try? 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Question For Writers

How long have you been thinking about writing the first chapter of a new book? Has it been months, or even years, that you've considered writing your Family Stories? Are the beginning lines of a poem swirling in your head but never seem to get written as a full poem? Have you thought about trying your hand at writing but just never seem to get around to it? Is there an essay on a traumatic event you experienced that you've wanted to write, but...?

The wannabe writer thinks about getting started but something holds them back. Fear, lack of self-confidence, unable to create time to do it--any or all of these may be the reason. But, if they don't do it now, when will they?

Those of us who have been writing for years seem to be able to put things off with no guilt. I find that the longer I delay on a new project, the easier it is to keep delaying. I've learned that, if I have an idea for a new story or poem, I'd better jump on it or it might never get accomplished.

When an idea or inspiration for a new project throws itself in front of us, that's the time to act. If you don't do it now, when will it happen? The longer you let the idea dangle like the carrot in front of the donkey, the harder it will be to get started.

How many of you have wanted to write a book of your Family Stories but it's never been more than a lovely thought that dips and swirls through your mind now and then? If not now, when? When will it happen? Or maybe we should ask ourself--Will it ever happen?

How about that first draft that you've slipped into a file and left there for weeks, maybe months? Will it ever get edited? Is it going to be submitted someday or will it gather dust while you move on to something else? Do you have an unfinished book manuscript squirreled away in a file but have never gotten around to trying to market it to a publishing house? 

I've posed a lot of questions. Do you have the answers or will you continue the delay or postpone or forget-it process? Sure, it's sometimes scary to work on these projects when we don't know all the answers, when we aren't sure it's a worthwhile project or when we're not certain if we should try our hand at writing at all. 

Whatever the situation for you, ask yourself the question that our poster states If not now, when?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Include The Sense Of Smell In Your Writing

Joyful Smells

The sense of smell is one we sometimes take for granted. We smell hundreds of things on a daily basis; some of them we aren't even aware of. Others assail our noses with pleasure and also those that make us cringe a bit.  Our memory bank is filled with smells of the past and the present. 

When we write fiction, memoir or creative non-fiction, we're often told to be sure and include some sensory details. Doing so brings your story alive and offers something readers can relate to. Regarding the sense of smell, don't we all remember and know the smell of bread baking or gasoline at the service station or coffee brewing? We're aware of the good aromas and the putrid smells, as well. 

If you wrote Gina smelled the flowers., your reader knows what Gina is doing but doesn't know what she is feeling or experiencing as she dips her nose into the flowers. If you wrote, Gina brought the bouquet to her nose, closed her eyes and inhaled the sweet scent, which tickled her nose. She spiraled back to her grandmother's flower garden in England where the aroma of the many blooms permeated the air as if someone had sprayed a perfume mister over the area. In this passage, we get a better picture of Gina as she smells the flowers and we learn what memory the scent triggered. It might also trigger some memory for the reader.

Look at the list below. Write a short passage for each showing the smell and what memory it triggered for you (or a memory you think might be triggered for others.)  
  • A real Christmas tree
  • Candles
  • Chicken Soup simmering on the stove
  • Popcorn popping
  • Ashes in the fireplace
  • A full trash can on a summer day
  • Newly mowed grass
  • A hog farm
  • A bouquet of flowers
  • Bubblegum
  • A wet dog
When the How-To-Write books tell you to add sensory details such as the sense of smell, they don't mean that you should just tell the reader that the character smelled something. Let them see how the character acts and reacts. It's a simple thing--rather minimal in the overall scope of good writing. Pay attention to a whole raft of simple things like this and your writing will improve.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Paying To Enter Writing Contests

How much of this will you spend...
....for a chance at this?

I've been looking at writing contest submission guidelines off and on the past few months. They appear to fall into two groups--those you enter for free and the ones that require a fee to submit. Generally, the contests that ask for money to enter offer bigger prizes. 

It's a no-brainer when you enter a contest that has no fee. You have spent nothing, so you lose nothing. You've taken a chance that your submission will place. But what about those contests that only accept submissions accompanied by whatever they want to charge? I've seen entry fees of $3 up to $750. Yes, I did see that big one just the other day. With that fee, you received feedback. Seems like pretty expensive feedback to me. 

Are you willing to submit to a contest when you have to pay to enter? What about magazines and ezines that charge a reading fee? Will you submit your work to them? Is it worth doing? This post is about contest entry fees but reading fees might be a sub-topic.

I'm a relatively frugal person. Raised by Depression-era parents, I learned to be careful with money. That said, I have paid to enter contests but not very many. I do pay to enter my state authors organization annual contest. The fee is minimal and it is one way I can support the group. I paid $15 to enter a creative nonfiction contest earlier this year. Didn't win, didn't get feedback. Bye-bye $15. 

If you enter contests and do so multiple times in one year, how do you justify the expense? It could depend on whether you won in any of the contests. If you get some return, then you're going to feel it's worth spending the dollars. If you enter a variety of contests repeatedly and win nothing, you're in the hole. 

Each writer has to decide whether to take the chance. It might depend on how much extra cash you have at your disposal. Or on how good you feel about your entry. If you feel you have written something really special, it might be well worth spending those few dollars to enter. 

