Friday, March 16, 2018

Reading Books--Happiness

Writers are also readers. Readers aren't necessarily writers. We who are both  feel like we've caught the gold ring as we ride by on the carousel horse. Reading a book is one of the greatest treasures on earth. We can do it as often as we like even if we must steal moments from other parts of our lives. 

Reading is relaxing, peaceful, calms the soul and is sheer delight at times. For today's post, I am sharing several posters that speak to readers. Look at them, save the ones you like, and then go find a book to read. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Great Big Piece of The Writing Puzzle

Image result for free poster on opening hooks in writing

"Your opening should surprise. It should contain the best sentences of your piece, the ones with the most energy and the ones that take the reader right into your world." 
The quote is from Jessica Smock who is an editor at herstories, a site for women in mid-life that write personal essays. She listed numerous things of importance when submitting your work for publication. Then, she stated emphatically that there was one more important than all the others. What is it? The opening hook.

Nearly every book on writing will tell you that you must pull in your reader immediately or you might lose them. True? Yes, I think so. Years ago, people assumed that an English author was going to march you around the mulberry bush a hundred times before getting into the meat of the story. Same with English movies. I don't think that is the usual case any longer. English writers have also learned the importance of hooking their readers/viewers. 

What do some writers do instead of grabbing the reader's attention immediately? They open  with background information or an introduction which eventually leads to the actual topic. They might use paragraphs and paragraphs. In today's world, time is our enemy and no one is going to spend that precious time reading something that is boring. Opening with a bunch of facts and figures or a this is what I am going to write about farther down the page is kind of a 'who cares?' thing. When we say to grab the reader, we mean 'grab them and then hold on.' 

Jessica reads myriad essays submitted for the website. You are going to have to grab her attention (or any other editor) before your piece even has a chance to hook your eventual reader. She's like the barking dog at the gate--placate it with a choice morsel and it will welcome you. 

The poster we have today gives you suggestions for a good opening. We want to have an opening that makes the reader sit up and pay attention whether we are writing fiction, personal essays or ever a poem. Let's take a look at these 5.
  1. Ask a question: That can pique curiosity, especially if the reader does not know the answer already.
  2. State an interesting fact:  Note the WOW afterward. That tells us that the fact should be very interesting, something to make us open our eyes wider and read on.
  3. Imagine...: Pull the reader in by putting him/her into a situation or place immediately. Make them think about what it would be like and they're likely to read on.
  4. Use action or onomatopoeia:  If you open with a man being chased through dark alleys, the reader immediately wants to know why he is being chased and who is doing the chasing. They will definitely keep reading. The onomatopoeia suggestion doesn't do much for me but you can use words that sound like what they are--cuckoo, meow, honk for instance. That alone will not grab and hold the reader, however. I'd go with the action first.
  5. Use a quote or dialogue:  A quote by a well-known name will be a draw/ You might even use the quote and a question.  Do you know what blind and deaf Helen Keller thought about life? She said......
Do all the things that are important before submitting your work to an editor but pay special attention to your opening. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

About The Blank Page

Image result for writing quotes for free
The Blank Page

No quote on writing today, just a blank page in a book. How would you, as a writer, describe this empty piece of paper at what appears to be the beginning of a book? The blank page can also appear as a sea of nothing in whatever computer program you use to write. It can also be a clean piece of paper with nothing on it. 

There are two keywords I would use to describe the above. Inspiring and Terrifying.  Can they be both? Certainly.

Eager writing students and freelance writers often view that blank page as inspiring. They might think several things:
  • There it is waiting for me to fill it with words that will draw readers.
  • It's brand new, waiting for no one but me.
  • Putting the first words on a blank page is as delightful as being the first one to put footsteps in new-fallen snow.
  • With a blank page, I can write anything I want to. It's all mine.
  • The blank page opens like a lady's fan giving me space to write myriad things.
  • I can hardly wait to begin!
  • Which of the many ideas swirling in my mind shall I put on this page?
That blank page can also be terrifying. If you're a student with an assignment, you might panic. Your thoughts could be:
  • Good Heavens! What am I going to write about?
  • Where do I begin? 
  • That page looks like an ocean and I have to fill it word by word. Oh no!
  • I can't think. What will I say? 
  • How will I fill this page?
  • Can I do the assignment on time?
  • Will what I write be drivel or worthwhile?
A freelance writer might have altogether different reactions with thoughts like this:
  • I love beginnings so this page is perfect for me.
  • I've got a deadline; how will I have the right number of works by then?
  • What if Writer's Block attacks? The page might remain blank.
  • What if I fill the page with nothing but stupid things?
  • Am I a good enough writer to put something worthy on this page?
  • Will an editor want to publish what I put on this page?
  • Will readers give good reviews to my offerings
We can look at this blank page as either inspirational or terrifying. We can also consider it a challenge. How would you consider the blank page? 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Surface Writing Or Soulful Writing?

My apologies for not getting a new post up on Monday. We spent the entire day traveling home from my brother's funeral services in North Carolina. It's a time to be with family where we love and support one another at a sad, and sometimes unexpected, loss. 

I had written Friday about getting those family stories written, not just told. On Saturday evening and all day Sunday, I heard one family story after another. Laughter accompanied some and others brought tears. Of course, there was no time to write them this week-end but that must be done in the coming days. 

