Thursday, February 11, 2016

Don't Rely On Cliches When You Write

Picture this. The woman in today's photo has just received an email from an editor regarding a recent submission. He wrote Your story idea is good but your manuscript is rife with cliches. This is not for us.

The dictionary definition of cliche:  a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usuallyexpressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lostoriginality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser,or strong as an ox.

When we write, we often pick cliches from the air like snatching apples off a tree. They're there for us to use, aren't they? Yes, the cliches are out there by the thousands and we can use them if we so choose. If you sprinkle these overused phrases throughout your manuscript, you're likely to get a note like the woman above, or perhaps just a rejection with no explanation. 

Overuse of cliches is the sign of a lazy writer. I've been guilty of relying on cliches, especially in the early years of my writing journey. Cliches are such a common part of our everyday conversations that it's easy to let them slip into our writing. We need to work at recogizing that we use them and then to avoid them. 

I found a list of hundreds of trite phrases that we should try to avoid. Take a look at them and ask yourself how many you have used in your writing?  Read it at Be A Better Writer blog.  Pick a few and see how you might get the same idea across using your own words rather than the cliche. Practice doing this several times as a writing exercise to help you begin to think outside the cliche circle. 

It's alright to use a cliche on occasion but try to make it a rare event. Rely on your own creativity to come up with another way to give the same meaning. It may seem like a little thing in the huge scope of writing mechanics. I'd say it's a pretty important when it comes to word usage. 

Let's hope the woman above can highlight all the cliches she used in her story and come up with original thoughts. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Christmas Stories Needed Soon!

No, it's not quite Christmastime yet, but it is most definitely time to get your stories polished and ready to submit to the newest Christmas book that Chicken Soup for the Soul will publish. The title is The Joy of Christmas and the deadline for sending stories is April 30th. That gives you plenty of time to write a new story or revise and edit an old one.

I found it interesting that the book will include more than just Christmas stories. This call for submissions also mentions Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, and New Year's. That gives you a wide range of holiday memories and stories to select from for this newest holiday book.

They want stories that are ...inspirational and joyous, heartwarming and humorous...  Joy seems to be the keyword here. I wouldn't send a sad story for this book. It's obviously not going to make it. Yes, there are sad holiday stories that would have a place elsewhere but not for this book.

Keep in mind that the Chicken Soup editors offer you a lengthy set of Guidelines for writing a Chicken Soup story. There is a reason for that. Follow them and you're more likely to be accepted. Ignore them and your story will be one of the many they reject. Don't just read the Guidelines--study them!

A word concerning deadlines for submissions. Chicken Soup editors start selecting stories before the deadline arrives, so if you wait til the last minute, your odds of being accepted drop.

The call is for both stories and poems. Remember that the stories must be true--no fiction for this publisher. I have not seen a lot of poetry in the Chicken Soup books. My guess is that they would look for narrative poems--those that tell a story--rather than imagery or slice of life types.

In one of my December posts, I urged you to write your Christmas stories while the spirit and emotion of the season was with you. Those of you who did so are a step ahead as you have a story to polish up and shoot off to the Chicken Soup editors on the Submission page.

If you have submitted a Christmas story for earlier holiday books and it didn't make it, you can submit same again. But, do take a close look at your story and see what you might do to add a bit of sparkle before submitting again.

Get geared up to write and submit those ...inspirational and joyous, heartwarming and humorous...stories suggested in the Call for Submissions for The Joy of Christmas.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Reaching For Perfection

A piece of dialogue in a long-ago movie popped into my head when I saw this poster. Ain't nothin' gonna be perfect in this life. I'm sorry to say I cannot remember which movie or the situation that brought forth this comment or who said it.That doesn't really matter. It's the words themselves that should have an impact on each one of us. 

Writers can attest to the fact that there is nothing perfect in this life we are leading on earth. Wouldn't it be great if it could be so? Seems to me there are degrees of that nothing perfect category. We have close to perfect, hardly perfect, near perfect, so perfect, not perfect and more. 

What if everything was perfect? What if you sold every story you submitted? What if every novel you wrote was an overnight best seller? Sounds wonderful? Hold on a minute. If all that you touched turned to gold, what would you have left to strive for? What incentive would there be to write the very best story? Why bother to write a good story if you know anything you write will sell? 

