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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

 

No Resolutions or Goals: One Word for 2016

This week online, I've been reading about my colleagues' and friends' goals and resolutions for 2016. Since I'm a writer (shocker!), many of my friends are also writers, and a large percentage of these posted goals deal with writing. One of the best posts I saw was from YA, MG, and adult novelist Jennifer Brown (The Hate List), who had a list of about six things-personal and professional-listed on her Facebook page. When I read her list, I was envious and shuddering at the same time.

"Why?" you ask.

2015 was a tough year for me. I'm going through a divorce, and it has completely changed my writing career. I'm not sure if I have a mental block, am exhausted, or have less time for writing--but I haven't written anything creative for months. My marketing skills for my books are less than stellar (okay in the gutter). Thank goodness for WOW! because I am still blogging and teaching writing.

Today, I debated about revealing my divorce on this public blog, but then I thought--I am sure other people out there are facing similar situations (big life changes) and wondering how they will ever make goals and resolutions--either personally or professionally--for 2016. Maybe you are like me and also question: will I ever write/paint/draw/sculpt again? So maybe we can help each other.

Instead of a list of things I must do in 2016, I am going to adopt my writing friend Sarah Whitney's idea from a book she read: One Word That Will Change Your Life by Jon Gordon, Jimmy Page, and Dan Britton. (I knew I was on the right path when my teaching friend Sherri mentioned this book in a Facebook comment just last night!) Basically the way I understand the message of this book is that we should adopt ONE WORD as a theme for our lives for one year. Instead of creating resolutions we break by January 15, we live our lives focused on ONE WORD.

I can really get behind this. I'm afraid a list of goals might break my spirit and make me feel like a failure. Sometimes when I come home from my first full-time job in nine years, I can't imagine doing anything else but playing with my daughter and getting a load of laundry in. So it would seem self-defeating for me to have a goal such as: write five pages a week or finish a novel by June.

So what is my word? Organization. 

My divorce has turned me from one of the most productive, organized people I know to one of the worst. My house is completely unorganized. My writing career is unorganized. My email inbox is a mess. My personal health has also suffered--not as many workouts, not as much sleep, not as much meal planning. So I feel like if I focus on ORGANIZATION, many of these areas will get back on track. Then so will I.


You can find information and resources about creating your own one word on this website: http://getoneword.com

You can order the book: One Word That Will Change Your Life here.

I'll close with a list of words that others have used throughout the years that might help you particularly if you are a writer:
  • Commitment
  • Grow
  • Drive
  • Excellence
  • Determination
  • Confidence
  • Complete
Best of luck to you in 2016!

Margo L. Dill is a children's author and teaches writing classes for WOW! Women On Writing. Find out more at http://www.margodill.com .


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Monday, December 28, 2015

 

Thanking Those Who Inspire Me

As I wrote my thank you notes for Texas pecans, coffee/cinnamon scrub and a gourmet cheese basket, I glanced longingly at my new book. Confession: I, who hate romance novels, am a sucker for Suzanne Brockmann and Sarah Addison Allen, but it is Brockmann who is waiting for me. If I start reading before I get everything else done, thank you notes and everything else just won’t get done.

I forced myself back to the thank you notes so that I could get to the reading. Not that I should put off reading. It does, after all, fuel my writing. Who then should I be thanking for fueling my love of story and of writing?

There are the “adult” authors that I read. I say “adult” because these are adult fiction not adult in a plain brown wrapper.

  • Anyway, I’d thank Brockmann for combining amazing levels of action with characters who, despite their imperfections, I can’t help but love. 
  • I love the fantasy that Allen so matter-of-factly brings to the “real world” in her magical realism and also her beautifully realistic characters. Sharon 
  • Shinn brings her characters to life through descriptions that are unbelievably spare but added together make her characters clear and real.

Then there are the authors I read as a child, the authors who pulled me in long before I entertained the idea that I too could be a writer.

  • Through Mustang, San Domingo: Medicine Hat Stallion, and other horse stories, Marguerite Henry showed me that you could bend fact into fiction and still keep it real. 
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder took this lesson deeper into territory I would one day walk as a writer, showing me that elements from your own life can fuel your fiction. 
  • Gertrude Chandler Warner pulled me into the world of the Boxcar Children, a world where kids could believably set up housekeeping in an abandoned Boxcar without adult interference. I didn’t realize until later that she had taught me about suspension of disbelief. 
  •  Anne McCaffrey peopled Pern with a wide assortment of characters who, in spite of their differences, managed to live and work together. Even before I read Tolkien, I read McCaffrey and saw what could be accomplished in terms of creating a whole new world. No, these aren’t children’s books but I read them beginning in my early teens.

I’m sure that there are authors that I’ve missed but these are the ones that spring readily to mind.

Who would you thank for inspiring your work?

--SueBE

Sue is the instructor for our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins on January 11, 2016.

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

 

What You Need to Be a Writer

My daughter after meeting one of my favorite authors.

Back in November, the main children’s library in the city of Charlotte, ImaginOn, put together a free literary festival for families, children and teens. One of the highlights of the festival was an impressive lineup of visiting children’s authors from a variety of genres. When I saw that Lauren Oliver was scheduled to appear, I slyly asked my daughter if she wanted to go to the festival. (I’ve reviewed several of her books on my blog.) Because she’s a very wise 12-year-old, and knows how much I love to read and write children’s fiction, she said, “Sure!” We hopped in the car and got to the event just in time to check out Oliver’s appearance in one of the auditoriums. She was a great speaker, and although her talk was targeted at encouraging kids to write, I also got a lot out of it.

Afterwards, we both got two of her books signed (I bought one of her middle-grade novels for my daughter to read and took one of my favorite YA novels) and got to chat with her for a few minutes. We had a fun morning at the festival and I left feeling renewed and encouraged about my own writing. I also started thinking about the traits one needs to be a writer. Here are a few I came up with:

A willingness to write. A lot. This seems simple, but it’s one of the main points Oliver emphasized in her talk. Before she got her first book published, she wrote several other manuscripts, over and over, and even thought she went on to get an MFA, she stressed that “you don’t need a fancy education to be a writer.” The best way to learn is to keep writing, through the good and the bad, as your mastery of the craft will come with time.

Ideas for stories (or articles/essays, if you’re also a freelance writer). If you’re like me, you’re plagued by what can feel like too many ideas. Not so, according to Oliver. She writes in a variety of genres and categories (contemporary and fantasy young adult, middle grade, adult, etc.) Unbeknownst to me, she also writes under a pen name. I have no idea what those genres are, or what her pen name is, but it shows me that if you can execute your ideas, you can be a prolific writer.

A writing style that works for you. Oliver shared that when she’s writing first drafts, she dashes off ideas quickly and doesn’t even spell out characters names. “A. jumped off the cliff and into the waterfall . . .” She also can’t revise two YA novels at the same time, but has to mix up categories. Elin Hilderbrand and Kristin Hannah both write their first drafts longhand. Whatever writing method helps you produce work consistently, keep at it.

Ingenuity. Because Oliver is also an entrepreneur, she co-founded a literary development company called Paper Lantern Lit. She and partner Lexa Hillyer craft ideas for story narratives and then search for writers who can help bring their stories to life. It just goes to reinforce the fact that possibilities are limitless for writers.