The poster above seemed particularly appropriate since I started writing a poem mentally on one of our flights yesterday. I was too tired to read, an unusual occurrence for me, so I closed my eyes to rest. Words began to float through my mind, words about my brother whose life we had just celebrated the previous day. Before I knew it, a verse of a poem had put itself together. Four lines that came phrase by phrase. I grabbed a slim piece of paper in my purse and wrote them down. One verse that came from my soul. One verse that cries for a beginning and an ending which will come in time. When finally done, I am certain I will share it and that it did come from my soul.

Give some thought to the quote above. We all like to put pretty words together, words we hope will please our readers. If you share a part of your soul when you write, the words will be more than pretty. They will be memorable, gratifying, uplifting, possibly beautiful. 

There is surface writing and soulful writing. Which one do you think will be the better kind of writing? When we write on the surface, we are trying to get a job done. We pull words from the air and from our mind to achieve our goal in a particular project. There's nothing wrong with that. Many a professional writer writes surfacely, especially when facing a deadline. 

It's the projects where we write by pulling the words from heart and soul that will often be remembered by readers. For me, there is no doubt that soulful writing is going to be our best. 

If you have a few minutes, take a look at some of the things you have written, ones published or not yet published. Can you label them with surface or soulful? Can you tell why those labels are on each one? Does it make you want to be a soulful writer the majority of the time? It's something to keep in mind as you begin each new piece.

I am hopeful that the rest of the poem I plan to write can be as soulful as the one verse that has emerged so far. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Family Stories Are More Important Than We Realize

The picture above is of me and two of my three younger brothers, taken in 1947. The third one didn't come along until 7 years later. At the time of this photo, I was 8, Howard on the left was 4 and Paul, in the middle, was under a year. Howard was brunette and Paul and I had auburn hair. I remember that my dress was aqua blue.

Paul, aged 71, passed away in his sleep Wednesday night. He had faced multiple health problems from infancy to the very end. Even so, his death was a shock to all his family and friends. We will gather as a family to celebrate his life this week-end in North Carolina, far from the Chicago suburb where we all grew up. As we all married and made several moves, we spread pretty much from coast to coast.

Even so, we have kept in touch through the several means of doing so we now have. Somehow, on phone calls, texts and emails, the miles disappear. When we have the rare opportunity to spend time together at a wedding, or as now, a funeral, the "Remember when...." stories emerge one after another.

Several years ago, I made a book of Family Stories for each of my three brothers. I had thought about it for a long time but had not taken the time to accomplish the project. I'm sure many of you have had the good intentions and not quite made it happen. Please do it sooner rather than later.

It's now that those family stories will have even more meaning for Paul's family. Those oft-told family stories paint a picture of each family member. His grandchild and future great-grandchildren will be able to hold on to those stories. They'll understand what his life was like growing up in a large family that lived in a small apartment. They'll learn about Paul's parents and grandparents and his siblings. His granddaughter has known him all her life and has had the great privilege of living only minutes away from him and her grandmother. Having the Family Stories book will allow her future children to know who their great-grandfather was, learn about  his roots and more.

Regular readers here know that I am constantly urging people, both writers and non-writers, to get those family stories written and assembled somewhere. It's a partial history of family. When babies are born, mothers often receive, or purchase, a Baby Book to record memories, dates of injections, diseases and special events in the child's life. They reach a certain age and mom stops keeping that record. Those family stories can carry it on to the ends of life.

Don't retell only the funny, heart-warming things that happened in the family. Add the tragedies, the times when anger took center stage, or when you weren't very proud of a family member. The good and the bad swirl together to create the whole family story.

Write one story at a time, not a great many at once. Make up the book and keep adding a story each time you write one. They add up faster than you think. Do it for yourself and for your living family and for future family members, too. Do it soon.

Memories of my brother, Paul, are running through my mind like a video. It's dawned on me that I still have a lot more family stories to write. He wanted the Cubs to win one World Series before he left this earth. He got that wish and, oh, how happy it made him. There's a story about Paul, when he was a kid, and my dad knocking heads over the Cubs and the Chicago White Sox. Paul liked the Cubs but he cheered on the Sox just to make Dad mad and then....well, a story to be written.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Pros and Cons of Entering Writing Contests

Image result for free banner for contest

Writers are often urged to enter contests. Somebody has to win so why not you? Take a chance along with a thousand or more other writers. What are the odds you'll win? Should you try? Or not? 

There are things to consider when you enter your work in a writing contest. Here are just a few:
  • If  I enter my story in the contest that will not announce winners for 6 months, then I cannot submit it for publication. Do I want to tie up my work for that long?
  • How do I know the type of writers that enter this contest? Can I actuall compete with them?
  • Is there a fee to enter?
  • How much is the fee? Is it exorbitant? 
  • If I enter 5 contests and pay an entry fee for each but win nothing, where am I? 
  • Do I know if the contest is legit?
  • Have I checked for validity of the group behind the contest?
  • Does the contest pay winners? Or just publish the winning entries?
  • If they only publish, not pay, winners, why am I paying a fee to enter?
  • How high a fee should I  be willing to pay? 
  • How many contests per year should I enter? The free ones? The ones with entry fees?
  • Should I enter smaller contests first and progress to the bigger ones? 
  • Should I skip the small potatoes contests and aim for the big one with the big prizes? 
/There are also good reasons to enter your work in a contest. Consider these:
  • If I place, it's a good thing to be able to tell an editor later when I submit the same story for publication
  • It's good practice for submitting to editors later
  • You might actually win first, second, third or an Honorable Mention
  •  Enter the no fee contests and you have lost nothing, but they usually have lower amounts for prizes. 
  • You can't win if you don't enter
  • Winning a writing contest looks mighty nice in your bio
  • It's fun to take a chance and see how your work stands up to others (We sometimes forget that writing should have some fun in it)
As for no-fee or fee to enter, that is something each person needs to determine. I have entered both types of contests, have placed in some, and got nothing in many. If you do enter your work in a contest, be sure to read the guidelines and know for sure that your piece fits. Best of luck to all who give it a whirl.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Stormy Writing Exercise

