Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Stretch Your Writng Muscles

Today, I have a picture prompt for you. Quite often, when we do this exercise, the picture is one of a place. That allows for description and creativity on the writer's part as to what might happen in that place.

This one is a bit different. I will tell you only that the picture was taken when we were in Germany a few weeks ago.

It's up to you to decide what the woman is doing. What is she thinking about as she works? Where is she going when she's finished? Who might she be waiting for. What is her name? Does she have a family? Or is she single?

An exercise like this is a good warm-up for whatever else you might be writing today. Stretch your writing muscles now.

Monday, September 29, 2014

When Family Stories Gain Importance

A friend of mine recently received a diagnosis of a very rare cancer. She has had one surgery and will meet with an oncologist to determine further treatment soon.  Yesterday morning, after church, I gave her a hug and we chatted for a few minutes. Near the end of our talking time, she  put her hands on my shoulders and looked into my eyes. "Nancy," she said, "I am going to do something you have advised. So many times, I have heard you say we must write our family stories, and now I am going to do it. For my grandchildren." 

Of course, it pleased me that she is going to write the family stories but I am also saddened that it took a crisis to be the final trigger. I'm hoping for the best outcome with her treatment. I got to thinking later in the day that perhaps writing her family stories will be a review of her life and may reveal some things to her that might not have happened otherwise. A small side benefit perhaps. She's a determined, motivated woman so I think those family stories will definitely figure into her treatment time. I hope her project will help her through what may be difficult days ahead.

The reason I'm writing about my friend today is motivate more of you to get busy and write those family stories. Don't wait until there is a crisis in your family or in your own life. We're all human enough to have the best of intentions about getting started on a family story project but sometimes even those good intentions aren't enough for us to take that first step. 

Some people tell me there is so much to tell that they don't know where to begin. It might help to make a simple family tree. There are websites where you can download and print copies of multiple generation family trees for you to fill in. In fact, there are so many to choose from that I will just advise that you use a search engine with the keywords family tree template. Then you can choose the style you like and how far back you want it to go. 

Fill in the chart as best you can. Those of you who have old family bibles may find lots of the information on full names and birth dates, marriages etc in a front or back page. You may have to contact some older relatives to help fill in any gaps. I have far more information on one side of my famiy than the other. That's often the case. I also have limited information on my husband's family.

More than likely, images of the people and character traits and, yes, stories, will come to mind as you write in the names. Pick any one and write that story. Put it in a folder or notebook and try another family member. There may be multiple stories about your Great-uncle Oscar if he was a real character. That's alright. You don't need to give equal time to every person on that family tree. Write the stories as they come to you. Write about your childhood and the things that happened to you personally, as well as others in the family. It's all relevant, it's all important, it's all true treasure for your family.

In my friend's case, she will probably write about her childhood in another country, how she met an American who swept her off her feet, what it was like to come to live in another country and so much more. Her family will benefit form her stories set in two countries. 

There are times in our lives when family stories gain importance. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Finding Your Way To A Writing Method

When I read this quote attributed to Beatrix Potter, my first thought was that I wondered if she had the story of Peter Rabbit all planned out or did she just begin writing and let the story grow from those first 'delicious' words?

Her story begins with:

Once upon a time, there were four little Rabbits and their names were--Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter. 

Can you picture Ms. Potter, pen in hand, at her desk writing these words. Did the first words of the story fill her with delight? They might have done so just because getting that opening line proves a real accomplishment. The story is often in our head but how to begin? That is something we do and redo and redo multiple times before we are satisfied with the first words.

Every writer knows that to hook the reader immediately is of great importance. We know that but we don't always do it. How many times have you read a story that has so much introductory material that you want to say out loud  Get on with it! 

The Peter Rabbit book continues with:

They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.

In the first two sentences, we've learned some character names and we've been given the setting. Did she set up a possiblity for readers to wonder what living in a place like that would be like? Possibly. Was it a big action scene to begin the story? Not by a longshot.

Next, Ms. Potter wrote:

'Now,my dears," said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, 'you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden.'

