Friday, July 3, 2015

Use A New Approach

This is a repeat post that still has information you can use now. 

Most popular tags for this image include: eyes

This little poster should serve to make you sit up and pay attention. There's something about looking into another's eyes, or maybe 'eye' in this case, that commands your presence. The reason I selected it today is that time and again, I see a call for submissions asking for an original look at at an already covered subject.

Editors receive so many submissions that make them heave a huge sigh and think This has been done over and over. Give me something fresh. How many times do we read a book review in which the reviewer tells us that the story is well-done but predictable? 

What a successful writer does to combat either of the above situations is to use an original approach, to write with fresh eyes like the poster advises us. Sounds so easy, doesn't it? Sad to say, it's far more difficult than most people realize. Especially readers. They're the ones wanting that more original slant but it's the writers who must come up with an entirely new approach.

Children's magazine editors often put out a plea for stories on holidays like Halloween and Christmas that offer somethng new. If it's been done before, they don't want it. New writers, in particular, tend to copycat stories they liked themselves as children. No, they aren't plagarizing, but those older stories stayed with them and they write what they may think of as a different approach. In reality, they're right back to Susie and Nellie and the creaky door in Grandma's house. Or whatever story they happened to like a lot when they were kids themselves. 

We tell new writers to avoid writing phrases that are cliches. That goes for whole stories as well. If it's a tried and true subject but has a fresh approach, an editor is going to sit up and give it a second look. It's the same with essays and articles. Magazines don't want to keep printing stories or articles that all run in the same vein. Maybe a subject is very popular and you run across an article on it in several magazines. The one with a new approach is going to capture your attention and make you read to the end, isn't it? 

As writers, we want to avoid the same old, same old in what we submit for publication. That old story about the editor who told a reporter that Dog bites man is not newsworthy, but man bites dog definitely is puts it in a few but important words.

Another thing to avoid is to try to write in the same style as an author you admire. Don't do it. Develop your own style. Be an original. 

Write something new. Write an original approach to an old story. Write with fresh eyes. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Aim For The Heart For This Anthology

I'm a big fan of Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I've submitted stories for many of the titles in this anthology series. And I've been very fortunate to have my work in 17 of these books. I've also had plenty of submissions there that have not made it. Competition is fierce with sometimes thousands of stories submitted for one book.

One reason I've had success is that I keep up with the latest book topics on the Chicken Soup website. Every now and then, I go to the Possible Book Topics page to see what new topics have been added and what others are gone because of the deadline being past.

Another reason is that I follow the guidelines. There are quite a few do's and don't's so I check the guidelines page before submitting a new story to make sure I've followed the guidelines and that there have been no changes made since my last submission.

I also revise and edit the story I send several times before hitting that Submit button on the submission page. I never write the story and submit it right away. I let it simmer for a few days before revising and editing. It helps me submit the best story I can write.

I try to make these creative nonfiction stories full of sensory details and attempt to bring emotion to the reader, whether it is a laugh or a tear. Aim for the heart might be a good motto when writing a Chicken Soup story. I know that the editors also like to see some dialogue in the stories so I include it in my submission.

Looking at the list of possible book topics today, I found a real variety and numerous titles. You can read more details for each by looking at the Possible Book Topics page. On some, there is a list of suggested topics for a particular theme. Even reading through the suggestions might give you an inspiration.

The main themes and deadlines for the present book topics are:

1. Alzheimer's and Dementias Family Caregiving   October 30, 2015

2. Angels and Miracles   September 30, 2015

3. Military Families November 30, 2015

4. My Very Good, Very Bad Cat  August 31, 2015

5. My Very Good, Very Bad Dog  August 31, 2015

6. Random Acts of Kindness  July 31, 2015

7. The Joy of Less October 30, 2015

8. The Spirit of America  November 30, 2015

Don't be afraid of submitting to this anthology series because of the competition. You might have the perfect story, one that touches the editor's heart. You won't know unless you try and if your first story doesn't make it, don't give up. Just remember to aim for the heart.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How Can Writers Stay Calm?

Welcome July

I found the perfect poster for today. It welcomes this seventh month of the year and gives a piece of good advice for writers. Actually for everyone, but let's concentrate on writers for the moment.

How often have you let yourself get upset over something in your writing life? I've done it many times and I'm betting you have, as well. The list below highlights a few things that cause me to have need of calming influences.

1. I sometimes become a worry wort when I don't hear about a submission for a lengthy period of time.

2.  I get frustrated when a story I'm writing doesn't work well. 

3. I reach the boiling point when a submission gets rejected more than once.

4.  I am nervous when my To-Do list grows ever longer and my time to work on it becomes shorter. 

5. I get upset with myself when I've procrastinated and then write under pressure.

When we get frustrated, upset or angry about situations in our writing life, we need to take a step back and calm down. If you look at my list again, you'll see that being upset is not going to change any one of the items listed. If anything, that reaction only creates more turmoil in your writing life.

