Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How To Do A Picture Prompt Writing Exercise

Walk In The Gardens

We haven't had a picture prompt writing exercise for quite some time. It's a stormy morning in Manhattan, Kansas, where I live, so this picture of a lovely day appealed to me. We do need the rain so I'm not complaining. It's just that I so much prefer a day like the one above.

When you do a picture prompt, don't rush into the writing part. Take some time to study the picture before you begin writing. Look at shapes, color, inanimate objects, the people or animals, clues to the season it might be. Immerse yourself into the picture enough that you can hear what is going on, maybe you can smell something, or feel a light breeze or a sharp wind.

If there are people in the picture, as there are here, ask yourself what they are doing. Where are they going? Are they in a hurry or on a leisurely walk? Are they happy? Or are they vexed? Is someone following the woman holding a bag? Is she going to meet someone? Has she just come from seeing her doctor?

Play the What if...? game with the picture. Ask yourself What if the woman falls down? What if the man in front of her turns and points a gun at her with the intention of robbing her? What if a huge bird swoops down and attacks her? You can ask the What if...? question for a long time. But don't let it get away from your original intent which is to use the picture to inspire you to write.

Now, you're ready to start writing. So, what's it going to be? A few descriptive paragraphs that set a scene? Or will it be the start of a fiction piece? Will it be a horror story, romance, or murder mystery? It's all up to you. You're in the driver's seat. Take us wherever you want to go.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Meet A Fine Poet Who Knows What He's Talking About

I'm honored to have Roy Beckemeyer as my Guest Blogger today. I met Roy through the Kansas Authors Club and have come to admire and appreciate his poetry. He was selected as Kansas Authors Poet of the Year in 2013, a well deserved honor. Roy's post will help both writers and readers of poetry. I guarantee you'll learn something from this post. Leave a comment for Roy.

What About Writing Poetry?

I know that as a creative prose writer you have already heard about all those tools at your disposal: "Show more than you tell...Use sensory details...Open with a hook ... Characterization ... Use similes and metaphors ... Use strong verbs ... Vivid description" (I borrowed these from Nancy's Blog posting "What Do You Know About Creative Nonfiction?"). And each of these applies equally well to poetry writing.

So what is it that distinguishes prose and poetry? One difference is the use of line breaks. In prose our sentences go on  until they hit a margin, then continue on the next line. In poetry, lines can break wherever the poet wishes.

Why break a line in the middle of a sentence? Let's look at some examples (quoted poems are by the author unless otherwise attributed).

One reason is to encapsulate a string of words on one line to provide emphasis to a thought or image.

"Near midnight, the Milky Way crescendos"

Or the line may make a nice sounding sequence of words. Notice, in the line below, the repeat of the hard "c" sound in each phrase, the repetition of the double-l sound, the ending of each phrase with the same word, "moon," and how smoothly and pleasantly the line rolls off your tongue.

                        "the cotton-ball moon, the dollop of cream moon"

The line may entice us on to the next line. In the three lines below, the first two lead us on to the next line to see which leaf hasn't fallen, then the poet plays with us a bit by the let-down of the third line. He has led us on to a small disappointment.

"All the leaves
are down except
the ones that aren't..." - from "Verge" by James Schuyler

The line may end on a word that we want to emphasize, as in the first line below, where ending on the word "weight" seems to make the word itself feel heavier.

                        "Finally feel the full weight
                        of the sky on your shoulders"

Or the line may contain a rhythmic count of beats.

                        "At last the end of fence-mending is near"

The line length may have been chosen by the poet to make the reader slow down or speed up. The long line length for this next sequence of words supports the image being portrayed by enticing us to read on rapidly to its end, just as hail falls swiftly to the ground.

                        "like a hailstone hitting the sidewalk and shatter
                        its brittle brilliant self back up into the sky"

Or the lines may just look good on the page.  The short stanzas of the next poem make a pleasing shape on the page. The first two stanzas are shaped the same, and help to lead us into the poem in their regularity, with the longer line followed by a shorter one. Then the whole poem tapers as it comes to a close. The sequence of two-line stanzas makes the poem open and slows us down, lets us take the time to think on what it has to say.

                        "On these hard-edged mornings
                        of late winter

                        spring aches for its chance,
                        longs to swell

                        out of every bud,
                        to enclose the angular

                        bones of trees
                        in an arpeggio,

                        a green song
                        of grace notes."  

                        (From my poem, "Lent".)