I would suggest you keep track of what you spend entering contests (or paying reading fees) on an annual basis. At the end of the year, tally your expenses and the outcome. You might 'allow' yourself X dollars for entering contests, just like some people who frequent casinos set a certain dollar amount to gamble.

Personally, I will pay an entry fee for a limited number of contests but I absolutely refuse to pay a reading fee so that I can submit my work to an editor. A reading fee is one of my writing world pet peeves. 

There are plenty of no-fee-to-enter contests. I've seen a couple different newsletters that divide the notice of contests into free-to-enter and the ones that cost. Again, the prize amounts may differ widely. Many contests accrue the prize money through the fees charged to enter. That, I understand. 

Contest entry fees are reasonable but you'll find many that require $20, $30, $35 and more. It wouldn't take more than a few contests to find yourself out a lot of money. Determining which ones are worthwhile to enter is rather tricky, I think. 

How do you feel about paying an entry fee for contest submissions? How about having to send a reading fee to submit your work to an editor? I'd like to get some opinions on this. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Sugar Cookies, The Recipe and A Short Memory Piece

Sugar Cookies

I started my Christmas baking yesterday. Saturday I gathered my recipes and made two different kinds on Sunday. Everyone in our family has a favorite. I happen to adore a good sugar cookie and, over the years, I've tried many different recipes. I always come back to my favorite found many decades ago in a Betty Crocker cookbook. What's different in this recipe is the sugar used in the dough is confectioner's (or powdered) instead of granulated sugar and it uses both vanilla and almond flavoring. I think it makes a more tender cookie. You can decorate with sugar, white or colored, or cool and frost. 

Make a batch using a variety of cookie cutters, then make up small plates or boxes of the cookies to give to friends or neighbors. Next--this is where the writing part comes in--write a short memory piece about your cookies including how long you've been making them, where you found the recipe, why they are favorites and any other small bits of information about the cookie or how you make it. You can use any one of your own favorite recipes to do this. 

Wouldn't it be special to take your friends or neighbors a treat that included a short piece of writing to go with it? You might relate how your children use to help, what disasters were created in the kitchen when they were the helpers. Don't forget to include the recipe! Suddenly, you have a gift and a short memoir piece, as well.

I'm going to share my favorite sugar cookie recipe with you. When I looked it up online, I read some of the reviews and they ranged from one star to 5 stars. The majority were 5 stars. Sometimes, I need to make a recipe two or three times to get it just right and maybe those one-star people didn't try a second time.

Mary's Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1cup butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg
2 1/2 cups Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Granulated sugar or colored sugar


1. Mix powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, almond extract and egg in large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients except granulated sugar. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

2.  Heat oven to 375ºF. Lightly grease cookie sheet.

3. Divide dough in half. Roll each half 1/4 inch thick on lightly floured surface. Cut into desired shapes with 2- to 2 1/2-inch cookie cutters. Sprinkle with granulated sugar. Place on cookie sheet.

4. Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until edges are light brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool on wire rack.

(Can leave off the sugar and frost when cooled. When I frost them, I roll them out just a bit thicker)

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Plethora of Bells in Writing and in Songs

Bells play a part in our lives and have been a part of many stories and songs written over the years. Think of the bells we hear frequently or know about--class dismissal bells, church bells, Salvation Army bells, alarm bells, bells to call servants, sleigh bells, horse harness bells, the Liberty Bell, appliance bells, church bell choirs, and more. We associate certain bells with times in our lives and what they mean to us.

Writers use bells, too, They help add sensory detail to our writing. We see and hear them and touch them. We note different tones in bells from the tinkle of tiny bells to the sonorous boom of the huge bells in church towers. They can also help a writer show a sense of place or time. Consider what the bells outside on a cold night might feel like.

Look at the poem below written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the Civil War after he had received bad news about his soldier son. I have highlighted all the words that deal with the sound of the bells.

Christmas Bells (later the song I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day)

I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play, and wild and sweet The words repeat Of peace on earth, good-will to men! And thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom Had rolled along The unbroken song Of peace on earth, good-will to men! Till ringing, singing on its way, The world revolved from night to day, A voice, a chime, A chant sublime Of peace on earth, good-will to men! Then from each black, accursed mouth The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound The carols drowned Of peace on earth, good-will to men! It was as if an earthquake rent The hearth-stones of a continent, And made forlorn The households born Of peace on earth, good-will to men! And in despair I bowed my head; "There is no peace on earth," I said; "For hate is strong, And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!" Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Consider the many songs with 'bells' in the titles--Jingle Bells, Jingle Bell Rock and more. If you would like to see a list of 50 songs using 'bells' in the title, check here. A simple thing--bells--but look at how often they have been featured by writers and poets and lyricists.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Naming Your Characters

Before I begin today's post, I'd like to take time to thank the several new Followers received the past few weeks. The purpose of this blog is to share what I know about the writing world and to encourage other writers. Seeing the list of Followers grow makes me know I am doing some good. I am happy to say that my number of readers far exceeds the number of Followers. It is the Followers who have taken a few moments of their time to sign on showing their appreciation of what they read here. So, my thank you to all of you. 