So, back to reality. Perfection is pretty hard to achieve. Glitches of all kinds rain on our parade. Sometimes we feel like there is one bump in the road after another. Nothing goes right. We hate what we write. We receive multiple rejections before one acceptance. Critiques of our work have more negatives than positives. We throw up our hands in disgust or lay our heads on the desk and shed a few tears. 

Yep, we all get down when things go wrong. The little girl with the wheelbarrow is right. Things do eventually come around to allow us a more positive view. Maybe not right away but eventually. All you and I need to weather through times that are tough is patience. A small word when standing all alone but so very important. Those who read this blog regularly know that my two keywords are patience and perseverance.  

It's not an easy task to be patient and wait for the good things to come to us. It takes grit and determination. It means you must wade through the bad times before you find that field of flowers waiting for you. Our writing world is filled with ups and downs. As that piece of dialogue so nicely illustrates--Ain't nothin' gonna be perfect in this life.  Even so, I think you'll find enough bits and pieces that are almost perfect to keep you motivated to continue writing. Patience does pay off.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Recipe Box Disaster Leads To Thoughts On Writing


Friday, I had a small disaster in my kitchen. I pulled out a shelf in my pantry cupboard and a small recipe box flipped over backwards onto the bottom shelf. Recipe cards were scattered all along the shelf and the floor in front of it along with the alphabetized dividers. I muttered to myself as I retrieved all the cards and the box. It's one I don't use all that often but there are some old tried and true recipes in there that I've collected over the years--many from friends and family. It still gives me great pleasure to see and use those handwritten by my mother. 

I tossed the whole mess on the kitchen counter after deciding I couldn't deal with it at that moment. Today, while I was watching a basketball game on TV, I put the dividers in order, then began sorting through the recipe cards, many faded with time. Ones I knew I'd never make again, I tossed and refiled the others. The box is now organized and lighter--ready to be put in a new spot. It will definitely go somewhere that the disaster will not repeat.

As I worked my way through the dozens and dozens of index cards, I started to think about the stories, articles and poems in my writing files. They aren't going to fall off a shelf and scatter hither and yon. Nope. They just sit quietly in my Documents file until I pull them up for one reason or another. 

It might be a good idea to go through your own file to see what you want to save and what you may want to dump. Some writers would never get rid of anything they've written. Not ever! Even if it is nothing more than an opening paragraph to a story. I would never delete without careful calculation. I'd need to ask myself if I've written something already to replace it. Or if it is so godawful that it doesn't deserve to be kept. I might wonder if revision and editing could save it. There could be a few things that I truly hate. I might wonder if I'd written it on a bad writing day. Yes, I do believe there are things not to be kept. But, if you just cannot destroy the words you've written, so be it. Make a folder with those stories in it. 

But what about those that merit staying in the file? There are plenty of completed stories that have already been published. Should I keep those? Yes. Why? There are plenty of places that take reprints and maybe the story can be published once again. I might possibly use it as a base for another story. I might want to use it for an example in this blog. I like it--which is as fine a reason as any other! An editor might ask for a sample of my writing and those published stories come in handy. 

Others might need to be kept for revision and editing. It seems like no story is ever completed. Even those published works are open to revision when submitting as a reprint. 

You know what else most of us have in our files? Unfinished pieces. I have some that are nothing more than a paragraph or two. I once wrote an opening scene for a children's story that was great. But once I set the scene, I didn't know where to take it. And so it sits--waiting for me to continue. I bet you have some of those, too. 

Spend some time with your Document files. You may discover some hidden gems--like me today with the recipes. Some of them made me want to start cooking on a bigtime scale. Maybe some of those forgotten stories will give you the itch to start writing to bring them to a submittable stage. 

It's all too easy to forget what is in our Document file so do check through it every now and then. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Food For Thought--Quotes On Writing

I'm posting several quotes about writing today. Many you will nod your head in agreement when you read them. Maybe some of you will raise your eyebrows and mutter "Really?"  These are quotes by writers and who knows better about this world of writing than he/she who has done it?  Consider them Food For Thought.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Caring and Boasting Are Two Different Things


A writer friend has been on a winning streak lately. Her work has been accepted by several editors and she's shared the good news with her fellow writers. In one comment she said,  I know we're not really supposed to care so much if others like our work or not, but it still feels awfully good when they do.