Feeling inspired yet? What traits do you feel are necessary for writers? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who reads more children’s fiction than adult fiction these days, mostly in the name of research. Visit her blog at Renee's Pages.

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

 

Late December Questions

Ahhhhh, December 26th.

Finally, I have a moment—I have days of moments—where nothing pressing has to be done. No big production meals to coordinate, no last-minute holiday tasks calling my name. Just me and my cozy, overstuffed chair.

And maybe a book.

It’s the late December Lull, the perfect time to slow my roll, as my kids say. And though I’ve probably shared all this before, it bears repeating: we need a little quiet time, a break in the busyness, before we make those all-important plans for the coming year.

I let a couple topics simmer in my psyche while I’m sitting around in my cozy, over-stuffed chair, munching on Christmas cookies. Now, I don’t write anything down yet. I’m just thinking on these things so that come December 31st, I’ll know where I want my writing to go. So here I offer up the topics I ponder, and maybe you can do some pondering as well.

READING

Oh, I love to ponder the books I’ve read, the ones I’ve enjoyed and even the ones I didn’t enjoy so much. I use Goodreads to keep track of my books and thank goodness, because I’m horrible at recollecting titles. I read a lot of books in a year, but during the December Lull, I’m mostly thinking about the books I remember well. If they were favorites, they’ll likely become mentor texts to me. I consider why I loved that book, what made it so engaging, how did the author keep me interested and/or intrigued. If I remember a book because it was memorably bad, well, I might ask why did I quit on it?

Reading in my genre informs my writing. But I don’t just ponder the books I’ve read because I write other forms. So I’ll think about magazine markets or anthology markets, too. A string of rejections to a particular market is telling. It’s either telling me that I need to go back and read those magazines and anthologies again, or it’s telling me that my style is not suited for a market I’ve targeted. And so I ponder whether to keep trying or move on.

THE LOVE/HATE RATIO

As much as I love writing, and being a writer, there are things about my job I kinda hate. And during the December Lull, I do a sort of mental health check to make sure that what I love surpasses what I hate. Because we all know that writing is a tough business; to stay in the game, the pros should outweigh the cons, right? Also, thinking about those less desirable aspects leads to important questions. Like whether I need to give up a job that’s not worth the time and effort. Or how can I make an onerous job more palatable? It’s worth a little pondering to keep my love of writing on the plus side.

THE MOUNTAIN

And lastly, I like to review where I am on the way to my mountain. Neil Gaiman talked about his writing path and how he saw his goal as a mountain. He decided to take those jobs that moved him closer to the mountain. I love that image; it helps me set my writing goals, too. So in my Lull, I think about what moved me closer to my mountain and where I need to go next and how I’ll get there.

It’s a monumental amount of thinking, let me tell you. It’s no wonder I stay in that cozy, overstuffed chair, eating cookies. And by the way, it may look like I’m napping, but really, I’m deep into pondering.

Very deep.

Ahhhh. Welcome, welcome late December.

~Cathy C. Hall

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Friday, December 25, 2015

 

BELIEF

This morning a friend sent me a hilarious video of the SNL Sketch “Santa Baby” to put me in the holiday spirit. She knows how much I love Ryan Gosling!

In it, Ryan and his wife attend a holiday party and the host mentions to his son that Santa is upstairs and may make an appearance later. Ryan, an adult man who somehow still believes in Santa, gets a little crazy when the host says that they aren’t going to meet the real Santa, as you’ll see in the video below (feedburner email readers, click on the link above).



I lost it when the host says, “Rudolph isn’t here, Gina.” And Ryan replies, “Then how the f$%# did Santa get here, David?!”

All kidding aside (and now that I have your attention!), this video reminded me of a very important quality, and one that Christmas was built on, and really, many holidays in general: BELIEF

Not belief in Santa Claus, but belief in something bigger and most of all, in ourselves.


Struggles and Believing in Yourself Again

As I sit here with my family and friends on this holiday, I’m thinking about all the struggles I’ve been through this past year and how grateful I am that belief got me through it.

My husband lost his job over a year ago. He was a talented marketing director and clothing designer, but at age forty-seven, every job he interviewed with said he was “overqualified”—meaning they couldn’t afford him and were looking for someone younger. As a last resort, he even applied to jobs that paid a little above minimum wage without any luck.

I made some changes just to get by. As much as it pained me, I slowed down the WOW e-zine’s publishing schedule because I couldn’t afford to pay for lengthy content on a consistent basis that also needed to be edited, graphically designed, and coded into the site. My plans for the new mobile interactive WOW community site were put on the back burner. I took up freelance writing gigs, blogging, marketing, and graphic design jobs. I taught myself how to code and design websites. Admittedly, I also took out a few credit cards...

Then one day I sat down with my husband and asked him what he really wanted to do if money weren’t an issue. He said he wanted to open a local nonprofit business to help cancer patients. He’d worked in this area before and was a caregiver to his mother who had several types of cancer for many years before she passed away, and it made him feel like he was doing something real and good in the world.

And from that moment forward, it was a series of small steps that moved us towards our goal. It seemed impossible, but we found the perfect business space a week later, and an investor a week after that. We signed a lease, began construction, and opened up a month later. It’s been around six months now and we’re going strong. Don’t get me wrong; we’ve had numerous setbacks—including a change of partners and a break-in—but it was our belief that got us through.

I had lost my belief in myself and in my writing, but because I believed in him and us, I found that belief again in myself and in my work as a writer. The more I wrote the more I believed, the better I felt, and things started to change.

Believing in Yourself as a Writer

One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed in successful writers and those that haven’t had much success or give up isn’t talent or opportunities. It’s the belief that they can achieve their goals.

Without belief in yourself, there is self-doubt, uncertainty, fear, and ultimately failure. This is the number one thing that holds many writers back, and I admit it has held me back in the past. We compare our work to others and lose belief in our own work. We give up before we reach the finish line because we can’t turn off our inner editor or are afraid of failure. The thing is, you have to have belief and keep working. When you have belief, you trust that all your hard work will pay off.

For example, in 2002, Markus Zusak began to write a book.

He started by outlining the beginning and end of the story. Then he listed pages and pages of chapter headings—some that eventually made it into the final book, and some that were cut.

He began writing the story from the perspective of Death. He wasn’t happy with it.

He re-wrote the book through the perspective of the main character. It didn’t come out the way he wanted.

He tried writing it from an outsider’s perspective, then in the present tense, and then the past tense. Nothing seemed to flow.

Zusak rewrote the first part of the book 200 times. And that 200th time he went back to his original choice and wrote it from the perspective of Death. And this time, it felt right.

When it was all said and done it had taken Zusak three years to write The Book Thief.

And we all know how that story ends: New York Times best seller for over 230 weeks; 8-million copies sold; translated into 40 languages; movie option for a major motion picture.

When the book was released, Zusak said, “In three years, I must have failed over a thousand times, but each failure brought me closer to what I needed to write, and for that, I’m grateful.”


He didn’t give up when he failed. He maintained belief in himself as a writer and trusted that his hard work would pay off.