Image result for free storm pictures

 We've all been through various storms. There are thunderstorms, snowstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes and wind storms. They give us a golden opportunity write with vivid visual images and to use sensory details to the fullest. 

We also have metaphorical storms throughout our lives. Today, as an exercise, write about one of those storms that you 'weathered' through. 
  • Include sensory details.
  • Show your feelings rather than telling what they were.
  • Use active verbs
  • Start with a good hook
An exercise like this can often lead to an essay, story, or poem that is worth submitting for publication. We never know what treasure will be found in the recesses of our minds. 

Use the picture above to trigger your memories of your own personal storm. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Q & A With Kathleen Pooler, Memoir Writer Part 2

Image result for Ever Faithful To His Lead Kathy Pooler photoHere's Kathy with more answers to my questions. Below Part 2 of the interview, look for her bio and several links. Do take some time to click and visit her. I've been so pleased to  have Kathy as my Guest.

Nancy:  Did you find yourself reliving the abusive marriage times in your life as you wrote? If so, how did you handle it?

Kathy:  My first memoir was not the story I wanted or intended to write. I started out writing about being the mother of an alcoholic son. But when I sent my manuscript to a developmental editor, she strongly recommended that I had two memoirs, one about the emotional abuse and the other about my son. I then had to face all my vulnerabilities and flaws—why and how I got into two emotionally abusive marriages-- which was very difficult. There were many times when I had to put the manuscript aside, sometimes for months at a time. But the story kept nagging at me and I eventually finished it. And I will add that seeing it through helped me to heal from the guilt and shame I had carried around all those years. It also helped me to forgive those in my life whom I felt had hurt me. Most important, it helped me to forgive myself.

Nancy:  Did you ever want to quit writing the book? If so, what made you continue?

Kathy:  Indeed, there were times when I wondered if it was worth exposing such intimate details about my family life. I was especially concerned about the response of my first ex-husband, the father of my children. I consulted an attorney and prayed about it. One day a few months before it was published, I sat in church and had an overwhelming feeling come over me. I felt compassion for the young woman in my story (me). With that feeling came a renewed passion for telling my story to give others hope.

Nancy:  What are you working on now?

Kathy:  I am currently in the final editing phase of my second memoir, Daring to Hope: A Mother’s Journey to Healing From Cancer and Her Son’s Alcohol Addiction. I started writing vignettes about this story in 1999. So it’s been in the works for nineteen years.

 Nancy:  How soon do you expect the new book to be published?

Kathy:  By next year at this time, I hope to have it published. Maybe sooner. It all depends on how the revision process goes. When I’m done with this phase of my revision, I will print it out and have a red pen in hand to mark the areas that still need work. I’m in no hurry but I will feel good when it’s done.

Nancy:  What advice do you have to others who might like to write a memoir?

Kathy:  Read a lot of memoirs.

Study the art and craft of memoir writing. There are so many free resources online: The National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW), The Memoir Network with Denis Ledoux, International Women’s Writer’s Guild (IWWG)

Facebook groups: Memories to Memoir with Cami Ostman, IWWG member group, NAMW, Gutsy Indie Publishers

Follow blogs: The Write Practice, Women’s Writing Circle with Susan Weidener, Writing Through Life with Amber Lea Starfire, Marion Roach, Memories and Memoir with Linda Joy Myer to name a few.

If you can, get to a writer’s conference. IWWG and Writer’s Digest Annual Conferences are my favorites.

And finally, if you want be a writer, you have to write and keep writing until it’s right. And don’t forget to be kind and gentle with yourself. Memoir writing is a daunting, often painful process but well worth it in terms of the healing and transformation that occurs within you.

Good Luck!

Bio:  Bio: Kathleen Pooler is an author and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner whose memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, published on July 28, 2014 and work-in-progress sequel, The Edge of Hope (working title) are about how the power of hope through her faith in God helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments:  domestic abuse, divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.

She lives with her husband Wayne in eastern New York.

         She blogs weekly at her Memoir Writer’s Journey blog:

Twitter @kathypooler
Personal page,
Author page:
Kathleen Pooler/Memoir Writer’s Journey:

            One of her stories “The Stone on the Shore” is published in the anthology: “The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys From Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment” by Pat LaPointe, 2012.
            Another story: “Choices and Chances” is published in the “My Gutsy Story Anthology” by Sonia Marsh, September, 2013.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Q &A With Kathleen Pooler, Memoir Author

Image result for Ever Faithful To His Lead Kathy Pooler photo

A few weeks ago, I was a Guest Blogger for Kathy Pooler whose memoir is pictured. Read more about it here. I asked Kathy if she'd consider doing an interview for my blog. Gracious lady that she is, she agreed without hesitation. The interview will run over two days. Part 1 is below. Not only memoir writers will find this of interest. All writers can gain some knowledge and insight from this writer's answers to my questions. 

