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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

 

Who Needs a Schedule?

I want to go out on a limb here and say...YOU! You need a schedule.We all do. If you have a schedule-phobia, then you might have stopped reading by now. If you're vigorously shaking your head no, then just bear with me for a few more hundred words and let me tell you why I think everyone needs to find a schedule that works for them.

You will write more.
If you have a schedule, you will write more. I haven't done an official study, but I have talked to enough writers and have been a writer long enough to know this is true 95 percent of the time. (Estimated statistics there--we are not math geniuses after all.) Usually, if you have given yourself a scheduled time to write, this also means that you've made writing a priority. And if you've made writing a priority, then you're writing more and on a consistent basis.

Without scheduled writing time, writing might be the thing on the list that occurs when you get around to it. We all know that many times those list items never get finished.

It doesn't have to be a typical schedule.
If you are NOT a schedule person, and you are still with me, then thanks for hearing me out. You see, scheduled writing does not have to mean that every day at 5am, you are going to wake up and write. There are all different types of plans that work for people--the point is really to have a planned writing time and stick to it. This is why several novelists have taken my "Write a Novel with a Writing Coach" class because the way the class is set up, it makes writers stick to a schedule. The schedule is: every Friday, they must turn in a chapter or 15 pages to me. So before Friday then, they have to plan writing time to get this assignment finished--some people do it the weekend before and revise during the week. Others write at night when their children go to bed. Some do it on their lunch hour.

Maybe you have a critique group that meets every three weeks. So your schedule is--I have to have two chapters to turn in every three weeks. Therefore, how much time do I need to write these chapters before that date? Maybe it's not the same time for you every day, but you know you'll need ten hours before that three week deadline, and you work your writing time in that way.

Having a schedule saves you time.
One thing I have started doing is before I get up from my computer to do anything (get a snack, go to the bathroom, put a load of laundry in), I open up the next thing I'm going to work on or I type a line for the next paragraph or chapter, etc. The point is: planning ahead of time what you are going to do saves you time. So, even if you have to make your writing schedule day by day because you have a totally hectic life, thinking about WHEN you can have planned writing time the very next day and WHAT you will work on helps you use your limited time wisely; and (I sound like a broken record) you will be more productive.

If you are a schedule person, tell us below how you use a schedule to work your writing into your life. If you are not, then let us know--does this post drive you crazy?

Margo L. Dill is a writing coach, editor, author and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. You can find out more about her writing and coaching business here and her books here


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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

 

Five Ways to Kill Your Inner Critic


            I admit it. I have an inner critic who sometimes rears her ugly head. Her name's Edith.

            Edith lives in a ratty bathrobe and dingy house slippers that slap-slap-slap across the cracked and peeling-up linoleum floor. Sitting at an old kitchen table, she glares at me over her cat-eye glasses while she chain smokes. Edith's always glad to cut down my writing. So whenever she shuffles in, I have to tell her to "Shut up and get out. Now."

This is Edith and her grandson. He was never eager
to visit his grammy. Is it any wonder why?

          Most writers deal with an inner critic. How do we get rid of them?

          1.  One way to vanquish them is what I just did. Give your critic a name. A face. Be specific with the details. That way, you'll realize the voice that says your writing stinks is not coming from inside you... and you can then pull the welcome mat out from under their feet.

         2.  Realize how unreasonable you are when you expect perfection out of yourself. I read an article by Homaira Kabir and I lovedlovedloved her line, "I am my shadow as well as my light." We're a blend of the good and the bad, the brilliant and the sucky.

           If I wasn't writing this for WOW, I might put it in a cruder way. But since I am, I'll word it like this: you must empty your bowels before you have the room to enjoy the next delectable serving batch of bread pudding.
     
          Give yourself permission to write sub-par stuff, because it will make way for the stuff that sings...

        3.  Reverse the golden rule. Treat yourself the way you treat others. If a someone told a friend, "Your writing is a steaming pile of poop," what would you say to encourage the colleague and dispel the negativity?

         Whatever you would say to them, say to yourself. Aren't you worthy of decent treatment?