How can you apply this to your life right now?

It doesn’t take a major life struggle like I went through to force belief in yourself. Instead, you can put into practice a few things that will make it come naturally:

Stick to a consistent schedule: if you waste time trying to decide when or where to work, you’ll end up not working at all. 

Some of the most successful writers had a daily routine:

- Franz Kafka would go to work from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm, eat lunch and then take a nap until 7:30 pm, exercise and eat dinner with his family, and then begin writing at 11 pm for a few hours every night.

- Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4 am, writes for five hours, and then goes for a run.

- Maya Angelou rented a hotel room and went there every morning at 6:30 am and wrote until 2 pm, went home and edited.

What can you do? Whether it’s fifteen minutes or a few hours, try to stick to a consistent schedule for one week. Just one week! See if that works and go from there. Trust me, you’ll feel different after week one.

Don’t be afraid to write garbage: every idea isn’t a masterpiece...we have to get all the mediocre ideas out of the way to get to the good stuff. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect.

Give yourself some small wins: when you need build confidence, set small goals that are easily obtainable. Whether it’s a publication that may be lower paying but you know they’ll accept your work or a guest post or blogging twice a week. This is a small win that you can celebrate.

Find someone to hold you accountable: I wouldn’t have written this post today if our blog manager, Marcia Peterson, hadn’t assigned it to me. Thanks Marcia for always keeping me in line! I think we all hold each other accountable here in the WOW community, and I love that we can be in this environment and grow together as writers.

Affirmations: replace negative thoughts and self-doubt with a positive statement. Keep it in the present tense and say it out loud. “I am a great writer! Today I let go and let it flow onto the page!”

If I have a wish for you this magical holiday, it’s to believe in yourself.

Merry Christmas!

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

 

Goodreads Annual Reading Challenge

Each year Goodreads, a social networking site for book lovers, allows you to challenge yourself to read more books. It has a widget on its page called the Reading Challenge.

For the Reading Challenge, you select how many books you’d like to read in the coming year, and then each time you read a book, you share it on Goodreads and the Reading Challenge widget tracks it for you. At the end of the year, it provides you with statistics about the books you’ve read, like total number of pages, average length, most popular, and least popular book.

I read 25 books in 2014, so I challenged myself to read 30 books in 2015, and sadly I’m going to fall short at only 16 books. Although, to be fair, one of the “books” I logged was actually a four-book series. And I don’t log the textbooks I read for school. But still, I fell short of my goal.

This, however, is higher than the national average, according to the Pew Research Center: “Among all Americans, the average number of books read in the previous year was 12 and the median number of books read was four. Some 27% of adults said they hadn’t read any books over the past year.”

If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to check out Goodreads and then sign up for the 2016 Reading Challenge. And then add me as a Goodreads friend so we can hold each other accountable for our goals and help our national average to exceed 12 books per year.

How many books have you read this year? What books would you recommend for our readers’ 2016 Reading Challenge?

Written by Anne Greenwalt, who recommends The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

 

Beware of Destination Addiction in Your Writing Career

I posted this photo on WOW!'s Facebook wall the other day, and we received more responses than usual! I know it hit a nerve with some of you. Since others might not have seen it, I thought I would take the opportunity on my blog post day to tell you why I chose to put it on a Facebook page about writing. It's not really about writing. . .or is it?

Of course, "destination addiction" is mostly about our personal lives--having the attitude of. . . I'll be happy if I can just buy the right house, if I can just get a fiance, if I can just save money to buy that new car, and so on. Most of us realize that it is actually not the destination that makes us happy, once we have achieved something like a new house and still felt dissatisfied. SO what does make us happy?  It is different for every individual, but it is often the process, the work, the people you are spending time with, the adventures you are having on the way to your destination.

I think this pertains to writers more than almost any other profession (or maybe creative types in general, I should say). Writers are always thinking: if I could just get published or if I could just sell 1000 copies or if I could just win this writing contest or if I could just get a contract with an advance--then I would be happy or successful or both.

But why do you write? Sure we all dream of fame--okay most of us. But that is not why we started writing. If we want fame or fortune, there are much easier ways to go about getting both than pouring our hearts into a manuscript that someone might want to read and pay us for.

I think we have to be careful of destination addiction with our writing careers. I've had it. I got published, and I was very happy for a minute, but that's when the real work began--that's when I had to market myself and worry about writing too.

We will soon be making goals for 2016 or maybe you already have. Just remember--goals are great and can help you stay focused, but you also need to enjoy the steps you take while reaching the goal. Don't let destination addiction steal the joy you can feel right now during the process.

Margo L. Dill is a writing coach, editor, and children's author in St. Louis, MO. She teaches online classes for WOW! Women On Writing on novel writing. To find out more, please visit http://www.margodill.com .

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Monday, December 21, 2015

 

COG Page To Screen

Daniel Handler a.k.a. Lemony Snicket
Are you a student, professor or inexplicably involved in some way with Cogswell Polytechnical College? If not, I have good news for you! They're holding a contest (students, professors and others involved with the school ineligible) called COG Page to Screen Awards. Admit it, you've played that game where you plan which Hollywood A-listers would play your characters when you sell the movie rights. Well, Cogswell may not have any Hollywood A-listers on speed dial but part of the prize for their contest is bringing your work to life as "an animated short film, 2D animation, graphic novel or series of interpretive illustrations by students in Cogswell's celebrated Digital Art & Animation program." The winner will also receive

  • online publication
  • $250
  • a blurb about your creation by Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) who is judging the contest

You can submit your unpublished short story or creative nonfiction piece of less than 7,000 words until March 31. Multiple submissions are welcome ($17 per submission). Winners will be announced in May. You can submit your creation here.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

 

Resolutions: Read to Fuel Your Writing

I have something of a love-hate relationship with writing resolutions. Part of the problem is that I’m fortunate enough to make my living writing. This means that meeting paying deadlines is going to take precedence over a resolution every time.

Because of this, I’ve decided against your typical writing resolution in 2016. Instead, I’m going to fuel my writing with a reading challenge. I found these challenges online.

The Unconventional Librarian’s Diversity Reading Challenge for 2015. I used this challenge last year although I didn’t start it until I found it in February. The Unconventional Librarian is a children’s librarian so this is a great one if you write for children. That said, the challenges weren’t “read a picture book about” or “read a young adult novel featuring” so I stretched things. My book about someone on the autism spectrum was an Australian adult novel, The Rosie Project. The 2015 challenge was posted on January 1st so I’m hoping the 2016 will be coming in a few weeks.

The 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. This is a 24 task challenge so I could do two a month. The majority involve reading an entire book. One is to read a play. Another is to read a comic. A lot of the challenges are genre specific – read a memoir, read historic fiction, etc. But there are also challenges that involve diversity in terms of geography, culture and gender identification. No matter what you write, this could broaden your reading and thus your writing.

The Reading the World Challenge. Author/editor Ann Morgan did this challenge in 2012. She read a book from every country worldwide in one year. I like “every country in the world,” but finding an English-language book from every country is tough. That said, Morgan published her book list so I can use it as a starting point. I think the diversity element would be valuable for my writing. Imagine. Cultural input from 196 countries. But that’s also 196 books in one year. This would be much more do-able for me as a five year goal.