Note:  There were several interesting comments on yesterday's post. If you're interested, scroll down to it and read them.

Now, on with today's post. I've said many times that it's the little things that make your writing more interesting and stronger. One of them is the names you give your characters when writing fiction or the names you make up in a memoir to protect friends and family members. (Note: many memoir writers use real names but some change them)

Naming your characters may seem like a small thing but I think it has some bearing on the story. We also want to use names that will stay with the reader or make some kind of impression on them. Think about some of the Fairy Tales and children's stories you've read as a child and still remember today. Look at a few of the names:
  • Alice
  • Cinderella
  • Heidi
  • Hansel
  • Gretel
  • Dorothy
  • Toto
  • Huckleberry
  • Pinocchio
  • Belle
Some of them depict the country they were from. Ones like Belle are words from another language. Belle is French for beauty. Cinderella combines two things--the cinders the girl had to deal with in her life and then, the common name (then) of Ella. Pinocchio is Italian, Hansel, Gretel and Heidi are German or Swiss. Dorothy appears to be a common girl's name at the time the story was written. Her dog, Toto gives us some alliteration and is easy for a child to say. How about Huckleberry? Humorous and definitely memorable.

Will you name your villains the same type of names as the protagonist? Probably not. You'll want to make the villain as disagreeable in every way including his/her name. If you have a protagonist who is a beautiful girl, you'll probably select a pretty name, one that has a positive connotation for the readers. Isabella is a name that trips off the tongue and appears to be quite lovely. Perfect for that beautiful girl.

When I wrote my middle-grade novel based on my grandfather's life, I didn't use his name, which happened to be Alex. Instead, the name Will popped into my head as I started writing. All the names in the story just came to me. I didn't have to ponder on it at all. It doesn't always happen that way but can. If so, consider yourself blessed.

I've read that some authors use a Baby Names booklet or list to find names for their characters. I doubt the name Sherlock, as in Sherlock Holmes, would be found in a Baby Names list unless in England where it was a more common name. It was thought that Arthur Conan Doyle, the author, had originally selected another name but changed it because of a popular cricket player in England at the time. Maybe many writers use names of sports people or celebrities or anyone they admire. 

Perhaps, some writers use the name of a best friend as a tribute to them., although it's hoped the name would not be used for the villain but, rather, the hero. 

Consider the ease of pronouncing the name when you choose one. I have read a few books where I had no idea how to pronounce the name of the protagonist. To me, that seems a poor choice as you should want your reader to be able to say that name mentally as they read. 

Give thought to the time period you are writing about. Choose names that fit that time of history or present day. I once wrote a children's story that a critiquer suggested I change the name as it seemed too 'old-fashioned.'

Do any of you have specific ways you select names for your characters? How about you memoir writers? Do you change the names of the people in your memoir, or do you give them different names? 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Different Writing Journeys

Kaye Curren was a guest blogger here a few weeks ago. This morning, I read a post she wrote for another blog. She detailed her writing journey. You can read it here. I started thinking about how I began my writing journey and then about the way rest of the writers I know and those whom I have not met got started writing. 

I think we all began our writing journey in different ways. Many have the desire to write long before trying it. They had a delay for various reasons. I had always wanted to write but let Life get in the way. I was in my mid-fifties before Life smacked me and I chose to take a correspondence course on writing for children as a solution. Ever heard that old adage Out of all bad things comes some good? For me, that was certainly true. From this side of the fence, I know that the miserable situation I found myself in was the catalyst for my finally becoming a writer. I'm eternally grateful.

My oldest granddaughter, Alexis, wanted to be a writer from childhood on. I credit a primary grade teacher she had who taught her students to journal on a daily basis. I have a feeling that was what sparked Alexis's love for writing. She was a copy editor, then writer for her college newspaper. Now, she is in grad school but still writes when she can. She will be an English teacher when she finishes graduate school and she will teach middle school English with an emphasis on creative writing. I'm so glad she pursued her writing far sooner than I did.

Some of you began writing when only a teen. Others waited until they had experienced a lot of other things in life before becoming a writer. Remember this--even if you haven't published but write, you are a writer. Some feel that publication allows you to say I am a writer. Anyone who writes can proudly say I am a writer. If you've never said it out loud, stand before a mirror and say it to your image several times. Then, try saying it to someone else. Take quiet pride in saying it. 

A longtime friend, teacher and artist, always asked me if I'd written my book yet. In his mind, I wasn't a writer until I had written and published a book. That's so wrong. There are so many other types of writing besides writing a book. 

How many of you have written an essay or short memoir piece about how you got started as a writer? Wouldn't an anthology filled with stories of how people began writing be a great inspiration to new writers? 

Some of us begin writing at an early age while others waited until fifty or more. I wrote an article many years ago about people who began writing after age fifty. They were all people I knew personally. What impressed me was that, despite a myriad number of reasons for waiting so long, they all overcame whatever had held them back and could finally call themselves a writer. 