Interview with Kathy Pooler, Memoir Writer

Nancy:  Did you have any writing background before you started to write your memoir?

Kathy:  The only background I have is a lifelong desire to write. My career was in nursing. I think my passion for writing started when I was around nine- years-old and wrote plays to perform in front of my maternal grandmother and all her Italian lady friends. They chattered in response and though I didn’t   understand a word, their enthusiasm motivated me to keep doing it. Soon after, I received a pink journal with a lock and key and I have been journaling ever since.  In 1999, I took a Writer’s Digest course, Getting Started in Writing which jumpstarted my writing career. When I decided to write a memoir, I took online courses in the art and craft of memoir writing from 2009 to 2012 through The National Association of Memoir Writers with Linda Joy Myers.

Nancy:   What made you decide to write the book?

Kathy:  We all have challenges and struggles in our lives that help to shape us into the adults we become. After surviving two divorces from emotionally abusive men, one of whom was an alcoholic, cancer and a son with addiction, I looked around at the life of peace and joy I was living and decided I must tell my story to give others in similar circumstances hope for themselves. No matter how far down into the abyss you may go, there’s always hope for a better life.

Nancy:  How long did it take from start to finish?

Kathy:  Memoir writing is a marathon, not a sprint. It has been a slow unfolding of past memories with new discoveries along the way. As I mentioned above, I journaled through all my challenges from the time I was in high school. Many of these journal entries became the seeds for my memoir.  I started writing in earnest in 2009 and published my first memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse in July of 2014. 

Nancy:  Did you have a professional editor, or do it yourself?

IKathy:   feel strongly that professional editing is essential in producing a marketable book. I need an objective, professional review and would never rely on myself to edit.

When I complete my first draft, I put out a call to fellow writers and friends to be beta readers. This gives me feedback from a reader’s perspective. After incorporating the beta readers’ suggestions and when I feel my manuscript is ready, I send it to a professional editor for the evaluation of the content, story structure, narrative arc and writing. I will then hire a copyeditor to check for grammar and punctuation and a proofreader for the final review.

Nancy:  How many publishers did you submit to before being accepted at Open Books Press?

Kathy:  I was lucky. The small publisher reached out to me after seeing a comment I had made on a popular writer’s blog, Writer’s Unboxed. I had an established platform through my weekly blog and he requested I submit my manuscript to him. Before that, I had explored other publishing options, including traditional and self-publishing and already decided to aim for a small publisher.

Nancy:  What have you done to promote your book?

Kathy:  I think the most important thing is to take the time you need to write a good book and I hope I’ve done that. I participated in online and onsite book tours, book signings at local venues, such as libraries, counseling centers, senior centers. In one case, a coworker’s mother who worked at a local counseling center read my book and recommended to her director that I come to speak at a staff meeting which I did. This meeting was broad cast to two other counseling sites. As a result of the newspaper article about the meeting, a reporter from the newspaper requested to come to my house to interview me for a full page Sunday feature story.  Other opportunities came my way, such as requests to speak at a local nursing association’s dinner meeting and an invitation to be  keynote speaker at an annual fundraising event for the local domestic violence shelter.

Please Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of the interview

Friday, March 2, 2018

Does Seeking An Edit Help or Hurt?

Why does an author cringe at the thought of having someone else, either another writer or a professional editor, edit the manuscript?

In the case of a book, picture this: 

Author gets story idea.
Author outlines book.
Author slaves months, maybe years over the manuscript.
Author hires an editor to go through the beloved manuscript.
Editor takes a long time to do the job.
Author waits impatiently.
Editor returns manuscript with so many marks that it looks like a flock of chickens ran through it.

What's next? The author must go through the entire manuscript, correct and revise, add or toss out. Guess what? That's not much fun. It might feel like starting from scratch. It can be defeating, or deflating. You could feel like there's a ten ton weight pressing down on you. It's time to make a decision. Revise and re-edit or toss the project in the trash.

Do not make this decision on the same day the manuscript is returned. Take some time to consider the situation from all angles. Take the old Pro and Con route. Make a list of each for either dumping the project or continuing to work using the suggestions the editor you hired has given you.

If your ultimate goal is to have the story published, then it's almost a given as to what you'll decide to do. Even so, it's not easy to accept the fact that you thought you had sent the 'perfect' manuscript to the editor but it wasn't. It's the reason you wanted that editor--to help you find the mechanical errors and trouble spots.

When we're down with a virus, we call the doctor for help. He prescribes some medicine. Take it and you'll eventually get better. Let it sit on the counter untouched and you'll continue to be sick. As much as I hate to see a critique of my work come back with all kinds of marks, I know I'd better swallow the med and make that piece better than it was.

Being both a writer and one who critiques other peoples' writing (via my online group), I know that it's far easier for me to locate trouble spots in the work of others than in my own. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

New Month, New Story Ideas Needed, So...

Image may contain: flower

We greet our third month of the year today. Not spring yet but getting close. In my part of the world--central Kansas--we'll see daffodils like the ones above before the end of the month. 

Do you need story ideas? Looking at a new month and pondering on what you did as a child when the third month arrived can help you come with with an idea. You Can do one of two activities to spark your imagination or to find some inspiration.