4.  Imagine the worst-case scenario.

        If I submit this story, the editor will definitely send me a rejection letter. In fact, he/she will be
        so appalled by my writing, they'll call me on the phone, to ensure I get the message that I should
        never, ever send any of my stories to any market on the planet. Just in case I try to slip through           the cracks, they'll send my name and picture to every other editor and publisher as a digital
        "not wanted" poster.

        Then they'll use my story to wipe their rear end after using the toilet...

        Most likely this will not happen. But just imagining the wild things that might happen might make you chuckle.
        

5.  Use that negative energy to do something positive. In a New York Times article Carl Richards wrote about an email he got from Chip Scanlan which said, "Whenever I'm blocked... I lower my standards. Correction, I do my best to not have any standards at all. I abandon my standards. I urge myself to write badly, and once I do that my fingers begin to fly, and the inner critic is powerless."

          Richards went onto write, "What might happen if you took all the energy that goes in to judging your work and put it right back into the wellspring of creating the work instead?"
     

     If you'd like to read an article about lowering your standards to free your creative flow, read this article.

        What clever ways do you have to get rid of your inner critic? Please share--we could all benefit from what works for you.

Sioux Roslawski is tattooed (only two words--on her wrist). She's also the member of two writing critique groups, and will gladly sit down and talk about the writing process--what works for you, what doesn't... just say the word (she really gets excited and starts gesturing and spittle-ing when it comes to writing). In her spare time (she teaches middle-schoolers) she reads, writes (mostly for Chicken Soup until she has the courage to venture outside of that box) and rescues golden retrievers for Love a Golden. If you'd like to read more, go to her blog.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

 

Living Through My Own Version of “The Glass Castle”


A double rainbow over the home we hope to stay in for years to come.

This weekend, the film adaptation of Jeanette Walls’ powerful memoir “The Glass Castle” opened in theaters. I read the book a few years ago and couldn’t put it down. Although I was fortunate and didn’t grow up with parents quite as erratic as the author’s, there were so many parts of the story that resonated with me. In fact, when I showed the movie trailer to both of my kids a few days ago, I couldn’t help but break down and weep.

I had a step-father who thought nothing of moving us from place to place every few months, we were constantly dodging creditors throughout my childhood, and there were many times we moved into questionable places that he had grand plans to “fix up and make our dream house.” That would only last a few months, and then we would move once again, leaving behind a house or mobile home with modest renovations completed. I tried to put some of my feelings about this down in an essay I wrote a few years ago, titled “Moving.”

I learned to live in a constant state of flux, holding my breath and waiting for the inevitable. If my parents were unhappy with our living situation, we simply packed up all our things and left. By the time I was in seventh grade, I had attended six different schools and lived in more houses and mobile homes than I’ll ever be able to remember. The cars my parents drove changed just as frequently. I hated starting new schools and trying to make friends from scratch. The Hispanic heritage on my mother’s side, awkward haircuts and big bulky glasses left me a prime target for ridicule and bullying in my younger years. To this day, I cannot walk into a room full of strangers without feeling my skin crawl.

For a long time, I had issues with all the “things” I felt we were collecting in our home. I wasn’t used to being able to save so much, because I was used to only holding on to the bare minimum of possessions so we could be ready for the next move. While I still don’t like clutter, I’ve made peace with a few things, as I also wrote.

So I’ve come to realize that maybe it’s a good thing to have an entire bin in the garage full of artwork from my son and daughter. It is okay if we store some of their old toys in our attic so they can reclaim them someday. That is what normal families do. My kids both attended the same preschool and have grown up with the children at their elementary school. I never had that opportunity. I lived in so many homes, had so many babysitters and attended so many schools, that its often hard to remember details like street names and zip codes, much less what the inside of the homes looked like.

I admire the courage Jeanette Walls had to put her story out there, especially since her mother is still alive. From what I can tell from some of the interviews I’ve read with Walls, her mother Rose Mary came to terms with what she describes as  "how her daughter remembered her childhood" and now even lives with the author and her husband in a cottage on their property.

