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Sunday, March 29, 2015

 

The Trouble with From Our Head to the Paper

by Guudmorning! (flickr.com)
Why do we writers have so much trouble getting the words and story from our heads to the paper? Wait, you're not sure if you have this problem? Well, read this scenario and see if this has ever happened to you!

Esmerelda, a published author of short stories and essays, is working on her first novel, and she takes it to her critique group for the first time. She is very excited to receive their feedback, and they give positive comments about the concept, the opening page, and maybe even the dreamy hero. But there are also a lot of questions. Why did the heroine react in a certain way? What happened after the lights went out? Where did the dog come from?

At first, Esmerelda thinks that something has happened to her critique group. They must have lost their minds or barely read her work. The heroine grew angry because her sister continues to take advantage of her good nature. That is right on page 3 at the top. And when the lights went out? She heard a noise coming from the kitchen, which scared her to go on the balcony and see the hero for the first time. It's right there on page 12. The dog? That cutie came from the Humane Society where she volunteers on Sunday mornings--see page 15.

Her critique group members are smiling at her, and the bravest of the bunch says: "Um, Esme, none of those facts are actually on the page."

Esmerelda snatches her manuscript from the grasp of her critique group member and scans the pages, turning red from embarrassment. "Well, I THOUGHT I put those things in there. I mean, they were in my head."

I bet now you're nodding along with Esmerelda. How does this happen to us? How does this happen EVEN after we've had success with previously published work? I bet if we could interview J. K. Rowling, she would admit that it happens to her, too.

As writers, we see our story world in our heads so clearly and know exactly how our characters would react in a situation. But we have to create that picture for our readers, too. They don't have our story world in their heads. They need to be shown the world and our characters, so they understand the plot and motivation of the characters.

This is hard! We all know what happens if we overdo it in this department. We get complaints that our pacing is slow or that we are talking down to our reader. This is the importance of a good critique group or trusted beta readers. You can be the most careful writer, in my opinion, and STILL suffer from the "I thought it was on the page" syndrome. It's okay. It's natural. It's part of the job, but find some readers--whether you are going to be self-publishing or seeking traditional publication--to make sure that you fix this problem the best you can before your book is on the shelf.

Margo L. Dill, a published author of books for kids and teens, teaches novel writing for WOW! Her next class begins April 3. Check out details on our classroom page: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/WOWclasses.html 


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Saturday, March 28, 2015

 

Food Spoils and Encouragement Never Goes out of Style

Delphine
As a mom, I’ve been bombarded with advice and commentary from well-meaning friends, family, and strangers. After baby number two was born, I started hearing “you’ve got your hands full” and now with four children, I hear that line more often. There’s also the occasional “you know you’re going to spoil that baby,” “crying is good for her,” “she has to learn sometime,” and “if you didn’t carry her all the time, she’d sleep through the night.” I can’t think of another time in life when advice and commentary is so abundant. Parenting is a tough job, and I’ve come to realize that those commenting are well meaning. Those comments however do not fit in the category of warm and fuzzy, especially when you are sleep deprived and feeling inadequate. The takeaway from these experiences has left me with a lesson I hope to remember as I age out of the new mom phase of life. That lesson is: Encouragement Never Goes out of Style.

Breccan
Twenty years from now, I will forget about the extra laundry, the spit up in my hair, the frustration with breast feeding, and the overwhelming self-doubt. I will hopefully look at a new mom and tell her how great she looks instead of commenting about how full her hands are or how much time she hasn’t got. When I am invited to visit a new mom, I will call ahead offering to bring drugstore and grocery items so she doesn’t have to leave home (or get out of her bathrobe). When I arrive, I will bear meals ready to pop in the oven and instead of offering to hold the new baby, I will fold laundry, empty the dishwasher, and vacuum. I’ll assure her about baby’s weight, compliment her on what a great job she is doing, and not once will I contradict her parenting style.

I have chosen to raise my family using ‘Attachment Parenting’ methods, but I do not think the other methods are wrong or other mothers are making mistakes. I have chosen a parenting style that works best with our family. I babywear, cloth diaper, and don’t use formula. This doesn’t make me right and you wrong. I don’t want to hear how carrying my baby is going to spoil her. She doesn’t always smell magical, but she’s never smelled like that Tupperware container of molding broccoli…now that broccoli…that’s spoiled! My baby is not.