I like these challenges vs coming up with my own because each would push me to choose books I wouldn’t consider on my own. I think I’m going to go with the Book Riot challenge. I’m printing that off now. I’m also going to print off a black and white world map. I really like the idea of doing that one as a five year plan so I’ll be coloring things in as I go.

Anyone care to join me in a writers reading challenge?

--SueBE
Sue is the instructor for our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins on January 11, 2016.

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

 

Blog Tour Preview for Jennifer-Lynn Keniston’s Novel Afta-U

Sometimes decisions made in an instant can echo throughout a lifetime.

In the pages of her new novel, Afta-U, Author Jennifer-Lynn Keniston, takes us into the heart of Jean Cartwright Rhodes, a woman who is struggling to come to grips with the heartbreaking and senseless death of her childhood best friend, Hope. Twenty-nine years after the fact, Jean fights for her very sanity as she confronts the dark web of relationships and intrigue that appear to have been set in motion by a split-second decision she made in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Afta-U is an adult mystery/suspense novel for ages 17 and older. The book is complex and sometimes dark, and filled with Christian messages.

Jennifer's WOW! Blog Tour launches on January 18, 2016.

About Jennifer-Lynn Keniston
:
Raised in Hanson, Massachusetts, the author earned a Master of Arts degree in English, from Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with a concentration in writing and a minor in philosophy, from Plymouth State College in New Hampshire. Jennifer-Lynn currently works as a project manager for a company that provides cloud software products for call centers at small, medium, and enterprise companies. In April 2014, she started her own business, Ansel Resume Resolution Services LLC, writing resumes and cover letters. She now lives and writes in Concord, New Hampshire, and enjoys teaching Spinning classes in her free time.

We are seeking bloggers to review the book and Jennifer is also open to interviews and guest blog posts. A list of topics include the following:

Fiction:

  • The unexpected joy found in writing an inherently evil antagonist.
  • Embracing Christian themes while writing Afta-U.
  • Who is in Control? Christian ideal of learning how to “Let Go, Let God.”
  • Connecting with my child-like self while writing Afta-U.
  • How the Greytown/Graytown lighthouse with its Fresnel lens was inspired from the sign of Dr. T J Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby.
  • How to leave the rollercoaster of emotions on the page/computer screen when stepping away from writing a dark novel.

Non-Fiction:

  • The name “Ansel” and the impact on this story and in the naming of my own resume business.
  • A big picture and cast of characters: How being a Project Manager helps me to become a better storyteller.
  • Conducting resume interviews and how the writer in me pulls out missing and key information; How “Wow, I’d hire me! You have a Gift!” is like hearing a praise of a character I created in my story.
  • How creating and instructing an Interval energy zone Spinning class, is on a much smaller scale, comparable to the writing, editing, and release of a novel into print.
  • Entwining scenes from a fictitious town with my childhood town still at heart, and capturing the four New England seasons and familiar feel.



Interested in hosting Jennifer Lynn-Keniston and receiving content for your blog? E-mail Blog Tour Manager Renee Roberson at renee@wow-womenonwriting.com and let her know if you would like to review the book, interview the author, or receive a guest blog post.


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Friday, December 18, 2015

 

Honor Your Writing: what I’ve learned practicing yoga

In September, I started going to yoga. I expected it to help with my back, and it has.  The surprise for me was how many of the principals also apply to writing. Chief among these is “Honor Your Body.”

When you think “yoga,” you no doubt picture someone doing one of those contortionist poses. Those are all well and good if you can do them, but even with the simplest poses, our instructor reminds us to honor our bodies. Don’t do x if we have bad knees. Bad shoulders? Then don’t do y. Hip problems? Then skip z. Yoga isn’t one-size-fits-all. You have to adjust it according to who and how you are.

That’s a lot like writing.  Whenever we find a new technique or hear a new piece of advice, BIC/butt-in-chair comes to mind, we are tempted to try to make it work exactly as it was presented. When I first heard the advice BIC, it was explained to me that I should treat writing like a full-time job. Simply put -- BIC 8 hours a day. While that might work for some people, I can’t write that long every day. It’s just not how I’m wired and trying to force myself to stay in place for 8 hours just aggravates me.

Likewise, if you are a plotter and you try to follow the advice to just let your writing flow without a strict plan, you may find that you accomplish nothing. You need the sense of direction that an outline provided. A pantser, on the other hand, who tries to methodically plot out her work may find her prose turning wooden when she tries to work from a detailed plot. 

Honor yourself. Honor how you work.

That isn’t a free pass to avoid developing better habits or trying something new. Something else I’ve learned in yoga is that each day your body responds a little differently than it did the day before. Pay attention to how things are working today. A pose that was easy to achieve yesterday, may be torture next week. Pay attention.  Understand why.  Honor your body.

If your writing flowed last week but it isn’t this week, pay attention.  Is there a problem with the project? Are you not feeling well?  Needing more sleep? Sometimes we need to change how we work or what we are doing in our down time.  It isn’t a sign of failure.  It simply is. Just because a technique worked yesterday or last week doesn’t mean that it will continue to work without having to adjust it. Honor your work.

Sometimes the solution is simply to relax into it.  Yoga requires a great deal of strength but you can’t muscle your way through the poses. Some twists require relaxation and you can’t slip into the full pose until you manage to relax that muscle in your hip. It isn’t something you can lie to yourself about. Be aware. Honor your body.

Some things in writing are achieved only through hard work. You have to write and write some more to learn to write well.  But that liveliness that pulls in readers?  You can’t force it.  You have to learn to let go.  Relax into your writing. Have fun.  It’s be best way to honor your work and your reader.


--SueBE

Sue is the instructor for our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins on January 11, 2016.

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

 

A Giving Kind of Writing Challenge

I woke up this morning thinking about a few people on my shopping list and wondering what I would give them. I had a couple writing projects still to finish as well, and so before I even completely opened my eyes, my brain was pinging with all these challenges.

And that, my friends, is an inside look into a writer’s brain and how lounging about in bed can sometimes lead to a splendiferous idea. To wit:

This December, how about challenging yourself to give a few words to the writers you know? Just a teensy bit of your time and talent, little thoughts here and there to spread a little writer cheer.

Do you have a writer friend who has a blog? Write a comment on the latest post, thanking her (or him) for all the words shared and enjoyed.

How about those friends who are published in magazines? You can often find the online version of the magazine, and you can read the story or article and leave a comment there.

But maybe your writer friend has a story in an anthology, a Chicken Soup for the Soul kind of book. That calls for a personal email, just a quick note of congratulations.

And of course, if your writer friend has her very own book, you can take a moment to leave that nice review you’ve been meaning to write. Or maybe “like” a review that’s already listed. Take a picture of the book if you see the title out in a bookstore or library and share the spotting in your social media with a “Hey! Look at my friend’s fabulous book.” A little writer recognition (and promotion) is always great for lifting spirits.

Or maybe your writer friend’s been generous with critique, a line edit, or terrific feedback on something you’ve written. Maybe she’s sat through hours long lunches, commiserating. Give that friend a heartfelt note of appreciation.