As for me, my parents divorced in 2004. My stepfather went on to remarry and did end up building his dream house out in Colorado—only he did it with his new wife and not with us. My mother lives in a small home two-bedroom home but is happy as she can be, because she is dependent upon her own survival and supports herself by working 40+ hours a week at a hardware store. She has lived in the same place since the divorce. My husband and I bought a new house back in April that has everything we could ever want in it and we don’t plan on moving anytime soon.

I hope to provide a different life for my kids than the one I had.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who resides in North Carolina with her husband and two kids.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

 

Mom Writers on Entertaining Toddlers

Lots of us write and work from home while wearing our Mom hat. Older children can be distracted with books, electronics, or other quiet activities. Toddlers are a different story. In an online group someone recently asked for ideas and tips on entertaining toddlers while writing from home. I've compiled a few ideas and suggestions that can be helpful. Please leave your comments, suggestions, and ideas in the comment section. (even just words of encouragement are greatly appreciated)

1) An empty cardboard box - provides endless fun and imagination. Add some washable markers or crayons to make a space-ship, or some blankets and pillows for a slumber party!

2) An inflatable ball pit/pool/bounce house - with or without the balls can be super fun. These don't last long in our house so I never buy anything too terribly expensive, and be prepared...if you do add balls, you'll be picking them up quite often. I like to think of it as my daily aerobic activity and the children really enjoy throwing them around (they're too soft to hurt anyone or anything).

3) Inexpensive toys - cheap toys from the dollar store (hard hats, Dr kits, etc...) can be a lot of fun. Even though they break easily, I don't usually care much since they're super cheap and instead of expecting the toddlers to share a pricier item, they can each have their own.

4) Old clothing - not sure what to do with that old prom dress, fancy blouse with the stain on it? Fill a box with those old items and allow the toddlers to play dress up. Just prepare yourself as some adventurous kiddos may attempt to take off all their clothing before putting on the dress clothes. I like to supervise this activity by asking them to show me each outfit after they've put it on and before they role-play.

5) Television - it's okay if sometimes you turn on a children's program so you can get some work done. My current favorite is Beat Bugs on Netflix because the songs are enjoyable as opposed to being annoying or just tolerable. I'm not a huge fan of television, but sometimes a mom has to do what a mom has to do, right?




As a mom with toddlers as well as older children, some of the best advice I can offer is that this too in time shall pass. It's not always possible to write from home with the children around. Sometimes I wait until they're in bed, sometimes I wait until someone else can watch them and I sneak off to a coffee shop, and other times I grab a notebook and we head outdoors or to the park where they can play a little more freely and I can jot down ideas.

Parenting isn't easy and neither is writing. Be forgiving of yourself and your children. I have a quote on my bathroom mirror reminding me::


I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection


What has worked for you? What advice can you offer to others? We love hearing from you and thanks in advance for your comments and support!

Hugs,
~Crystal




Crystal is a council secretary and musician at her church, birth mother, babywearing cloth diapering
mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 10, Andre 9, Breccan 3, Delphine 2, and baby Eudora due this fall), two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff here, and at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

 

Putting Your Story Aside

It’s no secret. I have a tendency to bounce between projects. In part, this is because I do work-for-hire and it may very well interrupt a “fun” project. Yeah, that’s what I call my own writing – my fun work. But it isn’t all that fun when you can’t make it work. 

About three weeks ago, I started playing around with a new preschool poem. It was originally a Golden Shovel poem in which you use one line from a poem you love for inspiration and to supply the first word in each line of your own poem. Mine first attempt was a riff on a Poe’s Eldorado. Kindly put, it was awful.

Version 2, written the next day, was longer and worked better except that it still contained blank lines. Version 3 had everything filled in but the rhythm was off. On Day 4, I’d change one word and then change it back. Then I’d do that with a different word. Fortunately, I recognized the signs and turned my back on this particular project.

After a break of about a week, I got it back out. Coffee cup in hand, it took about 10 minutes to fix. Why?  Because I was smart enough to turn my back on the project. 

Unfortunately, it sometimes takes intervention to make me do this. I've been working on a picture book. I LOVE the premise. LOVE IT. Really. But something wasn’t working. I added a secondary character, but things still weren’t quite right.  I took the secondary character back out. Then I printed the manuscript for my critique group.