We all walked different paths to become writers. The best part of the journey is that we persevered and can call ourselves writer.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Nudge From A Fine Writer

Joyce Finn

Joyce Finn is the moderator of my online writing group. We call her Mother Hen. She keeps track of the group and keeps us in line. She also encourages us as writers. A couple of days ago, she sent a lengthy email about our subs and critiques and other housekeeping topics for the group. As I read the email, a piece of gold emerged in one short section. It was a reminder to us to take time to write and why we write. I loved it so much that I asked Joyce if I might quote her in a blog post. She readily agreed. 

Joyce Finn said: 
This is a reminder to write if you haven’t had time and to remember that writing is your own special private time. Writing also tickles unique places in our brains that don’t get used otherwise. Plus, it documents who we are at this specific moment in our lives…which, as you all know is fleeting. All of life is fleeting, as are possessions and relationships. Write to mark your territory. Document who you are this instant. I have 3 essays I’m dying to write… so this nudge is for me too.

There's a lot to ponder in those few short sentences. I think Joyce could expand this and have a fine essay for a writer's magazine. She begins by reminding us that we should write whether we have the time or not. I especially liked the bit about remembering that when we write, it is our own special time. Think about that the next time you sit down to write. That time is all yours, no other person can claim it. Makes it rather special, doesn't it?

Next, she mentions that writing uses parts of our brain that otherwise would not get used. Interesting, is it not? I particularly liked her wording--...tickles the unique places... 

Then she gives thought to why we are writers, what it does for us. She says that it 'documents who we are at this specific moment in our lives.' As the years go by and we continue to write we are not the same person. As our lives change, so does our writing.  Joyce tells us next to write to 'mark your territory' to 'Document who you are at this instant.'  I agree that our writing defines who we are.

She finishes by telling us that she is giving herself a nudge to write as well as those who are reading what she said. Joyce Finn is a wonderful group moderator and a fine writer but her quote also lets us know she is a wise woman. Let her words give you a little nudge, too.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Memories of Special Gifts Make Good Stories

Image result for Hello December poster to use for free

Here we are in the last month of the year and one of the busiest. I went to a Christmas party Friday evening and a Christmas Tea at my church Saturday. Definitely getting me in the mood for the season. 

One of the things the hostess of the Tea did was ask each person to tell about a Christmas gift that was very special at some time in our life. What a delight it was to listen to the 25-30 women  detail the time and circumstance and the gift. 

Stories ranged from engagement rings to dolls to pets and a few other things. So many prefaced the story by mentioning that there were very few presents given in their family when they were children because money was short. One woman told us about the Christmas her parents had no money for gifts so her mother made each child something from whatever she had on hand. This woman had received twin rag dolls that turned out to be one of her very favorite gifts ever. 

As the memories came alive, I couldn't help but wonder if any of these women had written the story somewhere for her family. Had she ever even told her own children or grandchildren about that special gift? It's precious memories like this that should--no, must--be recorded. As we moved from woman to woman and listened to their memories, I thought that many of them could turn into a story for a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. But would they? Most doubtful. 

I wanted to tell each one that they had a great story and I'd write it for them. But, no, that would not be the thing to do. She should do it on her own.

How about you? What Christmas, or Hanukkah, memories have you written about for your family or for publication? Why or why not? There are reasons for both sides. I did write a memory of a special gift I received when I was six years old. It was published in one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas books quite a few years ago. I'll post it below. Maybe it will trigger a holiday memory for you and give you something to write about for your own family or for another Christmas anthology.


My Special Christmas Doll

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. 


Friday, November 30, 2018

A Two-Sided Coin

My morning hit a few snags,  so I am reposting an earlier, popular post today. It was published several years ago but is still relevant. 

Daily Devotions For Writers rests next to my printer, where I can reach it easily every morning before beginning to work. The life lessons the book contains offer advice, relate trials and also inject a bit of humor. Some of the writers talk of a revelation that came when least expected. Most of the devotions include a scripture verse and/or a prayer—sometimes a quote.

After reading the daily devotional book for a few months, I noticed that a pattern appeared to emerge in the guise of a two-sided coin. On one side of the coin, I sensed frustration from so many of the writers. It appears to be a universal theme for both seasoned and new writers. But flip the coin over, and satisfaction is evident.

Novice writers may experience the frustration in greater amounts than the satisfaction. It takes perseverance and patience to traverse the tunnel of disappointment. Doesn’t every writer dream of instant success? When rejection letters pile up faster than election campaign literature, what’s a writer to do? Confidence levels fall with alarming speed when new or even long-time writers don’t meet with some success. Doubt pays daily visits, and if a writer chooses to entertain him, he’ll stay.

Believe in yourself and your work. If you have something to say, a story to entertain or to make a difference in the lives of others, don’t let the early-days frustrations get you down. Make marketing lists, and work your way down that list until you either find an editor to accept a particular story, article, poem, or novel chapters, or have exhausted the list. If every editor you’ve selected rejects your submission, it’s time to take a look and determine why the piece didn’t sell. Make some revisions and try again. It’s rarely easy to look at your own work objectively, but it’s possible, and it will be to your advantage to do so.

Lack of time to write is one common frustration. Life tends to get in our way. Occasionally, the writer allows that to happen, for what better way to postpone a project that’s not coming easily? A serious writer creates time to write. Frustration also occurs when an idea forms in the mind but won’t translate into the printed word. From the brain to the fingers is not always a smooth road.