Spend a few extra moments lounging about in bed and get creative with your own ideas for this splendiferous December writing challenge. Then take a moment or two to send a kind word here and there to writers you love. I promise you’ll prove that old adage correct.

It really is better to give than receive!

~Cathy C. Hall









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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

 

Crash! Crunch! Cabang! Where have all the Literary Devices Gone?

by Gila Green

Writers are forever hearing they need to improve their writing skills. No matter what we produce and how frequently, there’s always some well-meaning editor, fellow writer or classmate hinting that you can never learn enough about writing.

Interpret that as you wish. Perhaps, you see great writing as an exercise bike you need to ride forever, or like a sink in which dishes grow (if it’s anything like my kitchen sink). Either way most of these messages are downers.

The answers we’re given repeatedly once we ask that inevitable question—How does a writer improve her craft?—are often framed as more of a chore than a bowl of cherries.

No doubt you’ve read that writers have to be voracious readers, readers so starved for reading material that only the dry end of a book cover or sharp end of a kindle is true nourishment. Food is blasé in comparison, simply providing enough fuel for you to swallow the next page.

The other most common response I’ve read to this question of how to improve your writing is to simply write. Write we are told! Even if your words are headed for the trash, eventually the cream will rise to the top, the garbage will fall to the dregs, either metaphor, the route to victory is to produce yet more writing.

Number three on my list of most popular advice is to review grammar and sentence structure, to shake the cobwebs off of an old Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and commit it to memory.

All of this advice has some merit.

But never do I read what I think is equally good advice (if not better, OK, I think it’s better): brush up on your literary devices. Yes! It bears repeating: brush up on your literary devices.

There are a variety of reasons why this is my number one, though far less popular answer. I’ll give you three here. First, they are fun. When you are having fun and enjoying the writing process, you will automatically improve your writing. Your mood and enjoyment will sizzle onto the page. It’s fun to attempt an alliteration (repeated consonants). Try it right now. Here’s my stab: “They appeared chained to their chairs, like anesthetized chimpanzees.” Pure amusement.

What is more merry: memorizing the difference between its and it’s or manipulating onomatopoeia into a sentence? Ker-plash! The wet towel smacked him in the face. Crunch! Uh oh. What did she just sit on? That has to motivate you to write better far more than reading about evil adverbs for the umpteenth time. I had to stop myself from adding another example because let’s face it: boing, snort, plop, plop, fizz fizz are fun to write.

Then there’s one of my favorite literary devices: description. Consider how delightful it is to experiment with vivid verbs. The bus bleated for the passengers to board, instead of the usual honked; or she melted onto her chair, instead of sat down. Is it possible that this might encourage better writing and be just as effective as reading every genre, including the telephone directory or writing, possibly for years, until your best works jumps out at you or doing another spellcheck? Absolutely.

There are so many literary devices to choose from; even a quick review should jazz up your work in no time.

***

Canadian Gila Green moved to Israel in 1994. Her novel King of the Class was released in April 2013 by NON Publishing, Vancouver. Her stories and articles appear in tens of literary magazines in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, Israel, UK and Hong Kong. Her collection, White Zion, is a finalist for the Doris Bakwin Award and her work has been short-listed for WordSmitten's TenTen Fiction Contest, the Walrus Literary Award, the Eric Hoffer Best New Writing Award and the Ha'aretz Short Fiction Award. Gila has an MA in Creative Writing and an undergraduate journalism and English literature degree. Please visit: www.gilagreenwrites.com


*****

Join one of Gila Green's upcoming online classes!


Visit our classroom page for details and enrollment.

*****

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Monday, December 14, 2015

 

Proper Spelling Is Arbitrary...Or Is It?

I am young enough to have grown up with a spellchecker on my word processors, and I depend on it more often than I should. I hold my breath and wait for the red squiggles to appear under a word, or, even better, Word automatically changes words for me and I don’t even notice it. Sometimes I write so fast that I can’t remember to use affect vs. effect. Or I accidentally type “its” instead of “it’s.”


As a professional writer and writing instructor, I feel like I need to uphold a solid grasp of American-English spelling and other Standard English rules. When I fall short, I feel embarrassed and guilty. Can anyone else relate to that?

Not all writers and English educators would agree with me. Anne Trubek, former associate professor of Rhetoric and Composition at Oberlin College, wrote: “Consistent spelling was a great way to ensure clarity in the print era. But with new technologies, the way that we write and read (and search and data-mine) is changing, and so must spelling.”

My gut reaction to her thesis is “noooooo!” because communication is difficult enough using a standard language. But when I pause to think about engaging in looser rules on spelling, I just think “hmmm” and wonder if it would work, if we could still communicate effectively.

Her idea is not a new one – she has been writing articles about looser spelling rules since at least 2012 – but the idea is still relevant and up for debate.

Trubek argues that language is constantly in flux as our culture and communications technology evolves, so therefore it’s natural for our spelling, grammar, and punctuation rules to evolve, too. For example, she writes: “The most widely used American word in the world, OK, was invented during the age of the telegraph because it was concise. No one considers it, or abbreviations like ASAP and IOU, a sign of corruption.”

So what if we use “1” for “one” or “UR” or “your” for “you’re” or “thru” for “through”?

“It doesn’t matter,” writes Trubek. “The messagee will still understand our message.”

So I ask you – writers, aka lovers of language – what do you think of Trubek’s proposal to de-standardize the English language? Check out her article and the podcast and return to the comments to weigh-in on the debate!

Brought to you by Anne Greenawalt aka lover of language

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Keeping the Happy in the Holidays


I admin a local parenting group and recently asked members of the group to share tips, tricks, and ideas for helping parents get through the holidays with a smile. I’m happy to say, the group came up with some great ideas to help parents, writers, and anyone who finds themselves stressing out during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. I wish I could tell you firsthand how I smile and laugh my way through the end of the calendar year, but admittedly…I’m a hot mess and I’m counting on these tips and tricks to help make me a little more hot and a little less mess (if you know what I mean…wink wink).

1) Make time for nothingness – you could go without sleep the entire month of December and still not run out of things to do. There will always be one more cookie to frost, corner to clean, dress to iron, paragraph to proof, gift to buy, etc… but if you spend every waking moment being busy, you’ll completely miss out on the fun. There’s nothing wrong with popping up some popcorn and watching a Hallmark Christmas Movie. Whether you have someone to watch it with or not, putting your feet up will be as enjoyable for your body as it is for your soul. Give yourself permission to do nothing and try to do this at least once a week.

2) Say no – this is tough, isn’t it? You’ve got deadlines, people counting on you, holiday parties, fundraisers, food to prepare, outfits to buy, things to make, cards to send, and the list goes on (and on and on). Did you realize that no one is going to die if you don’t send Christmas cards this year? In fact, a phone call may be a little more personal and more appreciated. It’s okay to simply attend the Advent luncheon instead of being on the planning committee or the cleanup crew. You may just have to ask cousin Gertrude or Auntie Alice to make the peanut butter balls this year or purchase the cookies instead of spending an entire weekend baking them (and if you take them out of the store container and put them on a pretty plate, it can be our little secret…people will think you spent hours slaving in the kitchen).