Oh-oh. We already sense possible trouble ahead for the four little bunnies. The author has us now. We want to find out if the little rabbits all obey their Mama or if they get into trouble.

Did Beatrix Potter know what the trouble would be when she started writing this beloved classic tale of disobedience and a lesson learned? Or did she start writing and let the story take her along with it?

It happens both ways. Some writers are so organized that they have outlines, story boards, character lists with traits and background story for each character and more. Others prefer to wing it. They have a glimmer of an idea, begin to write and go with wherever those early words lead. The latter way is more creative while the first method is definitely more of a sure thing, and perhaps leads to fewer rewrites.

Many writers use both approaches. They go with whatever works best for that particular story or personal essay or full-length novel. Some of these writers write books on the craft of writing and they'll elaborate on the method they use when they write. It's good to read these books. I've always been a proponent of doing so. BUT, don't think that you absolutely must adhere to the way a celebrated author like John Grisham, Stephen King or Sue Grafton writes.

The longer you write, the more methods you use, the better you'll become at finding the way that works best for YOU. Just as no two people are alike, writers are all different. They find various plans for their own writing style. An approach you take isn't necessarily wrong, it's different from many others. If it works for you, go with it.

Beatrix Potter's quote started my thoughts on this post and as I wrote, I let the topic move on into other things as well. It works for me. If that is the way you write, too, it's fine. If you say you could never write that way, that's perfectly alright, too. Don't try to copy other writers. Be true to yourself and do it your way.  

Beatrix Potter (1866-1943)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Time Trap For Writers

Today's post is a repeat of one that I did as a Guest Blogger, one that I thought worth repeating because the subject is of great importance for me and, I hope, for you.

Time trap: 5 ways writers can minimize essential writing tasks

Writers are urged to write often, to write voraciously, to write, write, write. Even so, to win the prize — publication — there are myriad things you must do besides putting words on your computer screen.

Non-writing tasks such as reading about writing techniques or joining critique groups are beneficial, even essential. But if you're not careful, those non-writing tasks become traps. You can become caught in a spider web of good intentions that eat into writing time.

The key is to maintain a healthy balance. Review your writing-related activities occasionally to make sure you aren’t falling into a time trap. When you produce fewer and fewer pages, it may be time to step back assess why.

Here are five common writing-related activities and how to get the most out of them without letting them cut into your writing time:

1. Books on writing.  Writers buy or borrow dozens of books on the keys to good writing. But read too much and you risk becoming so busy learning that you forget to apply what you learn. Use books to teach yourself the craft of writing, but be selective.

2. Writing websites and newsletters.  Writing websites, blogs and newsletters offer articles and classes. They also showcase markets, present contests, offer writing prompts and exercises. Many writers subscribe to several, sometimes many more than several. Though these resources offer excellent information, they take precious time to read. Pick the ones you like best and unsubscribe from the others.

3. Critique groups.  A face-to-face critique group is a great place to get constructive criticism and praise for your work. It also provides an opportunity to network with other writers. While writers can profit greatly from them, critique groups also take time. Ask yourself if belonging to one is worth the hours you might otherwise spend writing and if it works into your writing schedule. 

4. Research. For many writers, research and reporting is a necessary part of what they do, and for some, it's pure joy. But don't get so involved in the process that you spend far more time than is needed. Practice determining the appropriate amount of time to give to the research end of a story or article.

5. Writers' organizations.  Joining a local, state or national writers group such as the Online News Association or American Society of Journalists and Authors offers networking possibilities with other writers, and can connect you with new-to-you markets and publishers. Being a member also is a way to keep up with the latest trends in your field. However, along with all that, some of organizations require members to become officers, committee chairs and or serve on committees. Before you join, know what you're getting yourself into. Keep your membership to a select number of groups and limit your participation to what you can handle.

Financial experts advise clients to take money out of their paycheck for savings before spending it on anything else. Writing is no different. Those 1,000 words a day take precedence over all other writing-related aspects of your life. Now that you know what the traps are, practice self-discipline to avoid them. Your greatest benefit will be more time to write. Even so, those items that can trap you are also of importance in your writing life. The key is to find a healthy balance.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Here Kitty, Kitty

Publishing Syndicate has published it's ninth book in the Not Your Mother's Book ... series. I'm happy to say that my story titled Top Dog is included in this anthology of 62 stories. The release date is October 7, 2014 but you can pre-order at Amazon for less than the retail price.