What can you do to find that preferred state of calm

1. Get away from whatever upset you. Take a walk. Head for the beach. Go see a movie. But remove yourself from the irritation.

2. Talk to yourself. That's right--talk to yourself. Mentally, not aloud or people will stare. Give yourself the advice you'd give some other writer who is facing problems.

3. Consider what other writers go through. How many articles have you read that tell you about successful authors who had a book rejected umpteen times before it was finally published? If famous names get rejection after rejection, why can't you? It's all part of the writing game.

4. When you've procrastinated and are short on time, do the best you can with what you have and vow to never get in that spot again.

5. If a story is not going well, step away from it for a few days or have another writer look at it and give suggestions. Rare is the story that writes itself or runs smoothly from word one to the end. 

6. Find a mantra that you can repeat whenever things go wrong in your writing world. It might be the well-known I think I can or something you make up that has personal meaning for you. Repeat it when needed as many times as it takes to bring a bit of soothing. 

7. Call a writer friend and vent a bit. It might release the tension you've built up and when you're finished, you can move on in a calmer way.

Please note that in the first list I used myself as an example. Even though I post tips and encouragement for writers here five days a week, I often need to heed my own advice. I have to admit that the items in the first list happened more in the early days of my writing journey than they do now. I'd like to think I've learned how to handle those situations a little better as I've moved along my writing path. Maybe we do get wiser and calmer as we get older. 

On this first day of July, my advice is to carry on with your writing life in the calmest way possible. It's you who will reap the benefit of doing so. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Moon Stain--A Life Experience

                                                                    Ronda  Miller

"Poetry is our most natural connection between one another."  So says Ronda Miller, a poet who resides in Lawrence, KS. Ronda's poems ring with the bold truth of her life experiences.

Already published in many journals, Moon Stain is her second published book of poetry. She was raised in the High Plateau area of northwest Kansas on her grandparents farm. It was here that nature sowed the seeds to heal a troubled heart and where the poet in her was released.

Moon Stain is the title of her book and also the name of the first poem the reader is treated to. It is, I must admit, my favorite. There are many other fine poems but this one touched me when I first read it and does each time I read it again. A child whose mother has died experiences the pain of loss again when she finds a stillborn calf in a barn. The simple telling of how it affects her brought a lot of emotion to this reader.

Many of the poems reflect the healing balm of the Kansas prairie throughout the poet's lifetime. Others detail her lovers, substance abuse, birth, her family, even a very old coat--all the things that have made her the person she is today.

In Stone Eyed Cold Girl, the poet curses her mother for committing suicide and leaving her wounded for life. In The Year I Went Missing, she writes of what may have been a typical teen rebellion--she runs away and experiences life on her own. One of the final poems in the book is titled Meeting Noah, a description of a visit to the grave of a four day old infant with the baby's father. This one reached my heart as a mother who visits two such graves. The reader would not have had to experience such loss to be touched by this poem. It is so well written that anyone would feel the scene described.

The section titles all deal with the moon. Listed in order, they are Blood Moon, New Moon, Moon Shadows, Moonbeams, and Full Moon.

Ronda Miller's search for nurturing and love has led to difficult times in her life but it has also brought an awakening through her poetry. In her final poem in Moon Stain, Ronda Miller lets her readers know she has reached acceptance and peace in her life. This is a book to be read multiple times.

Moon Stain can be ordered at Meadowlark Books or Amazon or Barnes and Noble. 

Read the title/poem, Moon Stain, here. Reading it just might entice you to purchase the book.

Product Details

Monday, June 29, 2015

Meet Some Real People Who Have A Common Bond

Elaine--New York
Em--South Africa
IMAGE: “Water Fairy Sisters” by Ola Design . Prints available at ...
    Em--South Africa                                                                                  
Joyce--South Carolina


Miho--South Carolina
Wanda--Kansas (deceased)


What do you suppose these people have in common? They are all ages. They live in different states and countries. They all look like someone you might pass in the grocery store aisle. 

Each one is a writer. I know them all personally and can assure you that they are all very normal human beings. But each one has a passion for writing. Three are poets. Two wrote wonderful memoir pieces. Two are fiction writers. One writes personal essays. One blogs about life as seen through her eyes. One writes nonfiction books. One is deceased but her writing lives on.

All of them have a personal life, too. One that reads much like yours or mine. Some have jobs; some are retired; some try to make a living with their writing, some are hobbyist writers like me. They have spouses, parents, siblings, friends--just like you. 