1.  Use these questions to trigger your memory. Use them in a memoir piece or base a fiction story on any one of them:
  • What kind of climate changes did you see in March where you grew up?
  • Did the bulletin boards and decorations change in your classroom on March 1st?
  • Did your family celebrate St. Patrick's Day? If so, how? If not, why? 
  • Did you still wear winter clothing or switch to lighter jackets etc?
  • Did you ever fly a kite? Where?
  • Did you ever make your own kite? 
  • Did you have any religious holidays in March?
  • What kind of flowers bloomed in your part of the country in March?
  • What does the Ides of March mean to you?
  • Do you remember when your parents worked on taxes in March?
  • Did you celebrate the first day of Spring in March?
  • Any special foods you ate in March? 
2.  Another activity is to free write about March for 10, 15, or 20 minutes. Write about this new month now and in the past, what it means to you, what you can expect to see--whatever comes to mind. Start writing and keep going until you run out of ideas. 

I did this exercise a few years ago and this is what came of it:

Musing On March

Most people know that old saying "If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb." And it works in reverse, as well.

Today in Kansas, March slipped in like a sweet little lamb. She brought clear skies, sunshine and a temperature to reach 68 by mid-afternoon. What bliss after one of the worst winters Kansas has had in a long, long time.

Along with all those good things, March winds are going to blow today. They'll whip through the trees, which are still recovering from the devastation of the December ice storm. The wind will roll across the Flint Hills with glee, bending the prairie grasses like pieces of cooked pasta. The wind will skip across rivers, stir up the sand traps on golf courses, create havoc with hairdos and swirl dirt piles when found. It doesn't matter a bit, however, because those south winds bring warm air from the gulf to our state. So, blow wind, blow. Send kites dipping and dancing through the sky.

Our town has a St. Patrick's Day celebration that grows larger every year. A Blarney Breakfast, races for runners and walkers, and plenty of green beer highlight the day in an area near the Kansas State University campus. Irish music blares through loudspeakers, and on that particular Saturday, everybody is Irish! As for me, I'm Irish every day--at least half my heritage is from that green, green land.

This year, we also celebrate Easter in March, a holiday that is both religious and commercial. Whether you celebrate one part of both, it's an important part of the year. For me, Holy Week reigns, and I plan the rest of my activities around church services on Thursday, Friday and Sunday of that week. But I love the commercial part, too, the many decorations and early spring flowers, trees budding, lambs’ births--all those things that tell of rebirth and awakening. But don't all those things stem from the Easter story of the Resurrection? For me, they do.

One more thing March may bring is another snowstorm or po
ssibly another ice storm. Kansas almost always gets snow at least once in this third month of the year. I remember one bad ice storm that frosted trees and shrubs in the middle of March one year. The best part about March snow or ice is that it rarely lasts more than one day.

Welcome March!

belle and boo

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Your February Writing Life

Image result for free image Goodbye February

I am known to be a person who looks ahead, not behind. I'm one who wants a positive spin on most things in life. Why? I've learned that looking back and regretting what youdidn't  accomplish and putting a negative tone on life doesn't do me one bit of good. Why let myself be dragged down by the If only's of the past? 

That said, there are times when it is prudent and helpful to take a look at the recent past. Today is the final day of the shortest month of the calendar year. Before we look ahead to next month, take a few minutes to assess your writing life this past 28 days. 
  • What good things happened as you moved along your writing journey? 
  • What things dragged you down?
  • Did you do anything to change or fix those things?
  • Did you assess the how and why of the negatives of your writing?
  • What was the happiest moment in your writing life in February?
  • Did you meet any of your goals this month?
  • How many submissions did you make? (Hopefully, 'zero' is not your number!)
  • What did you do to improve your writing life?
  • How can you improve that next month?
  • How much reading did you do? (A biggie for writers--read, read, and read!)
  • Did you help another writer?
  • Did another writer help you? 
  • Was time to write a big problem?
  • Did you create time to write? 
  • What was the most uplifting moment of your writing life this month?
  • Did you attend a writer's meeting of any kind?
Once you've answered the questions above, you can easily set some goals for March. Next month has three more days in it than this one. A gift for you!

February is sliding away today. Gone are the hearts and flowers of Valentine's Day. No more President's Day recognition. Maybe no more big weather events. It's possible the winter bugs we all seem to pick up will flee.

When March arrives, I will look for crocuses and daffodils to start their journey above grouond, gladdening hearts and announcing that spring is not far away. It's the month we all become Irish for one day. It's the month that teases us with pleasant days only to blow an ice or snow storm our way even though Spring officially begins in the third week. The best part of March is that April is nearly here. 

Whatever the month, put writing in your To-Do List.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Are You The Queen of Unnecessary Words?

Image result for free image or clipart of scattered words

It's the simple things that can help you have a polished piece to submit to an editor. Using unnecessary words makes for 'clunky' writing. We have all done it without even thinking. From brain to fingers on keyboard, those unneeded words come tumbling through. We don't consciously think about them. They seem to happen quick as the flash on an old camera. 

I confess to being the Queen of Unnecessary Words in my early writing years. I am less guilty of adding these extra words today, but I admit that a few sneak into my writing once in awhile. Hey--nobody's perfect!