Similar to other anthologies in format, this series uses photos sent by the authors, usually at the end of the story. Here's the one that accompanies my story, although the editors cropped the Christmas gifts out of the photo, leaving Ming, the cat in all his glory.

The book is divided into sections. The section titles are:

1. Love and Hisses
2. Where the Wild Cats Are
3. What's New Pussycat?
4 The Games Felines Play
5. The Joy of Cats
6. Pussies Galore!
7. Cat-astrophe!
8. The Stray-Cat Strut

My story appears in the second section--Where the Wild Cats Are. This series of anthology books is similar to others but allows the authors to be a bit irreverent at times, pushes the humor and sometimes allows a slightly risque bit. Not to worry, it's not R rated at all. The books strives to be a fun read.

This one would be a perfect gift for anyone who loves cats. Holiday giving is not that far away. Think how easy it would be to order one for every cat lover on your list. Or for yourself if you're the one who craves being around cats. I must confess that I prefer dogs to cats but Ming worked his way into my heart. I still have a special spot there for him. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Let's Go To Class Together

I've got an invitation for you today. How about taking a class with me? Just because we live hundreds, maybe thousands of miles apart, we can still do that. We could listen to the same instructors, do the assignments, enter into discussions--all of that.

Am I calling in the Writing Fairy again? Nope. But there is a way we can all participate in the same class. A writer friend sent an announcement to the members of my online writing critique group that offered the opportunity. I read through the info and decided I had nothing to lose by taking the class and perhaps much to gain.

It's done on my own time. It's free. It's sponsored by a well-known writing program. The name of this particular class is How Writers Write Fiction  and it's hosted by The University of Iowa's Virtual Writing University. The program is called MOOCS--or Massive Open Online Courses. All you need is your computer and a desire to learn.

It's free because of grant money the university receives. The course on fiction writing runs September 26-November 21. The beauty of it is that you check in online at your convenience. There are seven sessions, one each week of the course. You will have opportunities for discussion, some writing assignments that you can then share if you so choose. There are several instructors, not just one.

Perhaps you'd like to read more about this course so you can decide if you would like to join me this fall in the online classroom. Consider this. You can go to class in your jammies if you like. You can go any time of the day or night. You can do as much or as little as you want to.

One caveat--you must register to become a member of the site and to join the class. It's not a big deal, costs nothing but a few minutes of your time. I don't know why but many people shy away from any website where they must register. Even those, like this one, that promise to keep your information private. Here they don't even require a last name. I hope you can read this page that tells more about the course than I've written here. It's possible that you may have to register to do so, but I'm not sure of that. Try the link and see.

I'd like to strengthen my fiction writing, so I'm going to try this course. If I like it, I'll probably try more. Looks like they run one each quarter of the year. So how about it? Would you like to go to class with me?

Monday, September 22, 2014

What If You Had Three Wishes?

I got to thinking today about what I'd say if a fairy swooped down from the sky, slipped under my front door and told me she'd grant me three wishes in my writing life. Wouldn't that be great? I'd be so excited I'd most likely blubber a bit before I could even speak to her.

But then I started to ponder on what three wishes I'd make. Didn't want to do it too quickly and ask for something silly. Uh-uh! I needed to think on this one. So I thought through the afternoon while I ran to the grocery store, watched some football, made dinner and answered many emails that stacked up while we were gone last week.

Here's what I came up with for my Three Wishes For My Writing Life:

1.  I wish that the one novel I've written (a juvenile historical one) would be published someday

2.  I wish that I can become a stronger fiction writer

3.  I wish that each of my blog readers would share my posts with 10 of their writer friends each day

OK, now it's your turn. If a Writing Fairy slipped into your house and granted you three wishes in your writing life, what would you ask her for? Remember that old piece of advice about being careful what you wish for. Take a bit of time and then make your three wishes. If you're willing, share them with me and my readers.