Once in awhile, a writer finishes an article or story, puts it aside for the required seasoning of a few days, then brings it out again only to find that it doesn’t say what she wanted to say at all. In fact, the writer is disgusted with the piece and is ready to hit the delete button. It’s the very reason writing books and editors advise setting a finished piece of writing aside for a few days. Then the writer reads it with a new perspective; sees with different eyes and gains satisfaction from the process of improvement. Isn’t it better that she hasn’t been one of those writers who dash off a piece and call it finished, then send it to an editor immediately? More than likely, it will come flying back with a form rejection letter. Avoid this kind of frustration by allowing yourself some time between a partially finished and a truly completed piece.

While frustration often looms over a writer’s head, it’s not all bad. Beneficial lessons present themselves through the haze of the stress involved. It’s up to the writer to discern the positive angles. Face your frustrations with open eyes and a willingness to turn them to your advantage.

One of the best parts of being a writer comes with the publication of your work. It’s comparable to a gift placed in a golden box and tied with a silver bow, your name on top. Here’s where the satisfaction side of the coin shows up. No matter how many times your work is published, it’s a pleasure. It definitely erases some of that frustration, which never disappears completely but can diminish and become of less importance with each success.

Sometimes satisfaction comes from the fulfillment in achieving a completed story, novel, article or essay. Many writers begin a project and never finish. I’m willing to guess that most writers have folders with half-done projects. But it’s those completed pieces that allow satisfaction to enfold us like a soft, silken shawl. Revel in it when it occurs.

What joy there is when inspiration hits while we’re doing a mundane household task, or driving a car pool. Maybe a character begins to form in your mind when waiting for a bus, or a word you’ve sought reveals itself during a conversation with a friend.

Another form of satisfaction comes when an editor assigns a project and we manage to  return it completed with all points covered. Writing on speculation is much easier than writing to a specified set of objectives. For assigned articles, a writer must do the research, write a first draft, revise and edit her work, then check to see if she’s covered everything asked for. Including all points asked for requires good concentration and writing skill, so any satisfaction at the end is well-earned.

Escaping into another world while writing is one more form of satisfaction. While writing, we create a place of refuge, creativity, and personal meditation that can prove emotionally fulfilling.

I will continue reading the daily offerings in the devotional book for writers, and I am certain I’ll continue to learn from other writers’ frustrations, as well as enjoy the happiness that comes through when they are satisfied. I’m going to plan to keep the satisfaction side of the coin face up. It’s a lot more fun than the other side and is bound to make me a more productive, more creative writer.

© 2008

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Five Tips To Get Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Anthologies

I have been fortunate to be published twenty-one times in Chicken Soup for the Soul books, with number twenty-two coming up in January. Is there a magic formula for getting your story selected? No, but there are some things to pay close attention to that will make the odds of being selected tip in your favor. 

1. Read their books. The more you read, the better understanding you will have of what the editors are seeking. You’ll get a feel for what the editors want as you read numerous Chicken Soup stories and you’ll be entertained, as well.

2. Send only true stories that are humorous, inspirational or illustrate a life lesson. There should be something for the reader to take away. Make sure they are actual stories with a beginning, middle and end. An essay or a sermon will not make the cut.

3. Study the Guidelines. Note the word ‘study’ because scanning quickly through the lengthy page of Guidelines is not going to help you at all. Go to and scroll down to the bottom of the page. On the far right column of the section titled More Chicken Soup for the Soul, click on ‘Submit Your Story.’ You will find three titles at the top of the page—Possible Book Topics, Story Guidelines and Submit Your Story. Check out the Possible Book Topics, then study the Guidelines and finally, submit your story via the online submission form. When the Guidelines say 1200 words, they mean 1200 or less, not any more. The editors are quite serious about every one of the Guidelines so you should be, too.

4. Start your story with action, not a long explanation of what you are going to write about. Jump right into the story and hook your reader. Make them want to continue reading.

5. Use dialogue, sensory details and emotion. If you have none, your story becomes a dull report. Keep in mind that too much of any of these overpowers the message of your story. Humor is great but don’t let it take over your story. Finding the happy medium is key.

If you do all of the above, the odds of being accepted will be in your favor. Even though I’ve been published in this well-known anthology many times, I’ve also submitted numerous stories that were not accepted. Keep the submission Ferris wheel going and see what happens. 

Note: If you have not heard from the editors two months after the story deadline date, you can consider it a rejection. They do not send rejection letters which is my one and only complaint of this fine series.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Writers--Consider A Sense of Place

When we write fiction or memoir, a sense of place holds a significant spot. Many How-To books on writing offer special exercises on this important part of a story or a memoir, or even an essay. I have posted two photos today that are totally different places. Anyone writing about either one would have plenty to work with.

At one of my online conferences, one of the workshop presenters spoke for nearly an hour on a sense of place and then she had us do a ten-minute exercise highlighting same. She was the editor of a travel website and who would put a priority on a sense of place more than someone in her position? Her presentation and exercise left an impression on me. 