Some examples: (Unnecessary words are underlined) 

A. Right near the bike trail, I found five shiny new pennies. 

B.  Near the bike trail, I found five shiny pennies.

A.  The girls brought them to the circus with them. 

B.  The girls brought them to the circus.

A. Billy entered in the  calf roping contest.

B.  Billy entered the calf roping contest.

A.  I just don't want to eat my vegetables.

B.  I don't want to eat my vegetables.

A.  I sat down on the pink chair.

B.  I sat on the pink chair.

Some words that add nothing to a sentence: 
  • really
  • then
  • and so
  • even so
  • just
  • actually
  • in order to 
  • because of
These are only a few. Sometimes a sentence must be slightly restructured to eliminate the unnecessary word(s). Some words can be omitted without changing the sentence. Google more on this subject. It's so important that you'll find many articles addressing the problem.

Why is it important to edit all unnecessary words from your story, essay or article? The top reason is to make your sentences stronger which will increase the strength of the entire piece. It's true.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Many Dream Of Writing But...

Is your dream to be a writer?

Many people want to be writer and see their words published. Probably there are more who only dream of writing. They'll do it someday. That's what they tell themselves. I know because I was one of those people for far too many years. I let life get in the way, let other things take precedence over that desire to write about so many topics. 

That's only partially true. There was another reason that I never started on my writing journey until I was in my fifties. Fear that I couldn't do it well enough to be published or to be competitive with other writers kept me from dipping my toe in the writing waters. Fear of failure is real and something many who want to write must deal with. 

I finally got over that self-doubt. How? It was partly because I realized time was moving on and I knew if I didn't give it a try soon, I never would. Did I never doubt myself again? I most assuredly did. Many times. But I learned to look ahead rather than back to the beginning moments. I gave myself pep talks. Mentally, not out loud where others might wonder who the heck this woman talking to herself might be. 

We've all heard the quote that tells us Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Start now before there's not much left of a lifetime.

What if you have tried writing and want to do more but all you've done is write a few short stories, a smattering of personal essays and family stories? What if your dream is to write a full length novel? Do exactly what our poster says--take one step every day to achieve that dream. And that means that you'd better write something every day. If all you do is write the outline of the first three chapters, you've taken a step. The next day, do three more for your outline or write a first draft of chapter 1. Take some step toward your goal of writing that novel every day.  Even mentally working out a problem area in your novel is a positive step. 

Why take a step every day? If you miss Monday and Thursday some week, it's going to be easier to miss Tuesday, Thursday and Friday the next week. Before you know it, you're writing only one day a week, then once a month, and finally chuck it all. Your desire wasn't as great as you'd thought, after all.

If your dream is to be a published writer, don't try it unless you're willing to devote time and to work harder than you've worked on some other parts of your life. Make no mistake. Writing is not easy which is exactly why you need to write something every day. It's always easier to do something by bits and pieces than to bite off too much. 

If your dream is to be a poet, write a short poem every day or two verses of a longer poem. The point is that you need to make learning to write poetry and actually writing it a part of every day. It needn't be hours worth devoted to poetry. Any amount of time spent is worthwhile. 

Write or do something related to writing, like reading about it, taking a workshop, meeting with other writers for a critique session part of each day. Dreams do come true if you work at it.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Hitting A Problem Area When You Write

Have you ever run into a real snag when writing a story, a chapter, a scene? Or an essay, a poem or a how-to article? Of course you have. It's a part of our writing journey. We hit potholes more often than we'd like. 

The bigger question is this--What do you do when you run into a problem that appears to be a wall so high you think there is no way to climb over it? There are choices that need to be made when this situation occurs. You can do any of the following:
  • sit down in the road and cry like a two year old who has been told NO or is too tired to go on
  • give up writing 
  • back up and think about the problem for a few minutes
  • give up after that few minutes because the answer did not suddenly appear
  • spend some real time thinking about the problem, make a list of possible ways out, then put it aside for a day or two 
  • ask for help from another writer (they sometimes see more clearly than the writer)
  • take a detour--eliminate the problem situation altogether
  • use a large dose of perseverance and keep working until you've found a workable solution
  • walk away from the problem; come back when you're not so frustrated
In my younger years, I enjoyed sewing and making clothes for my daughter. Reading and interpreting pattern directions sometimes brought problems. I'd try to do what it appeared to say but it didn't always work. With each successive try, I'd rip out the former stitches and do it again. I learned that it was better to walk away and come back later in the day, or even the next day. So often, what seemed so difficult suddenly appeared to be just a step by step process to success. It was a good lesson for me when I started writing. If it doesn't work at first, step away; come back later and the answer could be crystal clear. 

Giving up is easy and persevering can be tough. If you do persevere and work your way through a problem area in your writing, you'll come out the winner. Remember that perseverance and patience are buddies in your writing life. They walk the path with you, hand in hand. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Twice The Joy

Our doorbell rang yesterday afternoon. Ken answered and found a box that had been left on our porch. "It's for you." he said. "What did you order?" I didn't remember ordering anything and then it dawned on me. The box was full of Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

Sure enough, when we opened it, there were 20 copies of My Amazing Mom published by Chicken Soup for the Soul nestled together. I loved the pretty spring-like cover. Usually, authors of the stories in these anthologies receive 10 free copies and a check in payment. This is the first book in which I have two stories featured, counting them as #'s 19 and 20 for Chicken Soup books. It felt pretty exciting to have two stories accepted out of the huge numbers of submissions they receive, so color me Happy

The stories in this book honor both mothers and grandmothers. My story, A Bowl of Raspberries is about something that took place when I was 9 years old. My grandfather was dying of cancer and had asked to see me. He and Grandma had been separated for many years but she came to be his caregiver in those end weeks. All that happened and what I learned impressed me, even at that young age. My other story in the book is called Mirror Magic. This one's about me, my mom and a mirror. 