But I kept hearing this little voice.  “Don’t let them read it. It isn’t ready.”  I brought the manuscript home and handed it to my husband. Then I ran and jumped in the shower. Lots of water would mask the sound of him turning pages. 

I didn’t bother to dry off completely before I hunted him down. “Well?”

“Yeah. It doesn’t work.”

“What? What do you mean it doesn’t work?” It’s one thing for me to think it doesn’t work but where does this non-writer get off?

“You’ve got way too much going on. Yeti. Yoga. Cats. Too much.”

“But . . . yeti!”

“Too much.”

He was right, of course. I’d known something wasn’t working but apparently this time I needed someone else to tell me to set it aside. Hopefully a solution will come in time, because -- yeti! Seriously, how can I not write about yeti?

--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 August 14th. 

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Friday, August 11, 2017

 

Friday Speak Out!: Taking Time to Write

by Amanda Crofutt

Balancing writing and my family has been something that I have struggled with since my first child. I now have three kids and two step kids. I think with time and practice it gets easier, but it is definitely something that is learned. I have written since I was a young teenager, writing was always an outlet for me. I am sure it is that way for many of us, but as I got older I discovered that I wanted to also inform people. I didn’t just want to put my emotions out there. Then at nineteen I had my first child, and I thought I would have to give it up. I loved him with all my heart, but at the same time I was a single parent struggling some days to find time to shower yet alone to write a quality essay of any length for anything, or anyone. As he got a little older I realized that as much as I loved my child I had left everything I had once loved behind for him. I had to start making time for me again. I had this Epiphany around the time he was almost a year old. I met my now husband around the same time, there is a lot that he helped me through but that is something that can be talked about some other time.

I realized that I needed to dedicate an hour to me a day, that was my magic number, as I call it anyway. The amount of time I spent doing something solely for me that made me feel good and happy and whole. I started by dedicating that time to writing, spending time at a lake, walking. As I did I realized what had been missing for a year was me, and my writing. I don’t know about most of you, but writing is how I make sense of the world around me. So to lose that most sacred part of me was almost like someone had cut out a large chunk of my heart. When I had my second child two years later I did not let up off of having one hour a day to myself, and now that I have five kids I still have one hour a day to do what I please, to write, to experience, to live life without thinking of being mom first and writer second.

The point of all of this is, find your magic number. It may be different than mine. It took me almost three weeks to figure out that it was an hour every day for me. It may be two hours every day for you. It may be an hour every other day. Find it, and then hold yourself to it until it is second nature. Take that time to take a walk so you can hear the birds, finish another chapter in your book. Maybe you just need an hour binge-watching your favorite show. We all get inspiration from different places, but find yours, take it and turn into something. You can’t do that without dedicated time to write. Here’s to your next piece.

* * *
My name is Amanda, I have been a writer since my early teen years. Now I am a mom of five with a full time job. I have been married for three years to a veteran, which comes with its own ups and downs. I have recently decided to take to publishing my work. Visit: https://amandacrofutt.wordpress.com/  

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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Thursday, August 10, 2017

 

The Best Laid Schemes: When Life Forces a Writing Moratorium

Ten days ago, I was in a car accident. Days later, after trying to ignore a constant headache, sick stomach, and concentration difficulties, a visit to the emergency room produced the diagnosis; I had a concussion.

"The best laid schemes. . . "
-Robert Burns
I hear about concussions all the time. Student athletes at my school frequently suffer from them. I knew these students struggled to keep up with school work but, until ten days ago, I didn’t realize what an impact a concussion could have on a person’s daily life.

The doctor’s instructions were simple: No reading. No writing. No computer. No phone. No television. I was to rest in a darkened room as much as possible until the symptoms subsided.

These instructions would be a tough pill for anyone to swallow, but I’m a writer. I’m a teacher. I’m a blogger. I’m a mom. It’s the last two weeks of summer break! I’m in the middle of manuscript edits requested by an agent!

All my work plans came crashing to a halt. I couldn’t write or read. I felt lost. Worse, I felt woefully behind on my progress and was worried how my writing aspirations would suffer from the loss of this precious time.