Andre with Crystal
If I want to strike up a conversation with a new mother, I will ask how old her baby is instead of if he or she sleeps through the night (because if you don’t know…most of us are up every hour or two and when you ask if our littles are sleeping through the night we basically want to kick you in the knee caps because you have just implied we must be doing something wrong because we are just thankful when they sleep long enough to let us shower and shave a partial leg). I will tell her how cute her baby is or I’ll offer to carry something for her instead of stating “You’ve got your hands full.”

I can’t change the well-meaning comments that sometimes cut like a dagger. For now I just smile
Carmen
politely. These sleep deprived, showerless days are really just a small part of life as we know it. They’ll be behind us soon enough. We will remember the giggles, the chubby baby thighs, and friends who dropped by with coffee and kind words. We won’t remember the frustration, self-doubt, or the 3am feedings that left us too exhausted to find matching socks. Hopefully we will remember how it felt to be encouraged by friends, family and strangers and we will pass along that warm fuzzy feeling instead of the advice and commentary.


Thanks for listening, but now it’s your turn! What is the nicest thing someone did for you when you were a new parent? What are some ideas you can pass along to those of us hoping to visit a new parent? AND/OR What is the oddest thing someone said to you about your parenting?


Crystal is a church musician, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 7, Andre 6, Breccan 16 months, and Delphine 1 month), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, and over 200 Holsteins. You can find Crystal blogging and reviewing books and all sorts of other stuff at: http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

Special thanks for Olivia Brey of Oh! Photography for the great photos you see above as well as for her friendship, special delivery coffee, and warm meals that have warmed the heart of this entire family!

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Friday, March 27, 2015

 

Friday Speak Out!: Words! Words! Words!

by Lily Iona MacKenzie

I’ve been thinking about how loosely we use abstract words like love, happiness, and truth as if they had concrete, observable meaning. I tend to revolt from using love to close my email or other exchanges unless I really feel love for the person I’m corresponding with. It bothers me when people sign their correspondence “love” without considering whether or not the emotion really applies to the recipient. Maybe you feel loving towards someone on most days, but not every day. Isn’t it deceitful to say “love” if you aren’t feeling it at the moment? Wouldn’t such a response seem confusing? It leads the reader to believe that the writer actually has such strong feelings, that somehow we’re part of the writer’s inner circle. Often that isn’t true.

Or even if one is part of the writer’s inner circle, it doesn’t mean that person actually is feeling love for the recipient. It just becomes a reflexive action: Love, Lily. Love, Hilda. Love, Anyone.

My concern is that these words then become meaningless, and once words no longer match what they are supposed to express, there’s not only a breakdown in communication but also a collapse of the word’s integrity. How can one use the word love again with any sincerity if it’s been used casually, with people one doesn’t really feeling toward.

So what’s my problem with happiness? We have a tendency to assume that if we use happy to describe someone’s feelings, we’ve said it all. That person must be happy. Therefore, there’s no need to look further or question what might actually be going on. Happiness is a nebulous state. I’m never sure when I’m happy or not because there are so many varieties of that emotional construct. One person’s happiness could be another person’s delusion or manic behavior.

When someone is really high, either from drugs or because something positive has happened in that person’s life, we generally say “that person is so happy.” Yet the individual may be in a state that has nothing to do with what I might equate with happiness—a sense of well being: all is right with my world at the moment and I need nothing else to make myself feel better. But the person we describe as “so happy” because he/she is claiming that condition could be depressed and using happiness as a cover for his/her real emotional level.

Okay, I sound like a Grinch, but I hate lies, either intentional or unintentional. I make them. My friends make them. It seems part of being human to lie at times. But the more it happens between friends and myself, the less I trust either them or me. And that’s the truth. But, again, what is truth? And how do we know it when it happens? If someone is accustomed to not telling the truth, then we’re caught up again in that dishonest web of deceit, where we claim one thing while really feeling another.

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Lily Iona MacKenzie has published reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, travel pieces, essays, and memoir in over 140 American and Canadian venues. The recent issue of Notes Magazine featured her as the spotlight author, showcasing her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Fling, one of her novels, will be published in July 2015. Bone Songs, another novel, will be published in 2016. Her poetry collection All This was published in 2011. She also teaches writing at the University of San Francisco, is vice-president of USF's part-time faculty union, paints, and travels widely with her husband. Visit her blog at: http://lilyionamackenzie.wordpress.com.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

 

The Unfit Writer

© Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime Stock Photos

No, I’m not talking about my writing ability (I hope, anyway!) I’m talking about the fact that once again, I’ve pulled out my spring clothing to discover that I obviously had my “butt in the chair” just a little too much this winter.