I recently subbed a memory piece to my online writing group. When the critiques came back, I noticed one glaring thing. A sense of place was there but not strong enough. Part of that error was that I knew the place so well that I transported myself there as I wrote but I didn't bring my reader into the place with me. They are not mind-readers so it's up to me, the writer, to give them a clear picture of where the story happened.

Some points about a sense of place:
  • It draws the reader into the story, takes them to another world than the one they are in.
  • It helps let readers know how characters feel about where they are. It's not only a description of where the story happens.
  • The writer should use specifics to give a sense of place. Don't just say there were animals. Name them. Let the reader see the elephants, the zebras and giraffes in the game reserve. 
  • Dialogue specific to the place helps give that sense of place. Consider the Scottish brogue or the idioms used by the mountain folk in Virginia. 
My husband and I visited Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia several years ago. The place is so picturesque and has a sad history, as well. I was so taken with it that I wrote a personal essay about our visit. The good part about writing the essay is that it gave me something to also use in a fiction piece. If I had a character who visited Peggy's Cove, I know that I could give my readers a real sense of place. You can read the essay here.

When you write a short story or a novel, what happens and to who is important but where it takes place ranks high on the must-include list. Give some thought to a sense of place when you write. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Writers--You Are The Master of Your Time

I was trying to decide what to write in today's post when an ambulance arrived next door to us. They came to transport the man who lives there to a hospital. He has a condition that only gets worse and harder for his wife to care for him. Soon, he will need to go to Healthcare. My heart ached for both of them and it made me consider how quickly our lives can change and how all the things we had planned to do are suddenly no longer a possibility.

That is also the case in our writing life. We plan to do this project or that one but time slips through our fingers on a daily basis. We want to write our family stories so they will be preserved for our children and future generations but the desire never seems to come to fruition. There just never seems to be enough time.

We see a Call for Submissions and think of a story in our files that we could revise and polish and send in. Then Life steps in and the momentary thought slip-slides away like melting snow.

How many times have you read about a Writing Contest that sounded like something you could submit to? How many times did you only think about it? There just isn't enough time! you said.

If you're a professional writer, you must make a certain amount of time for your writing but those of us who write part-time aren't restricted. We use what extra time we have for our writing. Sometimes, even that bit evaporates before we can reach out and grab it.

Watching our friend deteriorate with the disease he has makes me aware that life can change so quickly and all those things we'd planned to do will never be achieved. It's not only age that threatens but illness and accidents, job loss, financial disasters and problems within our extended families.

This post appears to be a real downer, all negatives. If you read my blog regularly, you'll know that I am a person who tries to accentuate the positive whenever the opportunity arises. The positive I leave with you today is that you are the master of your own time. Consider the moments of your day that you do inane things that qualify as wasted time. You're not alone. We all do it. You can create time to write by rearranging your day. Get up earlier, go to bed an hour later, give up something social. There are ways to gift yourself with blocks of time to write.

Stop putting all those writing things you planned to do aside. Life is shorter than we think. Grab hold of it now and make the most of it. Write that poem that's been swirling in your mind. Get to work on those family stories. Continue to work on your memoir or short story or the book you're writing--or hope to write someday. Don't wait until you say I wish I had... 

Monday, November 26, 2018

A Blizzard and a Writing Exercise

Image may contain: tree, outdoor and natureImage may contain: snow, outdoor and nature
Snow drifts after our blizzard

Yesterday we had a blizzard in Kansas that roared in from Colorado and traveled on to other Midwestern states. The wind howled all day, creating fascinating drifts like these above. Gusts went as high as 65 mph producing snow art all over. The photos above are ones we took after the snow stopped. The at the top is between our house and a neighbor while the one below is just outside our front door. My poor little girl statue is standing in snow to her waist! 

This morning, there was a big drift against our front door, so Ken had to go out through the garage and shovel it away so our door could open. Now, the sun is shining and hopefully helping to melt some of the icy patches on driveways and roads despite the cold temp.

Description in writing is something we all should practice. I have listed words that can be used when describing a snowstorm or the aftermath. Write a description of a snowstorm or what was left when it ceased using as many of the words in the list below as you can. Maybe you can add some others to my list. Dig into your memory bank for storms of the past, ones that left an impression on you. 

Word List
  • crystal
  • sleet
  • snowflakes
  • fluffy
  • frozen
  • blanket
  • storm
  •  blizzard, 
  • pelt
  • fleecy
  • snowed-in
  • drifts, drifting, drifted
  • white
  • gleaming
  • sparkling
  • diamonds
  • snowfall
  • snow flurry
  • snow crystal
  • powder snow
  • fall of snow
  • icy
  • cold
  • wintry
  • dazzling
  • powdery
  • squall
  • blast
  • gust
  • bitter
  • blustery
  • menacing
  • gale
  • blast
  • blow
  • chilling

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

You Should Write A Book!


We were having dinner this evening with a group of people who have known one another for a long time. One of the women was the secretary to the Kansas State football coach from many years ago to just recently when she retired. She has served a number of football coaches and been a 'grandmother' to a great many young football players. A large number keep in touch with her after they graduate. We were reminiscing about some of the coaches she'd worked for when one man said, "You know what? You should write a book. I guarantee it would be a best seller." She just grinned. I piped up and said that I could help her, and she grinned a bit more but said nothing. Her eyes, however, were sparkling. I know she liked the idea but perhaps it all seemed overwhelming for a woman in her mid-80's. 