I fired back an answer to her that she had every right to care. Maybe her feeling is based on things our mothers taught us as kids. We all heard things like Don't brag. Nobody likes a person who boasts. Don't toot your own horn.  In some cases, that's good advice but once you become a writer, you need to step back and look with a different perspective. Besides, caring and boasting are two different things.

So, exactly why do I think this writer should care? Here's my list of reasons

  • she's put in a great deal of time and effort on her accepted pieces
  • she sends in her very best work
  • she studies her markets carefully
  • she continues to learn and grow as a writer
  • she has set goals and attains them one by one
  • she is genuinely talented in this field
  • she has a strong voice that comes through in all her work
  • she's earned the joy of caring a lot about her accomplishments
I think every writer should care if others like their work. We care a lot when an editor sends an acceptance. We care when a reader sends a positive comment. We care when our writer friends compliment our work. And you know what? It's perfectly alright to care a lot. So go for it without any reservation. Jump for joy! Do the Happy Dance! Smile broadly! Puff out your chest! 

And most of all--when the bad times come in the form of stories that don't work or multiple rejections, reach into your memory bank to remind yourself how good you felt when things were going well. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bits and Pieces About My Writing World and Yours

OK, so it's the third day of this new month but we can still say hello to this shortest month of the year. Leap Year adds one more day in 2016. Today, I have several bits and pieces to share. 

1.  Followers on this blog:  For some strange reason, when I finally got my internet service going again, I noticed that my Followers number had dropped by 20. One or two might have been understandable but 20! I had not been posting because of the move and phone/internet problems so I knew it was not because of anyone getting angry over something I'd written. Would 20 people drop when they didn't see the usual Monday to Friday posts? I rather doubt it. So, I went to the Help section on Blogger and found no help regarding the situation at all. 

So, I would ask for your help in this small matter which probably means something to me and few others. Please check and see if your name is gone from the Follower's section. If it is, and you're agreeable, please sign on once again. If you did drop purposely and have a complaint, please let me know. If you like this blog, would you recommend it to others? Ask them to sign on as a Follower, too? 

2. Being Published:   We were invited to a Wine and Cheese party last evening in our new neighborhood. We knew only one person there so were asked many questions regarding what Ken and I do, where we hailed from long ago etc. I mentioned that I had started writing about 20 years ago to follow a lifelong desire.
"Are you published?" was the next quick question. I said that I was and they asked "Where?" When I mentioned having many stories in the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, one lady said "Never heard of it!" She is a retired archaeologist, so maybe stories about people who are alive today do not interest her. But it did make me think that something as popular as the Chicken Soup books may only hit a certain percentage of our reading population. 

3. Learning Something New:   I have been part of a group that is exploring Prose Poetry for 4 weeks. Sadly, it started about the time we moved and I have not been able to give it the amount of attention I would like to. Pamela Casto is the coordinator of the group. She is known for Flash Fiction and has a group that you can join if you are interested. The newsletter she puts out is most informative and filled with market suggestions. I'd like to learn more about Prose Poetry and may continue to learn on my own. It appears that there are many schools of thought on what a prose poem is. 

4.  Writing Group:  I was told that there is a Writing Group in this Senior Living Community where we now live. I have been wondering whether to visit it and see if I would like to be a part of the group. One of the women at last night's gathering mentioned it but then added, "You're probably way beyond most of them." Maybe yes and maybe no, so I would need to visit to find out if it is a group where I could gain something as well as offer something. It's a bit difficult to know what to do. If I visit once and don't return, they might think that I thought their group wasn't good enough for me, and I wouldn't want that. 

5. Writing Routines:   Ever take a break from writing and then had a hard time getting back to it? With the break I've had these past weeks, I am definitely finding it a bit difficult to get back in my usual writing routine. The desire is there but the habit got bent a bit. It only pointed out to me the benefit of keeping a writing routine and writing on a very regular basis. Definitely a life lesson!