I’ve known it was coming. I would get on the scale occasionally and notice an extra pound here and there. I’d say to myself “I’ll be sure to get back to the gym this week.” Weeks turned into months, and one really bad chest cold that lasted three weeks in February, and before I knew it, I can’t hide behind baggy sweaters and leggings any more.

So this week I’ve decided to embark on a new project, in addition to my writing. And that project is me. I go through this every few years, when I somehow forget that I no longer have the metabolism of a 16-year-old. (Note to 16-year-old Renee: I am so sorry I didn’t appreciate you when I had the chance!)

Here are the steps I’ve already taken:

I’m increasing my water intake. While the Keurig was the best Christmas present I’ve ever received, I blame it for keeping me from drinking the copious amounts of water throughout the day like I used to. So this week, I’m back to refilling my water bottle three or four times a day, while throwing in some extra slices of lemon for good measure. I’ve been in the bathroom a lot, but I’m feeling good.

I’m decreasing my coffee intake.
Because of the aforementioned Keurig, I’ve been drinking my two normal cups of coffee from the pot and then making myself coffee from K-cups one or two times in the afternoon. I love my coffee with a lot of cream and sugar, which adds up to a whole lot of extra calories. I’m now sticking to only two cups of coffee in the morning to kick-start my day and drinking a cup of hot tea with only a teaspoon of honey in the afternoon.

I’m doing my best to ditch the comfort/convenience food. Because I’ve been so busy with work the past few months, I’ve fallen into a rut of eating out a lot, gravitating towards the carbs at lunch and dinner and letting the vegetables in the refrigerator rot. I’ve also let my sweet tooth get the best of me. I’ve already hit up the grocery store and am minding my portions, eating only fruits, vegetables, or nuts for snacks in between meals, and cooking more at home. Tonight, my family had tacos and refried beans that I made and I settled for a tossed salad and a baked potato.

I’m exercising again. Luckily I have two dogs that I walk twice a day, but the walks we’ve been taking haven't been enough to combat all the extra calories I’ve been consuming. In addition to the walks, I’ve worked out every day this week, and while I’m sore and tired, I already feel my energy levels picking up. I am planning to get back to the gym tomorrow, but in the past few days I’ve kept my workouts small and manageable at home with strength training exercises and jogging.

Have you fallen into an unfit rut because of work, deadlines, or a big project? How do you bust out of it?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer who also works as a blog tour manager for WOW! Women on Writing. Right now she’s still looking for a few hosts for D.A. Russell’s book Lifting the Curtain: The Disgrace We Call Urban High School Education and Scott Keen’s MG/YA fantasy novel Scar of the Downers. Email her at renee [at] wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for more information.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

 

Procrastination: Not Writing When You Need to Write


This past week I had a deadline – my first chapter and a book outline due on Friday. You might think that I spent all week doing nothing but writing.

Monday, I wrote my to-do list for the week, updated the church blog, e-mailed my students, went to the library and had lunch. Then, I worked on chapter 1. I finished a draft by about 11:00 pm.

Tuesday, as I was checking Facebook, a message popped up. The high school needed me! I started my book outline, and then worked at school for three hours. Returning home, I had lunch (3 squares are vital!) and worked on the outline. I had a draft by about 10:30 pm.

I met my deadline with a few hours to spare in spite of my procrastinating. To overcome procrastination I have to know why I’m doing it. Most often, it is one of these four reasons.

Route not charted. Sometimes I’m not sure where I’m going with a piece of writing. If I’m writing a personal essay, it could be that the experience is too new and I need to process it first. Or maybe my editor wasn’t specific enough with the parameters of the assignment. In fiction, I need to know where the story is going. To overcome this type of procrastination, I need to make some decisions or talk to my editor.

Lost my way. If I’m well into a piece and then start to procrastinate, it’s often because I’ve taken a wrong turn. Either I’ve gone off topic in my nonfiction or wrote a fictional scene with my protagonist acting out of character. If I know more-or-less where the story is going and something feels off, this is often the problem. I need to spot where I made the mistake, and then I can fix things and move forward.

Too spacy to write. Writing is hard work so I may lack the energy to write. Have I taken a day off in the past week? If I’m on deadline, I may not have time to take a whole day off but I need to recharge my creative batteries. Sometimes I walk or knit. Choir practice helps. So does going out with my family or friends. After I’ve recharged, writing will once again be possible.

I don’t want to write it. Some topics or scenes, though necessary, are brutal to write. I’m working on a book called “Black Lives Matter.” My knee jerk reaction was “Of course they matter!” Still, racism and social inequality are hard to write about without standing on a soap box.