3) Ask for help – yes you Superwoman! It’s fine to take off your cape and hand it to someone else for a few hours. Your neighbor would love to help the kiddos wrap Christmas presents and the local shop owner can help you pick out just the right teacher’s gifts. I have a girlfriend who puts together teacher gift baskets and she’s happy to take my check and drop off gorgeous season gift baskets. Your spouse, neighbor, friend, relative would be quite happy to lend a hand. Sometimes it’s a great way for them to spread holiday cheer while helping reduce your stress. Don’t be ashamed to spend that free time writing, drinking coffee, jotting down ideas in your journal, or taking a bubble bath. You deserve it!

What are some things you’ve done in the past to help reduce some of the holiday stress in your life? What works? What does NOT work? Share your ideas as I’m sure they’ll be of value to others!

Happy Holidays from our family to yours and may your New Year be as fabulous as you are!

Crystal is a church musician, babywearing mama, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 8, Andre 7, Breccan 2, and Delphine 9 months), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff at:http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/
and here: http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

 

Why We Love Wicked and What We Can Learn From It

Today, I'm taking my daughter to see the musical, Wicked, for the first time. We are both super excited and have been listening to the CD in the car, singing the songs, and discussing the plot for a week. But since this is a blog about writing, I won't bore you with our favorite songs or quotes or characters. Instead, I thought I'd discuss what I feel makes this such a "Popular" show and maybe some of these ideas can help with a project you are working on.

1. It's based on a story most of us know and love. 
This has become a successful tool for many writers, and it's not really a new technique. Think of the number of Cinderella and Peter Pan stories there are or how about even Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? The author of Wicked and the writers of the play and music have shown us a more human side to the Wicked Witch of the West, a character many of us feared growing up. (Come on, you can admit it.) We all want to get the inside scoop, and that's what Wicked does for us--it extends our love for The Wizard of Oz and gives us a new way to look at those classic characters.

2. It's clever.
If you've never seen this musical, you can easily Google "lyrics from Wicked" and read the song lyrics to see how clever this show is. One of the Elphaba's songs (the Wicked Witch of the West who is a mere young lady trying to fit in at school, with green skin and magical powers) has this line: "I'll be  so happy I could melt!" (HA! If she only knew what happens when Dorothy arrives...) Even her name is clever--derived from the initials of the author of Wizard of Oz-- L. Frank Baum (L F B). We also learn the reasons for a lion without courage, a man made out of a tin, and a talking scarecrow. And finally, there's an answer of why those darn ruby red slippers are so important to the green lady. If you can be witty and clever in  your writing (or funny), then do it. Your audience will love it--people love to be reading along or watching a movie and think: ah-ha, I get this--now I am clever too!

3. The universal themes resonate with all of us.
I really think this is the main reason why Wicked keeps selling out show after show. Yes, the music is catchy, and because of the two reasons above. But both the novel and the musical are about a friendship between two women that withstands jealousy, corruption, and near-death and comes out even stronger than when it started. Plus, the themes of power, love, fitting in, family struggles, media frenzy, and more are explored while we are singing and laughing along with the two witches. Universal themes are present in fiction (or should be) as well as memoirs. What are the themes you are exploring and are they important to people? Answer these two questions, and your work will touch the readers who get to enjoy it.

So we are off to Wicked! But before we go, I have to leave you with one of my favorite song lyrics of the entire show and one that I think will mean something to many of the readers of this blog:

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I'm through with playing by the rules
Of someone else's game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It's time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes and leap!

It's time to try
Defying gravity


Margo L. Dill is a writing coach and children's writer in St. Louis, MO. Find out more at http://www.margodill.com or check out the class she teaches in the WOW! Women On Writing classroom.

photo of Elphaba by The Western Sky on Flickr.com 

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

 

Adding Depth to Your Writing: Creating Three-Dimensional Characters


Recently a writing buddy ran a new chapter through our critique group. “I’m having troubles making my characters feel three-dimensional. I’d love suggestions.”

As I read through her work, I noticed that she had plenty of details. We know her character’s hobbies, her favorite class and the things that she regrets. In a sense, it feels like it should be enough but somehow it isn’t. As much detail as she’s provided, it all still feels very superficial.

I’d love to say that I was wildly helpful. But I wasn’t.

Then I read a blog post by Marcy Hatch on deeper characterization. She discusses a characterization exercise that encourages the writer to consider her character’s third tier emotion.

Here is how it works using the book that I’m currently reading – Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey. When Dorrie catches bullying Tiffany making fun of her favorite librarian and swordplay teacher, she sticks up to the other girl and finds herself challenged to a duel. What is Dorrie feeling when she discovers what the other girl is up to?

Her first emotion is outrage at what Tiffany is saying about Mr. Kornberger. How can she be so mean? But it goes deeper than this.

Her second emotion is embarrassment. After all, Mr. Kornberger can be so . . . corny. Dorrie never sticks up to Tiffany. For the argument to go from disagreement to duel there has to be still more.

Dorrie is also frightened. Why? Because she does her best to emulate Mr. Kornberger. If he is embarrassment that Tiffany thinks he is, then what about Dorrie? Does this mean that she’s ridiculous too?

Taking your character’s emotion 1-2-3 levels deep gives you the depth that you need for an external conflict (sticking up for Mr. Kornberger). But it takes you beyond this to a deeper internal conflict, a conflict that gives your character and story added depth.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an e-mail to send to my writing buddy. I think this might be the fix she needs for her story. After that, I have a character’s life to complicate.

--SueBE

Sue is the instructor for our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins on January 11, 2016.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

 

Social Media Marketing - 5 Must-Know Tips to Getting Started

by Karen Cioffi

Most business owners have some kind of social media marketing in place. This is true for big business, small business, and home businesses.

But, if you haven’t really gotten your foot in the door, below are five steps to get an audience going.

1. Open an account in social networks you think will work well with your business.

There are lots of networks to choose from. A couple of the biggies are: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, GooglePlus, and Pinterest.

If you’re an author, you might create an account in JacketFlap and Author’s Den, and Goodreads. And, don’t forget to create an Amazon Author Profile.


2. Once you open the accounts, create a focused profile.

I work Twitter primarily and I see the craziest profile descriptions. Ones that give me no clear idea what the users’ intent or focus are. So, when you’re creating your profile imagine landing on it for the first time. What does that profile immediately say about you and your brand, your platform, your business?

People are in a rush. They need to instantly get the gist of what you’re about and what you’re offering.

You can check out my Twitter profile at: http://twitter.com/KarenCV

3. You absolutely, positively need a Profile image.

As surprising as it may seem, I still see social network profiles with generic avatars or ‘cute’ images of an egg, a pet, or a cartoon. This is crazy. If you don’t take the time to make your profile look somewhat professional, which must include a profile header or business logo, guess what, visitors will take note. Guaranteed you won’t be taken seriously.

Always consider the ‘time element.’ Your profile must be focused – mean and lean.

4. The social network header area is another must do.

Think about this one. You land on a profile that has a focused header and you land on one that has the generic default header, which would appear more professional. Which account would you feel would provide more valuable postings or offer more professional services?

Even if you’re on a tight budget, you can get a great header for $5 over at Fiverr.com.