The point of all this is that writers are real people. They don't sit on a pedestal between writing sessiosn waiting to be admired. Not at all. Instead, they do laundry, go to concerts, do yardwork, get groceries, and clean the house. 

I am proud to know each of these real people.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A WWII Story I Recommend

I finished reading this Pulitzer Prize novel very early this morning. I could have finished it last night but chose to read the final 43 pages today. For some reason, I didn't want to come to the end of this compelling novel written by Anthony Doerr.

And so, at 6:15 a.m., I sat in the quiet house and read to the end of this bestseller. You can't help but wonder if the world needs one more WWII story but perhaps we do, perhaps we need to be reminded on a frequent basis what the world became during those years. When they are as beautifully written as this book, they are a satisfying read. Despite the abundance of WWII books, each one tackles one small part of that war, introduces us to a handful of the thousandas actually involved. I've always thought that historical fiction is a painless way to learn history, and this novel deals out a healthy portion of history to the reader as well as some scientific knowledge.

The story begins in 1934 and centers around two children. Marie-Laure is a blind child who lives in Paris with her father, a locksmith in the Paris Museum of Natural History. Werner is an orphan who is being raised with a younger sister in an orphanage in a coal mining town in Germany.  He is gifted in the science of radio transmission and all involved with it. As a result he is sent to a training school for Nazi youth and eventually becomes a soldier. Marie-Clare and her father flee Paris when the Germans come. The go to Saint-Malo, a town on the seacoast of Brittany, where they stay with Marie-Clare's great-uncle. Etienne has never recovered from his WWI experiences and remains housebound in his tall, six story house, due to his never-ending fears. 

The book moves back and forth effortlessly between the two children and what occurs in the lives of each. It is only late in the book that their paths cross and then for only one day. As we follow the lives of these two characters, we also get involved with a mystery of the whereabouts of a huge diamond named The Sea of Flames. 

There is much more but I prefer the reader find it on his/her own. The story is fascinating and gripping. Not being of scientific mind at all, I felt I learned some things about radio transmissions during this period of history as well as learning something of what it is like to live without sight as Marie-Clare did from early childhood on.

I also reveled in the beauty of the prose. Some paragraphs almost felt like a prose poem as they were written in language that spoke to my heart.

I found a veil of overwhelming sadness throughout the story. How can a war story be anything else, I asked myself. Even the ending pages which take place long after the war ends did not leave me with joy or hopefulness. But this is not a reason to pass over this novel. 

Read it for the fascinating story. Read it for the beautiful prose. Read it for a painless history lesson. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Writing Beautiful Prose

I love flowers and I also love beautifully written prose. If it becomes too flowery, then I feel embarrassed for the writer. There's a fine line between what is termed purple prose and that which grabs the reader with its beauty.

I am about halfway through Anthony Doerr's bestseller All The Light We Cannot See. He is a fine storyteller but he also writes prose that sometimes makes me stop and go back to reread a sentence. Last night, one that I especially liked was The sky drops silver threads of sleet.  What a beautiful way to convey the fact that sleet was falling. It's visual; it's almost poetic. There are many other instances of this type of writing in this WWII novel.

Angeline Lajeunesse, a romance writer, said this about writing prose:
"Metaphors, simile, symbolism, imagery, description…all great tools.  Ugly prose happen when someone pastes adjectives, adverbs and long words they don’t understand into sentences trying to sound verbose and writerly."

She draws a definite distinction between good prose and that which is not. Let's go back to the term purple prose. We define it as being prose that is so ornate that it interferes with the flow of the narrative, bringing attention only to itself. As much as we want to write memorable prose, we don't want the words to take the reader away from the story.

Angeline Lajeunesse stated that tossing in adjectives, adverbs and long words doesn't accomplish much. To me, it shows that the writer still has much to learn. When a writer uses two or three adjectives per noun, we tire easily when reading the story. Throwing adjectives and adverbs into the air and letting them rain onto your story is a sure way to label yourself a newbie.

Let's take a look at the sentence that attracted me when I was reading last night. The sky drops silver threads of sleet. Note the action verb, the use of one adjective and the small bit of alliteration with silver and sleet. It's a simple sentence but beautiful, so much better than saying It was sleeting.

The story you write is of prime importance but the way you use words can make a good story a great one. Is this, perhaps, one of the reasons Mr. Doerr's novel is a bestseller?

For some writers, writing beautiful prose comes naturally. Others must acquire the ability to write memorable prose. When revising and editing your work, look at your sentences and ask yourself if there is a better way to get the idea of the sentence across. Are there words that bring a better image to the reader? But be careful. You don't want to be accused of purple prose.