Finally, the line endings also work like punctuation marks (e.g., the period, comma, and semicolon) in that they cause us to pause or hesitate as we read. But they are also more versatile: they can build suspense, or add emphasize in other ways to the content of the poem, as we have seen in the examples above.

The next time you read or write a poem, spend a few minutes looking at the layout of its lines. Notice how the lines affect how you read the poem, on the impression it makes on you. Try breaking the lines in different places. How did that affect the poem as you read it? As you spend more time doing this, you will become adept at using thoughtfully chosen line lengths to add to the impact of your own poems.

- Roy Beckemeyer

Roy Beckemeyer is vice president of the Kansas Authors Club and a poet.  His work has been published in a variety of literary journals, including Beecher's, The Midwest Quarterly, Kansas City Voices, The North Dakota Review, Straylight, Mikrokosmos, Coal City Review and The Bluest Aye. He was the Kansas Authors Club poet of the year for 2013, 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Good Advice From Two Lovable Characters

Someone shared this delightful poster on facebook, attributed it to being one Jack Canfield had originally posted. Jack Canfield is one of the founders of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of anthology books.

Don't we all love Snoopy and Charlie Brown? Somehow, words of advice from them tend to feel rather special. Good enough for Snoopy and Charlie Brown, perfect for me. Right? 

Being me, I immediately related this small but powerful sentence on the poster to our writing world. What if, for today, we were grateful for everything in our writing world? Yes, both the good and the not so hot stuff. Make a list of the things you are grateful for in your own writing world. Add to it the rest of the day. I have a feeling you'll keep thinking of things that could be on it. 

My own list is below: 

In my writing world, I am grateful for...

1. the ability to write a coherent story, essay, article or poem

2. the many friends included in my life because of my writing

3. the cyberworld that allows me to reach myriad readers

4. my public library which helps me in so many ways

5. my own personal library of books about the craft of writing

6. being published many times

7. being able to attend writing conferences and conventions 

8. being asked to teach a workshop or give a program related to my writing

9. having a memory that brings back material from long ago to use in memoir writing

10. my online writing critique group

11. those who read my work

12. editors who give me a reason for rejecting my submission so that I can learn from it.

13. rejections and critiques that help me grow as a writer

I'm sure I'll come up with a few more items for my list as I move through my day. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Writers Can Have Monsters Under The Bed

I cannot tell you how many times I've heard people claim there is no way they can try public speaking. Or teach a workshop. Or actually submit some of their writing for publication. Fear! It's more common than you might think among those who write.

So what do writers fear? Here are just a few monsters lurking under the bed for writers.

Some Writers Fear:

1. submitting anything they've written
2. sharing what they've written with others
3. promoting their work through book signings or public speaking
4. success
5. not measuring up to their own goals
6. critcism from others regarding their writing
7. not being able to write a second or third book after publishing one
8. critical reviews
9. writers block
10. finding inspiration

We all have human failings at times. Anyone who writes can probably tell you that he/she has had at least some of the fears in the list. Even highly successful writers must address some of these fears now and then. A few even become obssessed by them. That is one thing you do not want to do. Instead, face your fears and ask yourself what you can do to overcome them.

Eleanor Roosevelt's quote at the top of this post encourages those who deal with these fears. Just words you might say. But are they only words she gave us? I don't think so. I say that her advice would be well heeded by any and all of us in the writing world. Every time you try to erase one of your fears, you do gain self-confidence and courage and strength. It's not an overnight process but a work in progress.

Look at that list again. What's the worst thing that can happen if any one of those is true for you? You're not going to die. You're not going to be locked in a jail cell for twenty years. You're not going to be put in the stocks like the Colonials of our country were to be publicly humiliated. You're not going to lose all your friends. Uh-uh!

I find that we often bring on our own fears. With that in mind, can't we say the reverse? If we are responsible for creating our own fears, we should be able to conquer them on our own, too. Maybe not all in one fell swoop but step by step. Take any one of those in the list and ask yourself what you can do to face that fear? Don't attempt to work on all in that list that might apply to you. One at a time and a step at a time.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Birth Day Party Eight Years Ago

The Birthday Boy

Eight years ago today, our only grandson was born. He joined our three granddaughters who had already brought light and joy into our lives like none we'd ever known. I remember the day Cole was born as if it had happened yesterday.

We had gotten home from church around 10 a.m. that Sunday. I changed my clothes and settled down with a cup of coffee and the Sunday papers. Around noon, the phone rang. My daughter, sounding a bit frustrated, told me she was on her way to the hospital. "Didn't you see the message?" she asked. I normally check for phone messages as soon as we come in the door but for some strange reason, that morning, I did not. I'd missed her alert that this would probably be the day, even though the baby was not due until September.