5. The description

Your description will give the reader a quick gist of what you’re about, what you’re offering, and what your qualifications are.

Write tight and make it easy to understand.

Your profile description, the hashtags, and the header should all be highly focused.

Along with these five tips, don’t forget to post quality content on a regular basis and be active on your networks.

Karen Cioffi is a former accountant who is now a multi-award-winning author, ghostwriter, freelance writer, editor, and author-writer online platform marketing instructor. She founded and manages Writers on the Move (a marketing group), and presents online writing and marketing workshops and webinars.

Karen has published 12 writing and marketing eBooks, the most recent, Article Marketing: Increase Website Traffic with Properly Formatted and Search Engine Optimized Content.

In addition to this, Karen’s website, Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing, was named Writer’s Digest Website of the Week, June 25, 2012.

***********
Join Karen Cioffi's upcoming online class, 

GIVE YOUR AUTHOR/WRITER BUSINESS A BOOST 
WITH INBOUND MARKETING: 
Basic Website Optimization Tips,
Blogging Smart, Email Marketing,
and Social Media Marketing

Visit our classroom page for details and enrollment.

**********

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Tuesday, December 08, 2015

 

Why You Should Connect with Other Writers

I’m an introvert, plain and simple. Sure, I enjoy conversing with other people well enough, but stick me in a crowd of people I don’t know very well and I clam up pretty easily. Writing conferences intimidate me and I right now don’t belong to any critique groups. So when I was first asked to participate in panel discussion on how to make money freelance writing, I hesitated. I knew the organizer, but not any of the other three panel, which included an award-winning poet and a YA novelist. Would I really be able to sit down and have dinner with several people I didn’t know and then stand in front of 100 or so people and tell my story?

As the day of the event approached I grew more and more nervous. I typed and deleted notes on my topic, writing for magazines. I doubted myself. Did I really have enough experience to be giving advice? But a funny thing happened while I worked on my presentation, which fortunately, was low-tech and didn’t require me to do anything like running a PowerPoint. I looked over how much I have accomplished since I sold my first freelance article back in 2004 and it added up to a pretty well-rounded resume. I was pretty proud of myself, actually.

That confidence waned the night of the event—when I didn’t leave work early enough and got stuck in rush-hour traffic on the way to the restaurant where I was supposed to meet the other panelists for dinner. I arrived late, only to find that both organizers were even later than me, so it all worked out. We left the restaurant and headed over to the church for the event. As the room filled up, my mouth grew dry. We each had about eight minutes to talk, and then there was a Q&A session afterward. I got through my spiel and was surprised when several audience members had questions specifically for me and my "Do's and Don'ts of Pitching Magazines." I found I really enjoyed talking about my experiences in the industry and the time flew by. After the panel was over, I relaxed and chatted with even more of the audience members. In fact, we all had such a great time that the church had to kick us out so they could lock up the building. I guess you could call that a success—plus I got a free dinner and small stipend for my time.

So while it’s hard for me to put myself out there and attend events like these, I do see the benefit and won’t hesitate if I’m asked to do it again. I will also probably be joining the local chapter of the Women’s National Book Association soon, as some very persuasive members were there and did their best to recruit me. Twist my arm.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer with a successful business, Finished Pages. She has written hundreds of online and print articles and columns on a variety of topics, and loves to blog about all things related to books, movies, music and celebrity gossip and writing. She also works as a magazine editor and helps authors publicize their books as a blog tour manager for WOW! Women on Writing.
My fellow panelists: Karon Cuddy, Alice Osborn, (me) and Mica Gadhia.

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Monday, December 07, 2015

 

What To Give a Writer

It’s time for my annual holiday what-to-give-a-writer words of wisdom.

At first, I was a little stumped. I mean, I covered a lot of good stuff last year in “A Wish List for the Nice Writer.” And maybe you remember them all, but just in case you need a refresher:


· Permission to take time to write
· A writing class (like the ones we have here at WOW!)
· A professional critique
· Membership in a writing organization

But wait! The year before that, I covered the extra-special wonderfulness of the book review in “One Size Fits All Writer Gift.” So honestly, I had to dig deep to find more gift ideas. Thank goodness, I have long arms.


Literary Love, Part I

Oh, I just love writerish jewelry, don’t you? (Why is bookish a word but writerish not a word? Hmmph.) I have a pair of typewriter key earrings, one a “C” and one an “H” that I purchased from an artsy writer friend. Which brings me to my gift idea: show your love and support by purchasing gifts from your writer friends!

I have lots of writer friends who are creative in lots of different ways. Some make jewelry while others craft in fabric or sell their illustrations on mugs or in prints. Their creativity allows me to buy affordable one-of-a-kind gifts, not something I’ll see in every rack in every store. Plus, the gift has special meaning for me, knowing a friend made it. I treasure gifts like my earrings. And P.S. I also gift my friend every time I wear the earrings by promoting her business!


Literary Love, Part II

I also have writer friends who market their services. They’re editors, mentors, and teachers. They can help with anything from writing to website building. Some work on their own while others work through organizations or companies. I’m sure to find the specialized gift I need and best of all, I get to work with a friend!

And I can give my friends another gift, when I take the time to provide a great review on their services. Here’s where social media comes in handy, to tell the world what great editors, mentors and teachers are out there! A personal recommendation can make a big difference.

T'is the season, writers. Now go forth and spread a little cheer (and business)!

~Cathy C. (Deck the) Hall





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Sunday, December 06, 2015

 

Why We Need More Stories


If you are reading The Muffin, I assume you are a person who loves stories – to read and to write them. You read and write stories because you know no other way of being. You read and write because you have to.

But have you ever thought more deeply about why you need to consume and create stories? I have spent most of my life believing that reading and writing were frivolous leisure-time activities. But stories provide much more than simple enjoyment and entertainment.

Stories Are Powerful

Whether we’re creating fiction or nonfiction, we draw on aspects of our lives for content and the way we tell the story. We interpret our life experiences when we draw on them in storytelling. What we tell and how we tell it depends on how we interpret our experiences.

Likewise with reading stories, we draw on our life experiences to interpret them. That’s why several people reading the same story can understand it very differently.

Knowing we can use our interpretive powers on reading and writing stories can be empowering. We might not have much control over most of the events in our lives, but we do have some choice in how we interpret them. This opens up possibilities, helps us to see things differently, gain perspective, and learn about ourselves and others.

Why We Need More Stories

Keep writing stories, and keep reading them because when you do:

  • You learn.
  • You open your heart and mind.
  • You can change your perspective.
  • You make sense of your life and the world around you.
  • And you help others do all of the above, too. 

Happy writing!

Written by: Anne Greenawalt
Today’s post inspired by Narrative and the Practice of Adult Education.

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Saturday, December 05, 2015

 

There Are NO Hopeless Manuscripts


I had an interesting email exchange with one of my online novel writing students the other day. She has taken WOW!'s Writing a Novel With a Writing Coach: One-on-One Instruction a few times to work on a wonderful paranormal romance (think ghosts who have not solved their issues and are messing up life for a bright, young new house owner), and she wrote something like this in a recent email:

You are always so encouraging with your comments. I have to ask: is there a manuscript you have read and your first thought was this author should give up writing and take up something else?