As I sat on the sofa, staring at the wall, I had to think of other ways to stick to my goals. I thought about my work in progress – the characters, the plot progression, the ending – and had time to contemplate each one. Small plot holes came to mind. I started to “talk out” the book with my husband and friends – anyone who would listen, really, because sitting on a couch in a darkened room all day is enough to bore anyone to tears - and they helped me find solutions to my problems. I couldn’t write, but I could think and talk. I had my daughter jot down important notes for me as new ideas emerged.

Parts of the book which plagued me began to take shape. I was fixing them – not in writing form, but in my head. I imagined the story, which was just as vivid as writing it down.

As for the no-reading rule – that one was easy to fix. I downloaded a few books on tape and listened to them as I did small tasks, like laundry, or cooking, or resting on the couch with the lights off. This, too, proved beneficial. One book – which will remain nameless – repeated words and phrases so often it was distracting. I made a mental note to watch out for that same mistake in my own writing.

I think everything happens for a reason. In this case, maybe my muse decided I needed to take a writing break and think my story through. As much as I wanted to work on it these last two weeks, taking a break has helped my novel.

I still have the concussion, but I’m doing my best to make the most out of this writing moratorium. As Robert Burns said, “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley.” No matter how hard we plan, something can always go wrong.

Even if life isn’t forcing you to take a writing break, you might want to consider backing off for a few days. It could be the solution your story needs to take a step forward.


Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

 

Book Review: Jodi Picoult's "Change of Heart" by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

About Change of Heart:

The acclaimed #1 New York Times bestselling author presents a spellbinding tale of a mother's tragic loss and one man's last chance at gaining salvation.

Can we save ourselves, or do we rely on others to do it? 
Is what we believe always the truth?

One moment June Nealon was happily looking forward to years full of laughter and adventure with her family, and the next, she was staring into a future that was as empty as her heart. Now her life is a waiting game. Waiting for time to heal her wounds, waiting for justice. In short, waiting for a miracle to happen.

For Shay Bourne, life holds no more surprises. The world has given him nothing, and he has nothing to offer the world. In a heartbeat, though, something happens that changes everything for him. Now, he has one last chance for salvation, and it lies with June's eleven-year-old daughter, Claire. But between Shay and Claire stretches an ocean of bitter regrets, past crimes, and the rage of a mother who has lost her child.

Would you give up your vengeance against someone you hate if it meant saving someone you love? Would you want your dreams to come true if it meant granting your enemy's dying wish?

Once again, Jodi Picoult mesmerizes and enthralls readers with this story of redemption, justice, and love.




About the Author:
Jodi Picoult is the author of twenty-two novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers "The Storyteller," "Lone Wolf," "Between the Lines," "Sing You Home," "House Rules," "Handle with Care," "Change of Heart," "Nineteen Minutes," and "My Sister’s Keeper." She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.



Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Washington Square Press; Reprint edition (December 2, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0743496752
ISBN-13: 978-0743496759



Review by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto:

I absolutely love the writing of Jodi Picoult. She draws me in each and every time. Her writing is poetic and the descriptions help you see each character so you can really experience the emotions and plot. In Change of Heart I had it figured out from the beginning, but still read each and every word - and enjoyed them immensely. I had a deep desire to know the "why" of the story and how all the pieces of the puzzle were going to fit together. This is a rather long book and I read it in a single day. I could not tear myself away.

The flow of Picoult's writing is definitely a work of art and though some might say the ending is a let down or it's predictable, there was nothing about this book that left me feeling let down. In fact, I would love to know more about each character and the stories of their lives before Change of Heart as well as in the aftermath of this tear-jerking tale.

A book I will definitely read again, and a style so many authors can learn from. A tale so beautifully woven together it reminds me of a hand-made quilt. Filled with love and emotion. Each page to be savored.




About today's reviewer:

Crystal is a council secretary and musician at her church, birth mother, babywearing cloth diapering
mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 10, Andre 9, Breccan 3, Delphine 2, and baby Eudora due this fall), two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff here, and at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

 

Meet Winter Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up Meg O'Connor, Author of "Lost Soul"

Congratulations to Meg O'Connor for your beautiful story "Lost Soul" !


