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Saturday, January 19, 2019

 

Finding Your Character’s Perspective

Unless you pattern all of your characters after yourself, getting into your character’s perspective can be tricky. This is especially true if, like me, you write for children. We think we remember what it was like, but it is so easy to forget specific details.

Recently I read an awesome blog post by picture book author Tara Lazar. When she wants to see things the way her young readers see the world, she takes a seat under her dining room table. It reminds her that the world of children is a world of shoes and legs hurrying past.

Me? I tried that out and immediately hit my head. Oh, wait. Every time I toured a cave, I managed to smack my head on a formation. Every. Single. Time. Those are the perils of being a tall child and it all popped back into my memory when I smacked the bottom of the table. Maybe sitting under the dining room table really does work.

There are other ways to bring back life as a child. Limit your freedom of movement. Unless you write young adult, your characters don’t drive. And even if they live on a really good metro system, you’ll have to consider when and where they have the freedom, and money, to ride. If they don't have access to public transportation, just giving them a bike won't solve the problem. Most parents today don’t let their children take off for an hour on their bike. How are your characters going to get to and from their adventures?

Money. That’s another issue for young characters. Adults and even teens may not carry cash but most of them have debit cards or credit cards. Ready money makes most problems much easier to solve. If your character wouldn’t have access to easy money, you’ll have to come up with a new way to solve a problem. Do they go to someone else to borrow money? Maybe they can work off the debt, cleaning out someone’s garage to get the part they need for their fabulous new invention.

Whether your characters are children or adults, writing a piece set in a different time period brings another set of challenges. If you are writing something set in the 1970s, head to your local flea market or antique mall. On my last trip, I found really unique items including a bank of 1920s apartment mailboxes, a map case and an antique dental set (yuck). But I soon realized that I was in a sea of Danish modern furniture. Clean lines, low slung silhouettes, and lots of wood paired with turquoise and olive, burnt orange and maize. For the kitchen, there were stand mixers and white corning casserole dishes with the blue flowers on the side.

Getting into your character’s perspective can take a little work but there are many ways to do it. Listen to music from the appropriate time and place. Find out what foods were/are popular and if there is any way you can sample them. With so many museums and libraries putting material online the internet is awash in historic photographs. Online searches enable you to check out the world your character sees, the foods she tastes and the music she hears.

Use these details to create a realistic setting experienced by a believable character.

--SueBE

To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins March 18th, 2019.

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Friday, January 18, 2019

 

Friday Speak Out!: It’s a Bit Corny, but…

by Carole Mertz

We were invited to a potlatch party about ten days before Christmas. I considered the casserole I’d bring. But there were other things to think about before then. In our house food deliberations take the lowest rung of the ladder and hang there till the last possible minute.

Meanwhile, the No. 1 priority was my current writing course, mending some clothes for Hubby, and completing two reviews by the 31st.

The morning of the party I clutched the casserole script, (some of you’d call it a recipe) plucking it out of the drawer the way a starved raccoon might claw a morsel of food.

It read: mix this, mix that. Beat this…fold into. Problem: no actual quantities were indicated, only ratios. I gathered each tablespoon of flour needed its quarter cup of milk. Beyond that ??? I assembled the ingredients and baked them with less than an hour to spare before party time.

The final note on the script said, “Bake in 350-degree oven, I guess, for about 45 minutes or more.” (I loved that “I guess”.) I’d used organic eggs, “real” sea salt, unbleached flour, and NGM corn. Mother called it “corn pudding," I called it corn casserole.

So no one died that night or the day after the party, but I knew my casserole was a bit “off.” It seemed to need more of something, less of something else, and a LOT MORE COOKING time.

Days passed, I worked on my writing assignments. Another party on Christmas Day beckoned for my casserole. (I’d developed a burning desire to construct the thing again—well I guess one doesn’t actually construct a casserole. But I wanted to see if I could perfect it, not that I’ve ever actually perfected anything.)