The book goes on sale March 20, 2018 but it can be pre-ordered for Kindle or Paperback readers now at Amazon.

I taught a workshop a few years ago titled Writing For Anthologies. Several in the class said they'd sent a story to Chicken Soup but never heard a thing. Strange as it may sound, the publisher and editors at this anthology do not send rejection letters because they don't want to be negative in any way. That sounds nice, but those of us who are waiting would rather get a rejection letter and know our status than never hear from them.I told the group that the best way to get your foot in the door at Chicken Soup is to keep submitting. Yes, I have been blessed to have 20 stories accepted but there were a whole lot more that didn't make it. The more stories you submit, the better your chances. 

Another point I made with these hopeful authors is very important. The anthology has very definite Guidelines to tell you what a story they want is and what it is not. I cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is to read those Guidelines every time you submit. Read your story again and do a checklist to see if it fits what this publisher wants. Here's the page that gives you the information. If you're looking for the page later, go to the website and scroll to the bottom of the Home Page. Click on Submit a Story and you'll find three sections to help you. One is the books they need stories for, then the Guidelines and finally, the Submission page.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Perception By Our Readers Is Not Always the Same

Image result for free image or clipart person surprised
Hmmm, did the writer really mean that?

 I subbed an essay to my critique group a few days ago on the topic of aging. There was some intended humor in the piece, especially in one section. The first two people who critiqued it saw the humor while the third one did not. Instead, she was terribly concerned about the words I'd used to describe people in their 80's and 90's. I was quoting someone else in that part because I thought it was lighthearted and worth a grin and it illustrated a point.

I was quite surprised that she had not seen the humor. It's made me consider the fact that not all readers take what they read in the same way. Perhaps because the entire essay was not one of rollicking humor, she didn't find any of it amusing. Or just did not expect it. 

What if the essay does get published and half the readers are feeling sorry for me and the other half are smiling with me at the absurdity of part of the essay? As a writer, I have no real control over the way a reader sees what I've written. Should we put in parentheses (laugh here)? Of course not. That would be like the old vaudeville shows and early tv shows where signs were put up to alert the audience to applaud or laugh. Fakey! 

The only thing we, as writers, can do is to read the piece over before submitting it and try to see what we've written from different perceptions. Even then, we might not be able to do much about it, other than be aware that not everyone reads with the same background experience, morals, humor and more. And maybe to be ready for some criticism.

What about editors? It's quite possible that an editor who is a very serious person might miss intended humor. Another might catch it immediately. Again, it is the difference in people. You know which editor is more likely to accept the piece. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Use Sensory Details In Writing Exercise

Image result for Free photo of ice storm
The Ice Storm

We heard thunder, lightning, rain and hail in the night. When I got up this morning, our street and driveway were covered in hailstones with ice underneath. Two days ago I went shopping in a light spring jacket. Welcome to Kansas in the winter! 

Those of us who live in the northern half of our country have probably all experienced an ice storm at one time or another. We had one several years ago in mid-December that left us without power for almost 5 days. Not fun!

For a writing exercise today, study the picture above and the one below. Think about the five senses--What do you see? What can you hear? Is there a smell? How about taste? How does it feel to touch the ice? Adding sensory details increases interest for the reader, brings them into the scene. 

Now, choose to write one of the following:

1.  a descriptive paragraph

2.  a poem

3.  a fiction story

4.  a free write using the word ice as your inspiration

5.  a true memory

Image result for Free photo of ice storm

Monday, February 19, 2018

Family Stories--Tell 'Em But Write 'Em, Too

Image result for free clipart of family

Image result for free clipart of family

This week's post on Kathy Pooler's blog--Memoir Writers Journey--is about using letters and journals when you write memoirs. It's worth a few minutes of your time to read it because it is pertinent information when writing your family stories, too. 

Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis know that I frequently urge people to write their family stories. I don't mean only those of us who are 'real writers' as some would say, but also the non writer who wants to keep the stories in their extended family alive. That should include myriad numbers of you.

The clip art image we have today is a perfect example of the family who gathers around the table for a holiday or a family event like a christening or graduation celebration. People pass food, heap far too much on their plate, saving room for dessert and coffee. Conversation eventually turns to a "Remember when...?" topic. The family stories get told again and again. We learn so much about our parents, grandparents, great-aunts and cousins. It's wonderful! If you're at one of these dinners, don't just listen. Ask questions and get the full story. I'm guessing several family members will have things to add to the story.

But of course, there are times when those stories are of dark periods in a family history, when something sad or tragic happened. Even the stories that tell about a division in the family over a disagreement. How long was it before one side spoke to the other again? Or did they ever? 

It's not only the good and funny times we should record in our stories. The sad times need to be recorded, too. Tell them around the table but write the stories, as well. If someone in the family doesn't do it, they will get lost as one generation passes on and more are added. Your great-grandchildren deserve to know about their ancestors, living or gone. 