While I’m working on this, I’m going to have to guard against procrastination, keep my goal in sight and keep my creative batteries charged so that I can keep moving forward.

Why do you procrastinate?

--SueBE

SueBE teaches our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.  The next section start May 4, 2015.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

 

Connect with Your Audience with This Key Element

Whether you want to form a relationship with your blog audience, those that visit your website, your twitter followers, or even readers of your book, you need one key element.

What is it? That's what I'm blogging about over at FireText. And I'll give you a hint: it starts with empathy.

Today I'm specifically giving examples of how to use this method as it relates to texting and connecting with your customers through an SMS limit of 160 characters, but it's a technique that works well for just about anyone who wants to connect on a deeper level with their readers.

I just got a gig blogging for various businesses and sites about topics related to writing, marketing, and making money with writing, which is fantastic because I get to stay in my niche and help out other audiences that I normally wouldn't reach. I'll share more about this gig later, but in the meantime, check out my post: Creating a Deep Connection with Your Customers Through Text.

And if you've used empathy as a way to connect with your readers, I'd love to hear about it!

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Interview with Meena Radhakrishnan: Summer 2014 Flash Fiction Runner Up

Meena’s Bio:

Meena lives with her husband, Rakesh and her 3 boys in Thousand Oaks, CA. A busy full-time mother of three, Meena is a voracious reader, writer, dreamer and volunteer who is very passionate about giving back to her community. Writing has been an integral part of her life, ever since her youth and has been a powerful instrument that has helped her stay in touch with her inner-most feelings.

If you haven't done so already, check out Meena's award winning story, "The Funeral," and return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Summer 2014 Flash Fiction Contest! What was the inspiration for your short story, or what prompted you to write this particular story?

Meena: I remember, even as a child, I always worshipped many of our freedom fighters and leaders who fought for, and won independence for our nation. They were my heroes. I continued to carry this sense of deep love and respect for India and her non-violent struggle for freedom, even as I moved across continents to settle down in the United States. This story is historical fiction based on the life of India’s former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, who had to give up her ‘foreign’ clothes, as part of the freedom struggle when Mahatma Gandhi called for a boycott on all foreign goods.

WOW: What a great premise and original idea for a flash fiction story! What do you enjoy the most and/or the least about writing?

Meena: I enjoy the sense of self-expression and fulfillment that writing provides. I love the moments when I am inspired, the ideas, thoughts and words flow in harmony, and come together on paper (or the processor). It is one of the most beautiful and thrilling experiences. The Funeral is one such story that was drawn from a deep sense of inspiration and pride when I reflected on India’s non-violent struggle for freedom.

It is hard to find inspiration when I am bogged down with the mundane day to day responsibilities that comes with caring for three boys, and raising a family, other than other obligations. When I don’t find that inspiration within me, then the urge to write sadly dies a natural death. That is my frustration, as I let sometimes days pass without writing.

WOW: I think many other writers and aspiring writers can relate to that. I know I can! Do you have any tips for balancing your life as a writer, mother of three, and work in the community?

Meena: I wish someone would give me tips on balancing my life! However, I find that balancing the various roles we play is like learning to ride a bicycle. We lean to the right, then to the left, totter around a bit, but slowly the balance happens. Similarly, we tend to focus on one role over the other at times, but the very awareness that we need balance eventually brings it to our life.

WOW: Thank you for that insight. If you could have dinner with one author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Meena: This is a tough question. There are too many authors I would like to have dinner with! I am afraid I have to choose at least two! I would like to have a dinner with Wayne Dyer and Immaculée Ilibagiza. Wayne Dyer’s books and writings has been my constant companion over the years, has inspired me to live my life, and take up writing in the first place as my calling. Immaculée’s powerful autobiography, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst Rwandan Holocaust, left an indelible impression on me on how faith, forgiveness and compassion can not only heal ourselves but our world as well.

WOW: Wonderful, inspiring choices! What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Meena: I have been recently leaning into spiritual writings. I am currently reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. I have embarked on a journey to discover my inner self, and like my writing, this book, I know, is going to be a powerful tool to help me in this quest.

WOW: Good luck with your quest! Anything else you’d like to add?

Meena: I am extremely grateful to WOW! for encouraging writers like me to keep writing, no matter what! And I can’t thank you enough, for because of all your encouragement, I have decided to write more every day. Thank You! to everyone at WOW! for all your support and inspiration. It means a lot to new writers like me.

WOW: You are welcome! And thank you for your thoughtful answers. Happy writing!

Interviewed by: Anne Greenawalt, writer and writing instructor

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