Hang in with me, fellow writers. I made the casserole, this time avoiding putting frozen corn directly into the oven; I used much more milk and I baked it until the egg was done. It resembled a pudding!

Here’s the thing I learned. You know how when you paid for your kids’ piano lessons, how you thought it would be good for them because there were all these transferable skills, things your kids could apply to their other schoolwork: eye / hand coordination, concentration, persistence, the appreciation of a fine melody…

Well, (you could work this out for yourselves, Dear Writers. But OK I’ll spell it out): I thought if I didn’t get the essay right the first time, maybe I could transfer some learned casserole skills. If I could get myself to re-do it, it might come out better the second time. It might need a little more dialogue (that would be the flour), it could use more real emotion (yup, you got it, that’s the corn, genuine, not modified), it could be allowed to sit awhile before sending it out (yes, more time in the oven). And then, maybe, it could be enjoyed by myself and a few other people. OK, so keep them casseroles comin’!!!!!

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Carole Mertz began writing 10 years ago and has followed WOW! Women on Writing ever since. Her essays are here and there in the literary world: at ARC, CutBank, Dreamers Creative Writing, Eclectica, MER, Quill & Parchment, South 85 Journal, Working Writer, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, WPWT, etc. She lives with her husband in Parma, Ohio, where she teaches piano to young children.
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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, January 17, 2019

 

Goofy goals that I might actually accomplish!

I'm good at setting goals, but not always accomplishing goals. Sometimes setting goals feels like a to-do list, and my life frequently feels like one giant to-do list. Have I mentioned I don't like to-do lists?

To be fair, I set my list of writing goals for the year with my writers group, which, honestly, will help me stay on track. They are wonderful women who are supportive and kind and helpful in many ways. But, as I was reviewing my goals yesterday and trying to decide where to begin, I realized I didn't feel like doing any of them.

So, I did what I usually do, and started reading the news feed on my phone, and after that began watching true crime stories on the Justice Network. I don't know why these shows are suddenly appealing to me, but I hope it's because I'm a writer, and not a murderer.

After about an hour of not accomplishing any goals, I began looking at Craigslist because I had run out of pertinent news stories to read, and the only crime re-enactment show was one I had already seen. I went to the listing for free stuff, and found a variety of weird and interesting objects.

That list changed my life! I now have a new set of writing goals that are easy and fun, and am much more likely to complete. Feel free to use these, or come up with your own so you, too, can become a productive goal accomplisher.

Goal #1: Write a story or poem around one or more of the unique, free items found on Craigslist. Here's a few I found: Four packs of pork chops, one cargo cover for a 2004 Highlander, a manual titled The Complete Guide to Hermit Crabs, fresh and frozen breast milk, a pink, 1950's-bathroom sink, Kitty litter buckets, and a baby grand piano.

#2: Go to Goodwill and find an old object and make up a back story. Bonus points if you can (fake) attribute it to a famous writer.

#3: Find the oldest book in your public library, and use some of those character names in your next story.

#4: Kill off one (or all) of your characters whose name begins with the letter "G." (Sorry, Greg!)

#5: Research a city you've never visited, and set a poem or short story there.

#6: Find five-ten books with the word "love" in the title, and then write your own title using the word "love" once, and all (or most) of the other words from all the titles to create the greatest love story title of all time. Mine is: Eternal love story for a dog I respect in the time of cholera.

#7: Create/describe a monster who wears an article of clothing. While searching Canadian Myths and Legends, I came across the description of a native legend from the Queen Charlotte Islands named The Haida Monster, who has two tails and wears a hat.

#8: Kill a character with a kitchen utensil that is not a knife or other sharp object. Can someone be potato-masher-ed to death? Let's find out! (Maybe I should stop watching those true-crime shows.)

#9: Begin a collection of writing-related objects, like pens, books, or pictures of writers. You don't have to finish, just start. Easy!