Many of us think about writing those stories but never quite get to the point of sitting down and actually putting word after word. A male friend told me multiple times that he was writing his family story. He knew I was a writer and asked each time if I'd edit it for him. I always replied in the affirmative. I never saw one word he'd written. He said he's written a little bit but before he could go on, he ended up in a nursing home, had a massive stroke months later and died. He had the desire to get those stories written but it didn't happen. A lesson for all of us. 

As for me, I've written so many stories that involve people in my family but I still have many to write. I have to thank Chicken Soup calls for submissions as many of the stories I've sent them were triggered by the book theme. One on forgiveness brought a family experience to mind that I wrote about which ended up being accepted. Even if it had not, I still had a full story for my Family Stories book. 

Don't only think about writing those stories. Set a goal to write one a week. That's reasonable, or even one a month. You're more likely to let it slide if it is monthly rather than weekly. Give it a try. Your family will thank you. If you're the senior in the family, talk to a younger member who you think might carry on the task of keeping the family stories. Make sure you're not the last one to write all the events of your family.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Write With Emotion

Image result for free image writing with emotion

They may forget what you said and did, but they won't forget how you made them feel.
                                                                                                             --Maya Angelou

The quote above, attributed to renowned poet, Maya Angelou is one I've seen multiple times. It's a very good reminder to writers to write with emotion. Sounds good but how hard, or how easy, is it?

It begins with us. I think writers need to feel the emotion within before they can expect to reach readers and make them feel it, as well. If we write about a trauma in our life, and all we do is report it by stating the facts, the reader may feel a bit bad but they aren't going to have that lump in the throat, or tear in the eye, or pang in the heart that they might if the writer unleashes the emotion in him/herself. 

Sometimes, we writers build a wall around our emotional self, lock the gate and throw away the key. Or we tie ourself with the ropes of tell it but don't you dare feel it. Why? When we write with deep emotion, it can hurt. We've already been hurt so why would we want to do that all over again? Consider that reliving a traumatic situation can be a step in the healing process. No miracles, just a step. Crying can be a release and so can writing about a dark part of life.

Humor is not easy to write and make the reader giggle or smirk or smile broadly. Write it with the gleeful emotion you feel yourself and your reader will respond accordingly. How about fear? We may need to have experienced fear in some time of our life to be able to write with the true emotion. Think about how your body responded--heart racing, sweat on your brow, or unstoppable trembling. 

One part of writing with emotion is to show rather than tell. If you tell what happened, it's a report. Show it if you want your reader to feel it. So simple but so important!

I read an essay that was subbed in my online writing group the other day. By the time, I got halfway through, emotion rose in me and kept going til the end of the piece. The writer did a wonderful job in relaying her own feelings to me, the reader. And she did it without being sappy. Writing with too much emotion is just as bad as writing with none. There's a fine line between the two. 

There are whole books written on this topic. Google to find them so you can read about this topic in more depth. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Selecting Titles For Your Writing

Yesterday, I made a trip to the library to find some new books to read. I spent a long time at the New Fiction  section and then went on to the stacks, scanning titles as I passed by. When a title sounded interesting, I pulled out the book and read the frontispiece. Sometimes I was disappointed as the title didn't seem to fit the summary of the story. Three times I tucked the book into my book bag to bring home. The title and the book summary both interested me.

Titles are of great importance whether you write fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. The title is a preview of coming attractions, far more concise than the ones we see for movies in the theater. They can be gloriously short or wondrously long. A title can indicate humor or tragedy or leave you puzzled. 

A book I reviewed a couple weeks ago had a title that made me curious enough to pull it off the library shelf to see what it was actually about. Wouldn't you wonder about a book titled The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry? It gives us an ordinary name of a man who does something out of the ordinary--namely a pilgrimage. My mind instantly wanted to know what kind of pilgrimage this ordinary named man would go on. The title drew me and the book did not disappoint.

We know that first impressions are important when we're dealing with other people. A book, or story, title is also a first impression. It's the authors first chance to draw a reader. so he/she had better not pull something out of the air and plunk it at the top of what he/she has spent weeks, months or more writing. Choosing a title should not be taken lightly. 

What are some ways authors/writers select a title? Some use part of a quote that fits the writing project. Some use the name of the protagonist. Others will ask a question or state something that indicates the story inside the book covers is a mystery or a romance or science fiction.

When Margaret Mitchell finished her epic Civil War novel, she played around with several titles. Among them was Tote The Weary Load. Another was Milestones and still one more was Not in Our Stars. She settled on Gone With the Wind which indicates loss and turned out to be the perfect choice. She might have called it Scarlett but that only tells us who the main character is. 

Some writers like to use alliteration in the title, or something sing-song catchy, or humor. There are titles that are truly far out, selected by the writer in hopes of catching the attention of an editor. It might or it might not. 

One big thing you should not do when picking a title is to give it little thought, to paste on the first thing that comes to mind. You could be sorry if you do that. The poster quote by Albert Einstein above gives us some advice in how to pick our titles. Think about it, try several and then go away and do something else--whether swimming or filling the dishwasher--then come back and see if your thinking is better. 

There are writers who choose a title first while more, I think, make it the final bit. You can choose a working title and change it later. One of the things asked quite often by those in my writing group that submit their work for critique is about the title. I don't like the title. Can you help me find another? 

The main thing is to give the selection of a title the importance it deserves. It can make or break what you've written.