I thought hard about this question before I answered her. And the truth is. . .no. I have never read a manuscript where I thought the author should give up. So I told her that, but then I also explained my answer.

First, I believe that everything we write has merit, of course, because for some reason, we were drawn to write it. Something inspired us, and we took the time to get those words on paper. Honestly, that is a huge accomplishment. I know when you're a writer, just getting the words on paper might not seem huge--but there are hundreds of people who say: "I should write something," and never ever do.

BUT. . .(there's always a but), this doesn't mean that every piece of writing is "good" or going to get published or even should be published. Have I read some lousy manuscripts? Yes, and some of these were mine! I do honestly believe that every manuscript can be improved and become a good piece of writing if authors are willing to revise and improve their craft. This could take a month or it could take a year.

This does not mean that this piece of writing is going to succeed in the publishing world--no matter how well-polished it is. When writers are considering publishing a piece themselves or seeking publication, then writing becomes a business, too, not just a creative endeavor. If the polished manuscript is too similar to Hunger Games or Harry Potter or Bridges of Madison County, then it probably won't be traditionally published. Self-publishing is always an option and reviews will probably be good if the novel is well-written, but in order to stand out, originality is important.

And let's face it--it's a wonder why some books hit the bestsellers list and others don't. But my student's original question was: do you ever feel like you should tell someone to give up? No, I don't! Even if I think the idea is not commercial, if the person is willing to work on her manuscript and does not have unreal expectations, then she should not give up.

I truly believe something I heard years ago at a conference: being a published writer is 10 percent talent and 90 percent persistence. If you are willing to put in the work(and it's not easy) your writing will improve and you will get published.

Margo L. Dill is a published author, writing coach, and WOW! instructor. To find out more, please visit: http://www.margodill.com.

computer photo above by orangeacid (Flickr.com)

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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

 

Finding the Images You Need

Because we are writers, we think of ourselves as word people. And that makes sense. After all, we communicate through the written word.

But there are times that a few well-chosen images can enhance our writing. This might be on your web site, your blog or even a brochure. A lot of writers are intimidated with this and either avoid using images altogether or go with ho hum images that came free with their word processor or other software.

I prefer to use photos either as simple photos or as photo badges. The image at right is a photo badge.

I used to take most of the photos that I used. I’m a so-so photographer and there were times that it was time consuming to get even a so-so image. I now have access to much higher quality photos now that I’ve learned to make use of photos with a Creative Commons License.

Creative Commons is a form of copyright that allows creators to append a copyright notice to their work. The notice tells you what rights are being offered. This array of rights can range from all rights to noncommercial no derivatives, meaning that you can use the photo as is in a non-commercial way. You can find out more about Creative Commons licensing at their web site.

When I want to use a photo, I look for an image with a CC0 license. This means that the work is “open use,” zero rights have been reserved. You can use it commercially or non-commercially in any way.

To find these kinds of images, search for CC0 photographs. Or visit one of these sites: Pexels, Unsplash, Skitterphoto, or Pixabay. There are other sites but these are the ones that I use most often. They are searchable although sometimes you have to get a little creative searching “blog,” “computers,” and “office” vs simply “office work.”

Take the time to seek them out and CC0 photos can provide the professional quality images that you need to enhance your writing. After all, words and images together pack a powerful punch.

--SueBE

Sue is the instructor for our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins on January 11, 2016.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2015

 

Interview with Michelle Dwyer: Spring 2015 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Meet Michelle:

Michelle fell in love with writing after taking her first creative writing class in high school. She took a break from the craft to attend to life’s details, but soon returned to her writing desk. She received a Master of Business Administration from Texas A&M University Central Texas and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from National University in La Jolla, California. She writes novels, and has just completed her breakout work, Intimate Nightmares, written under her pen name, Krymzen Hall. She is an avid runner, fitness enthusiast, and a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She has overcome many obstacles and has the highest respect for every individual running down a dream. Michelle has a ways to go, not there yet, but believes in the saying: Success is the journey, not the destination.

She lives in Texas and has two sons.

If you haven’t done so already, check out Michelle’s award-winning story “Taken for a Ride” and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: What was the inspiration for your short story, or what prompted you to write this particular story?

Michelle: Some years ago, I was out one morning with my son, and we drove past a carnival. He wanted to go. I pulled into the parking lot of the plaza where the carnival was located. I knew the carnival was closed because it was very early in the day and no cars were parked around it. I just wanted to see if the operating hours were posted along with ticket prices, etc. When I looked around, it was kind of eerie, kind of mystical to think a place that gets so populated could feel so barren. I mean, NOBODY was there. I said to myself, "I don't know the plot yet, but a story is coming and it will be evil."

WOW: Ooooh, just reading that description gives me chills! What do you enjoy the most and/or the least about writing?

Michelle: I love the creativity involved in writing stories and lending my voice to a world where I think I have enough skill to contribute something worthwhile. I hope that makes sense. The rejections are what I like least. In fact, I don't like them at all. Who does, right?

WOW: Right! No one has to like them, but it’s undeniable that we learn from them. And your thoughts on what you like best make sense to me. Contributing something worthwhile make the hard work worth it. What can you tell us about your novel Intimate Nightmares?

Michelle: Intimate Nightmares is the story of a couple struggling with tremendous secrets and learning how to forgive. The title is a play on words (of sorts) that ties cleverly into the story. The novel also centers on a well-developed cast of secondary characters who are affected by the choices of their friends, the main characters. It is a mix of crime, mystery, and romance involving a diverse group of people. The protagonist is married to a person of another race, so there is some racial tension in the book; however, the story does NOT focus on race and interracial relationships as its main theme. It is simply an added element that carries a small yet poignant amount of weight in the plot. I don't think there is a book on the market like this one. Thirteen years in the making. It's good stuff.

WOW: Wow! Thirteen years! Your persistence is paying off! Let us know when it’s published. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Michelle: Well, right now I'm reading Intimate Nightmares again to make sure I've caught any remaining hard-to-find typos before final printing, lol. But in all seriousness, as soon as I'm done proofing my book, I will finish The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch. In the story a woman struggles to regain her memory after a plane crash. I haven't reached the end obviously, but my guess is she is going to have a hard time processing the truth. It's hooked me.

WOW: If you could give other creative writers one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

Michelle: I don't think my answer to this question will ever change: Don't give up. I say that all the time. It's the best piece of advice any writer could receive. But, as I evolve as a writer, I also realize that there is something else that creative writers need to heed: Don't change a story simply because somebody tells you to. You have to create stories that you want told, from your heart, and developed by your own passion. You're gonna be criticized at some point by someone. As long as you’re writing a story from a good faith perspective, without trying to hurt anyone, write what makes you whole. Of course you should listen to opinions from experts who know their stuff, and revise accordingly if you think you should, but never change your story simply because a critic doesn't like it.

WOW: That’s wonderful advice. It’s so easy to get caught up in a critique, but staying true to yourself and your voice Anything else you’d like to add?

Michelle: When things go wrong, go write. ;)

WOW: Great advice! Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses. Happy writing!

Interview by: Anne Greenawalt

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