#10: Create a family legend. Would your ancestors be captains of industry, pioneers who settled the West, or bank robbers? You can also go to a thrift store and find an old picture of someone and claim that person as your infamous relative. Hang that picture prominently in your writing space.

#11: Describe a ghost that might live in your house.

#12: Follow an author on social media.

#13: Attend an author presentation at a library, bookstore or other venue.

#14: Wear something that makes you feel like a writer. Do you have a beret, cape, or silky scarf? Wear this (or these) item(s) to a coffee shop and write, pretend to write, or just drink coffee.

#15: Find a book in your house and read one page.

#16: If you usually write with a computer, use a pen and paper, and vice versa. Bonus points if you have an old typewriter and write something on that, unless that's what you normally write with.

#17: Write in a new place. Write outside, in the car, on public transportation, in the mall, or Costco! I once wrote a short poem in the produce section of a grocery store.

There you have it, a list I can actually complete. As you create your list of 2019 goals, add some that are simple. And have fun with it, I know I will!



Mary Horner doesn't always accomplish her goals for the year, but after having some fun and then feeling guilty, will get around to them eventually!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

 

Fear is Not an Option

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I listen to a lot of personal development podcasts as a way to try and psyche myself up while I’m exercising or driving. I’m a person who knows she needs to stretch and grow in a lot of areas in her life—from nurturing my personal relationships to cooking healthy foods to being a good spouse/parent. But deep down, I’m also a creative individual, and that can make me very insecure and introverted at times. I work in a job where sales and development fall in my department, and sometimes I shy away from putting myself out there and building relationships I know make sense for our company. I feel that sometimes we also do that in our writing lives.

I was listening to one of my podcasts and overheard this piece of advice: Do one thing that scares you every day. If it’s something you’re really afraid of, try and tackle it the first thing. Cold calling a prospective new client? Do that before you’ve had time to talk yourself out of it and then cross it off your list. If you’ve done nothing else that day, at least you challenged yourself and got over one obstacle.

For me, the thing I was most afraid of was querying agents. I don’t know why I let it intimidate me so much, but I did. I was so worried I would send off a query with a typo (believe me, it’s happened) and I thought I would become blacklisted by that agent or their agency. I worried my writing simply wasn’t good enough, and I envisioned the person on the other end of the computer shaking their head at my gall for submitting.

Guess what? Since I started querying agents a few months ago I haven’t received one snarky reply. I’ve had polite rejections, but not once has someone said “You need to learn how to write a proper query and by the way, you should probably keep your day job.” Each time I open my e-mail to compose a new query letter, and paste in my synopsis and opening chapters, I gain a little more courage. As I become more confident, I’ve begun researching other ways to get my novel in front of publishing gatekeepers, from entering writing contests for fiction writers to exploring what smaller publishing houses are accepting un-agented submissions.

This past year, I did many things that scared me in my writing. I started sharing my work with more people. I took an essay-writing class where I explored painful childhood memories. I joined a local writer’s club so I can attend meetings and network (now I actually have to force myself to go to a meeting) and I’m researching conferences. Each step I take, each fear I conquer, leads me closer and closer to my ultimate goal of becoming a published novelist.

And if I can do it, so can you.

What is the one thing you’re most afraid of in your writing? What would you like to do to get over that fear? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer who also works as a marketing director for a nonprofit theatre company. She enjoys true crime and personal development podcasts, writing in the young adult and suspense/thriller genres, and is obsessed with entering writing contests, now that she’s no longer afraid of them. Check out her blog at FinishedPages.com.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

 

Interview with Emily Messina, Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Runner Up

Today we are chatting with Emily Messina, one of the runner's up in the Summer 2018 Flash Fiction contest. If you haven't had the chance to, make sure you read Emily's story 448 and then come back and read our interview with this incredible writer.