There are a lot of people who should write a book. Maybe some of the memoirists we have read started out that way. Perhaps someone told them "You should write a book." Some of them have done it, have published their book, and became public speakers when they needed to promote their memoir. 

What about novelists? Maybe one of them was always making up stories as a child and kept on doing it as a teen until someone said: "You should write a book."  And so they did. 

Just this past few weeks one of my close friends and her family had an experience that made me think they should write a book. It involves a needed kidney transplant, a surprise donor and a successful surgery. 

We see books published by celebrities all the time. Did someone say to them "You should write a book?" My next thought is wondering whether they actually wrote it or had a ghostwriter pen the book that is probably a success because of the name recognition. Look at all the people in the political world who have written books in maybe the past 10 or 12 years. Did they decide on their own or maybe someone across a lunch table in a restaurant said: "You should write a book."  The same with the sports world celebrities whose stories are of interest to others. Again, whether they write the book themselves or have a ghostwriter is immaterial. The sports personality had to provide the material that would make up the book.

Sure, lots of novelists, memoirists and nonfiction writers write books without anyone urging them. It's all their own idea from start to finish. Even so,  I have a feeling that there are more than a few books written because of someone saying: "You should write a book."

How about you? Have you ever said that to anyone? Has the question been directed to you from another person? If so, how did you react? If someone said it to me, I'd feel flattered but I'd have to take some time to ponder the possibility. 

Consider me saying to you "You should write a book." How would you react? Would you give it serious consideration because someone else thought enough of you to pose the statement? 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A Memory Letter Is a Great Gift

Don't worry, I haven't lost it. The reason I am putting up a Christmaslike poster two days before Thanksgiving is a sane one. The quote got me to thinking about a personal gift you can give this year, or at any time.

Create a Memory Letter for various people. After you write about your memories with that person, enfold it in a special card or tuck into a pretty box tied with a sparkly ribbon. Write about a memory, or memories, that involve that person. Tell your Aunt Suzy about the times you spent the night at her house and what it meant to you. Or write to Uncle Ted about the time he took you swimming at a lake far from home and the car broke down and you cried. Or whatever happened.

Write to a sibling and you might end up with a lengthy piece. Highlight those memories that stand out for you, things like--sharing a room, taking turns doing kitchen chores, fights you had over nothing and then made up. 

Write to your best childhood friend or a fraternity brother or a friend who went all through grade school with you. Write about the funny things, the times you loved and what you learned.

If this is a gift, you shouldn't write about any grievances you might have. Aim for positive things. Maybe you can write about a difficult time and how it affected you and the way you got through it with that person's help. 

If you write a letter filled with memories as a gift for your mother or father, be sure to let them know how much you appreciated this or that as you grew up. Kids don't thank parents for things in their everyday life over the years, but later the memories emerge and they realize what their parents did for them. It's never too late to show your appreciation and love. The same goes for grandparents if you are fortunate enough to still have them.

What about a letter to your doctor or your longtime hairdresser? It would mean a great deal to people who have offered you a service for many years. Tell them what you admire about them, what special things you appreciate. 

Anyone who receives a memory letter from you will be touched and pleased. The letter gift will be remembered long after it was given, unlike the gift you might have picked up in a department store. 

The December holidays are still far enough away that you will have time to write your Memory Letters. Pick a few people as recipients this year and do others next year. Or for their birthday. 

No returns, no gift card that runs out on a certain date, no worries about sizes or likes/dislikes. A Memory Letter may be the best gift ever!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Authors Who Write Books On Writing

A book is for learning, for joy, and for satisfaction

Last Friday, I used a quote by Orson Scott Card at the top of my post. A writer friend and Follower of my blog commented that this writer was one of his favorites, that he wrote wonderful sci-fi books and also books on writing including Characters and Viewpoint; How To Write Science Fiction; and Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction. 

I started thinking about other writers who stepped away from their usual genre to write books that are meant to help new writers, intermediate writers and even advanced writers. Should you and I read them? You bet! These books are written by proven, published writers. They know what they are talking about. Bigtime!

I like that they are willing to share their expertise and their experiences with other writers. Granted, they want to sell the book and make some money but they are also willing to give advice to other writers. I admire those who do that. I also thank them as I have read many books on writing that have been written by well-known authors. I have gained a lot from each one.

Here is a partial list of books written by novelists about writing. Look for them in bookstores or online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
  • Ursula LeGuin--Conversations on Writing; Steering the Craft; Words Are My Matter
  • Anne LaMott--Bird By Bird
  • Stephen King--On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft
  • Elizabeth George--Write Away: One Novelist's Approach To Fiction and The Writing Life; The Art of Writing
  • Ray Bradbury--Zen in the Art of Writing
  • Ernest Hemingway--Ernest Hemingway On Writing
  • Nancy Kress--Beginnings, Middles and Ends; Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoints; Crafting Dynamic Dialogue
There are many more which you can find by hunting through your favorite search engine. Do you have any favorites to add to this list?