We quickly gathered a few things together as I knew I'd be spending the next week or so helping with a 3 year old and a new baby. Off we went for the two hour ride to the Kansas City area hospital. As Ken passed car after car on the interstate, I took note of one license plate from Iowa that said Dallas County at the bottom. It startled me because my mother had been born and raised in Dallas County, Iowa. It truly felt like a message from Heaven telling me she knew about the great event about to take place. 

Cole James made his appearance late that Sunday afternoon. Big sister, Jordan, thought he was pretty wonderful. Weeks earlier, she had told her parents that her new brother was going to bring her a present. Her mother asked what that present might be. "A necklace," she answered. And sure enough, when we had our first look at this new baby boy, there was a present on the table for Jordan from Cole. Believe it or not, it was a necklace. 

I've found that I have been very emotional at the birth of my grandchildren. The thought that this is the child of my child is pretty thrilling. When I first held Cole, I couldn't help but think about that Dallas County, Iowa license plate I'd seen earlier in the day, making my mother's presence known during this wonderful time for our family. The hospital room was filled with joyous grandparents on both sides, parents, big sister and this brand new baby boy who has captured all our hearts these past eight years. Truly a Birth Day Party.

Have you written about the day your children and/or grandchidren were born? If you haven't, do it soon. Add it to your Family Memories book. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Can You Write A Sexy Story?

I have an urgent call for submissions for you today. The Publishing Syndicate publishes an anthology series called Not Your Mother's Book on... They are in need of more stories for the newest title which will be Not Your Mother's Book on Sex.

No, they don't want raunchy tales but they do want some that are fun, maybe even a bit quirky. I think that perhaps writers are a bit reluctant to reveal this side of their life in a story that thousands will read. Most of us were taught that our sex life is a private thing. But you can write a good sex story without being too graphic.

One of my writer friends wrote one yesterday and sent it for my opinion. She had a funny story that was done just right. Not a blow by blow description of what occurred but enough to let the imagination of the reader take over. I did a minor editing and advised she send it in right away. I think it's a go!

So, where do you send these sexy stories? Go to this page for all the necessary info. Be sure to read the guidelines and about your choice of payment--either royalites or 10 books. Because this is a relatively new venture, the royalties are probably not going to amount to much. I have opted to take 10 books when I've been in one of their anthologies. Then again, it's always said in publishing circles that sex sells so maybe this one will be a bestseller!

This is one that you need to work on right away as the publishers are wanting to get this book in the works. Ponder on it today, pass the call along to other writer friends and send your stories.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Accentuate The Positive

“Optimism is the foundation of courage.” ~Nicholas Murray Butler

Last Friday's post dealt with the sadness of rejection and figuring out why your writing career has not been as successful as you'd like. If you haven't read it, take a look here.

Today, let's look at one of the traits you need to more easily achieve success in your writing. Note that I said one of the traits, not the be-all, end-all trait that will shoot you to the stars in moments.

The trait I'm thinking about today is self-confidence. You can google keywords like building self-confidence or acquiring self-confidence to learn the many aspects, so what I'm going to concentrate on here is one aspect of building self-confidence. And that is to practice positive thinking.

I've noticed a number of people playing a challenge game on facebook lately. Someone has challenged them to write 3, or sometimes 5, positive aspects of their day, each day for a specified number. It would be fine training for becoming a person who looks at their world through positive eyes rather than negative. They can become the people who see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. 

Why not try this little game for a couple of weeks and see what happens. You can do it in general and/or about your writing world. Instead of saying that you received a rejection on one of your submissions today, say something positive about your writing world. Maybe that you wrote several more pages of your novel, or that you had an idea for a new article that you hope to write. 

I think starting out with a general set of positives in your life each day would be best. Then, later on, keep working on the general set but also make a list of the positives in your writing life. 

Here's my set of 3 positives in my life for yesterday and also 3 positives for my writing life yesterday:
1. I went to church and felt uplifted
2. I helped one of our new Czech students work out a problem with her new apartment
3. I had a wonderful dinner with our two Czech houseguests and Ken, lots of laughs

    My Writing World
1. I started catching up with writers newsletters, reading several
2. I found a new market that I'd like to submit to
3. I shared two old stories with people who asked to read them

Now, how about you? Are you willing to give it a try? The longer you do this challenge, the more positive an outlook you should have and the more self-confident you'll feel. As the old song written by Johnny Mercer has lyrics that ring true in today's world, too. One verse is:

You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between