Emily Messina moved from Orange County, California to Boulder, Colorado in order to attend Naropa University Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets. While writing has always been her passion, she has just begun to take it seriously. In addition to writing fiction, Emily dabbles in poetry and is working on a short book of poems. This year she has been focusing on finishing her first novel. Emily’s full time job is the Director of Development for a non-profit that focuses on ending homelessness through employment and housing. She enjoys a good glass of wine and reading her favorite poets Charles Bukowski and Anne Sexton. When she is not writing she spends her time exploring Boulder with her two children.

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

Your story "448" was absolutely incredible. What was the inspiration behind your story?

One of my favorite aspects of my job is that I have the privilege of interviewing graduates of our Ready to Work program – an employment and housing program for adults experiencing homelessness. While I was interviewing a woman, who recently graduated from the program, the idea just came to me. My story 448 has nothing to do with this woman’s actual life experiences, but I was overwhelmed by her strength and determination to change her life. I wanted to write a story of a little girl who struggled and had an incredibly difficult life, but it would never break her spirit – she would survive no matter what.

That message truly was excellently portrayed in your story. I was reading your bio and it mentioned how you've just begun to take your writing seriously. What inspired you to start focusing on your writing and taking it seriously?

For the last nine years, I have been focusing on my career and giving absolutely no time to my creative writing. I feel incredibly lucky to have a job that does make such a positive impact in my community, but as I advanced in my career, I felt like something was missing. Deep inside of me, I knew I was neglecting a very important part of myself. I am a writer and in order to live a fulfilling life I have to give myself time to write.

I also believe that writing can be incredibly healing and so on my own time, I have started a writing group for trainees that are in the Ready to Work program. This has motivated me more than I ever thought it would. To be in a room with others, who may, or may not have experience writing, and are willing to take the risk and express themselves is incredibly exciting to witness. The creativity of the writing group helps to keep me focused on my writing goals and has given me an internal push to take my writing seriously.

That group sounds like it would be incredibly inspiring! So, this story gave me such an eye-opening experience. How did you get inside the head of a child growing up around Hell's Angels bikers?

While writing this story I focused less on my main character’s life circumstance and more on how she reacted and coped with what was going on around her. I did do a bit of research on the Hell’s Angels in order to make sure any references I used in my story were accurate.

Wow, that must have been very interesting research. So, I loved reading you went to Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets. How did that experience help you as a writer?

My experience at Naropa really molded me as a writer. My professors pushed me out of my writing comfort zone and encouraged me to stretch beyond my limits. I also learned how much discipline it takes to be a writer. To write, you actually have to show up and do it, and over time the more you write the better you get.

I completely agree with your last sentence! I loved reading that you work for a non-profit that focuses to end homelessness through employment and housing. That is a cause close to my heart. How do your experiences at your job shape your writing?

I meet so many amazing individuals with unbelievable stories and I am constantly moved by their resolve to change their life situations. When I listen to someone tell me their story, I am inspired not by their life circumstance, but by how they were able emotionally overcome their personal struggles. I take the essence of the amazing inner strength that I encounter every day and weave it into my characters.

How inspirational that is! Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and best of luck to you on your writing.

For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

 

When Is a Piece of Writing Finished?

Photo Creative Commons via Pixabay

I've been contemplating a question for two weeks now. You see, it feels like the second we type "the end" (either literally or symbolically) to a story, essay, poem, or some piece of writing that it's actually finished and no more needs to be done with it. Of course, that isn't the case. Rewriting needs to be done as well as editing and assessing feedback you receive from other people. And reworking the story based on that feedback. And more revising. And so on and so on.

But when you've done all the rewriting you can, and all the editing you can, how do you know when the story is done? When does feedback become simply a matter of opinion? Sure, that one person thought your names were cliche and your plot line needed tightening, but several other people raved about that piece of writing you sent around. While we're all more inclined to believe the bad news about our writing rather than the good, at some point, we must put our pencils down a declare our work done.

But how do you know when that's the case? How do you know if you're done?