Friday, November 16, 2018

Story Ideas Are Everywhere

I have told other writers much the same thing as our quote today by the novelist, essayist and public speaker, Orson Scott Card. He is a man who must walk through life observing others and looking for a storyline. 

How many times have you heard a writer say I want to write but I just don't have an idea for a new story and you nod in agreement.? There are stories everywhere! What you need to do is train yourself to use your 'writer's eye' as you move through your daily activities, your travels and visits to family or friends. 

When you walk through your grocery store aisles, you pass many people. Do you look through them or at them? To develop your writer's eye, you must look at them. Then do a mental questioning to get a glimmer of what their story might be. Will you ever know for sure? Probably not. The important thing is to observe and see if there could possibly be a story there. 

When you see a mother interacting with three children trying to shop and keep control of the little ones at the same time, you might find a storyline. How is she handling the situation? With grace and style or as a harassed mother of three crying children? Does her frustration show or does she keep total control of herself? 

The mother is only one of many people you see on your grocery shopping expedition. You might pass a college student filling his basket with Ramen Noodles--cheap meals for a struggling student. How about the elderly couple moving slowly from aisle to aisle helping one another? You could pass an obese woman whose basket is filled with all the wrong kind of food. 

You might not find a full story but you can certainly catalog the people you see in your mental file as possible characters to use later. Conversely, you might witness a full story in a grocery store with two or more people involved. The next time you do your grocery shopping, look at the people you pass. 

Walk through the park or on a walking trail and you're bound to come up with an idea or two for a story or essay. Many years ago, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of nature that I witnessed on an early morning walk. As soon as I reached home, I sat down and wrote an essay on the same. 

There are stories to be found in your workplace, sporting events or shows you attend, even on Sunday morning at a church service. Consider a newspaper reporter. He/she is looking for stories wherever he/she goes. They become very keen at nosing out a story. Fiction writers and essayists and poets can do the same. One day, a few years ago, I was out walking and noticed an old man in baggy pants walking ahead of me with a companion/nurse. I knew there was a story in the making. Later in the day, I wrote a poem titled "Old Man In Baggy Pants." What else? I could have just walked by and not given him a thought but I used my writer's eye and my writer's mind to come up with a story about him.

The point here is that you can train yourself to find story ideas wherever you go. When you see people or a situation, play the What if...? game to help you get started. There will be times that you see a full story in front of you but sometimes it might be just the start of a story and you'll have to finish it with your creativity. 

Remember to look "at" people, not "through" them. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Watch Those Passive Verbs!

Sometimes we adult writers need to go back to school, if even for a very short time. Our English teachers gave us the toolkit to use as we write our stories, essays, nonfiction articles and poems. Even so, we can use a bit of a refresher course now and then. And being a teacher from way back, I will step up today and remind you about one important part of our writing. 

When I critique the work of the others in my online writing group, one of the things I mark over and over again (and other critiquers do, as well) is the repeated use of passive verbs. We pump out those 'to be' forms like is, was, are without a thought as to what they do to your overall piece of writing. 
We all do it, especially in a first draft. When you don't catch them during an edit and submit your work filled with passive verb forms, you lessen your chances of acceptance. 

So, what's wrong with those passive verbs? We all use them in our daily conversations. What's the big deal? Too many passive verbs and we end up with plain vanilla when we could have chocolate if we use active verbs. Sentences with myriad passive verbs are rather blah. Change them to something that shows action and your reader sits up and takes notice, subconsciously perhaps, but their inner mind tells them this is a more interesting read than some. 

Some examples:

A.  The reason was that the girl was afraid she would be laughed at. (3 passive verbs)

B.  She feared others might laugh at her so she ran inside her house. (No passives/more interesting)

A.  The clown was funny and he was the hit of the show.(2 passive verbs)

B.  The funny clown proved the hit of the show.  (used adjective and then a semi-active verb)

Some writers question how to get rid of those passive verbs. There are sentences in which you can just substitute an active verb and change nothing else in the sentence. Sometimes, reversing the order allows a writer to use a more active verb. You can also use the object of the verb as an adjective as shown in The funny clown... in the first B example above. 

When you are ready to edit, you can move painstakingly through the text searching for passive verbs and make changes. If you use Word to write your stories and more, there is a handy little gadget that will make short work of finding those passives. 

Open your document and you should be on the Home page of the many choices at the top of the document. Move to the far right until you see a list of words that start with 'Find.'  Click on Find and a box will show at the left side of your document. Type in the word you want to check. I used was in the document I wanted to check. Like magic, each was in the 1700 word document showed up ion a brownish highlight color. I chose something written long ago and I used was. To be honest, my reaction can only be described as shock. I had a bushel basket of that tiny little, and oh so passive, verb.

If you use some other program to write, it most likely provides a similar provision for you to check words. You can use it to check any word, not only the passive verbs. Try it with a few of your documents filed away for future use (hopefully). 

Is there ever a time you can use passive forms like was? Of course! We'll never eliminate all passive verbs. Like all things, use them in moderation. Watch the overuse, especially when one sentence has three or more in it. I critiqued a submission yesterday where the word was showed up three times in one overly-long sentence. That is a no-no. 

Remember that active verbs provide interest and your job as a writer is to keep your readers interested.