After Google searching this question myself I've realized the answer isn't clear. However, I did learn about a couple of methods you can try when assessing whether you've reached "the end" or not:

1) Give that piece of writing some space.

Whether you need a week or a month or longer, put space between you and that piece of writing. Giving yourself space helps you gain a fresh perspective and see flaws you missed before. Proof of this is when we go back to works from our youth and try to re-read them (don't forget - those stories you cringe at now were prized possessions in the days of your youth).

2) Show it to someone else.

Feedback is important and is also a pretty good gauge as to whether something is done or not. I find that when feedback leans more towards the positive and people have less and less negative to say that it may be a sign the story is ready to send out. Remember, you don't have to change everything people don't like about a story. Someone may not like something about what you wrote and you know what? They may just have to live with it.

3) Send it out.

I found this piece of advice on a blog post I found online and plan on taking it to heart - send out that piece of writing. No matter what your doubts are, your best gauge at figuring out if a piece of writing is finished is to start submitting it.

It's tempting to keep our works of writing in the "in progress" stage because we'll never have to face rejection if something isn't ever done. However, unless you only want to work on that one piece of writing for the rest of your life, you eventually need to let it go and call it done. Think of the bestsellers list. If you read every book on the bestsellers list right now, would you like all of those books? Would you have nothing bad to say? Likely there would be a few you wouldn't finish or ones you didn't like or some you weren't interested in. Does that mean these authors weren't done with their book? Nope. It's simply a matter of opinion at this point. Whether we like it or not, those books are done. And maybe your piece of writing is too (even if you can't accept it).

So, how do you determine if a piece of writing is done? 

Nicole Pyles is a writer and blogger. You can follow her on her writing journey on Twitter @BeingTheWriter or visit her blog TheWorldofMyImagination.blogspot.com




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Sunday, January 13, 2019

 

A Simple Question You Must Ask Yourself

In a world where nothing seems simple because there's so much to do, when it comes to marketing a book, I think, sometimes, we make it more complicated than it is. Let's look at a few points...

1. You are a reader, not just a writer.
2. You buy books.
3. You don't have millions of dollars or millions of hours to buy or read every single book.

You are some author's audience that he or she is trying to connect with. You make choices on which books to read, to check out from the library, and to buy from a bookstore.

So ask yourself this: what makes you take a chance on a new author? 

Is it seeing a random Facebook ad with no connection to you?

Is it passing by an author booth at a book fair and the author is playing on her phone?

Is it one of your Twitter pals who is constantly tweeting, "Buy My Book?"

Hopefully the answer to those questions is no. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself what has made you buy a book, start a new series,  or take a chance on a new author?

We read articles and blog posts about building a marketing plan, and it is important. I even teach a class about this, and have marketing plans myself. But you have to start somewhere, and one of the SIMPLE questions you must ask yourself is...when do I take a chance on a new author?

The answers could range from a recommendation from a friend to a chat you have with an author at a book signing to a "similar book suggestion" on Amazon. Before you put together your marketing plan, brainstorm a list of all the reasons why you've tried a new book, and then make sure those opportunities are currently on your marketing plan.

There's not any ONE method, social media account, event, or even book (most likely) that will give you thousands of readers. It's a combination of strategies, including writing a good book and continuing to write good books. But what I said at the beginning of this post is true. We do forget to include some of the "common sense" or simple things in our plans. We forget that we are consumers ourselves, and we are attracted to certain marketing ideas and not others.

Don't miss out on using yourself as an example of what works when trying to get readers to notice your book. Ask yourself the simple question: What marketing strategies (ads, campaigns, events) make me go and buy a new book?  


Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and writing coach, living in St. Louis, MO, with her 8-year-old daughter. On January 23, her class, "Individualized Marketing for Authors and Writing Industry Professionals" begins for 5 weeks. In this class, students will create a marketing plan, a media kit, a sample email newsletter, and more. It's only $99 (on sale from $155). Check it out here and join the marketing fun

Question mark photo above by purpleslog on Flickr.com

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