Meg O’Connor is a geologist by trade and a writer by craft. Her writing has been shaped by her travels: from the kangaroo-ridden pastures of the Blue Mountains, Australia to the moose-ridden highways in Fairbanks, Alaska. Meg has taken many odd jobs in order to travel to these new places: a hand at a dude ranch, a paleontology research assistant looking for arctic dinosaur footprints, and a deckhand on a brigantine. These experiences have shaped the settings and characters in her fiction, as well as given her plenty of material for writing creative non-fiction. After graduation from Williams College, Meg worked as a high school science teacher before pursuing a graduate degree in geology at Louisiana State University. Her geologic passion is the Mississippi River and the ways that it uses mud to shape the delta. She is currently wrapping up a contemporary western set on a dude ranch, and she writes short fiction to stay sane while editing her novel.


WOW!: OK - I love your life (and I'm sure many of our readers feel the same); you've been so many places and done some amazing things. Is it hard to decide what you are going to write about? How do you chose when you obviously have so much life experience?


MEG: The people I meet while traveling or working in unique places as well as the landscapes drive my writing. When I meet a unique person, I'm always thinking about how they would react in different scenarios or when facing challenges. My characters are not directly based off of any one person, but they are often inspired by the places my imagination takes me when I ask those questions. As a geologist, I often reflect on how a landscape impacts the way a person or a community behaves. For instance, working on a boat and working at a ranch nestled in a valley were very different environments. But both were isolated, harsh environments where one person's choices could impact another person's safety, and in that sense they produced some similar community dynamics. I have written stories that combine my observations from multiple environments in a new way.


WOW!: I absolutely knew your writing was based on your many experiences. So...what inspired the story "Lost Soul"? You have clearly been a young piano student - or at least your writing convinces me you have an intimate knowledge of it. Is this story based on your life, or can you tell us more about the characters and story line?


MEG: I actually have never been a young piano student, though I casually--and rather poorly-- played the clarinet growing up. I wrote Lost Soul after attending a memorial performance for a music teacher who had lived in my neighborhood. Students of all ages performed tributes, and he had clearly impacted the lives of so many kids. I was extremely struck by the range of expressions of grief in the kids, and I wrote Lost Soul in an attempt to capture some of the poignancy in that experience.


WOW!: I'm absolutely floored that you were not a piano student - thank you for explaining your muse. What advice to you give other writers who may be hesitant about flash fiction and/or flash fiction contests?


MEG: I'm not sure I feel qualified to give advice, but here I go anyway... I think Lost Soul was successful in part because it sprung from an experience that was very emotional and powerful, and I attempted to capture those feelings. However, I have written many other stories that felt important and emotional to me but did not "succeed" in contests or resonate with a broader group of readers. "Be willing to fail" is a fairly common piece of writing advice, but I'd like to add to that: fail quickly and in rapid succession. I tend to be more successful putting a "failed" story away for a while and generating new material than trying to continually edit a piece that maybe didn't have the spark or emotional impact I desired to begin with. I put "failed" in quotations because, like most writers I know, I have gained something from each piece I've written. Especially the awful ones.

WOW!: I agree that your story is very powerful; thank you for sharing your advice!

What is your writing life like? Do you find you need a special space, particular lighting, etc...and what about time management? What advice can you give others about making sure their writing life doesn't take a backseat? Especially with such a demanding career and exciting life - how do you balance it all?


MEG: I have NO requirements for how, when, or where I write. I can focus on writing even in hectic environments like train stations, which is just straight luck that I'm wired like that. When I edit my work, in contrast, I need a calm environment and cannot even listen to music with words. I fit writing into a hectic schedule by doing the opposite of most advice I've heard: I don't write on any strict schedule, I just write whenever I feel like it and have a ten minute or longer chunk of time. The challenge then becomes making sure I frequently "feel" like writing. I keep my motivation up in a few ways. I always create a music playlist (basically a soundtrack) for a novel in progress. I choose songs that help me get in my narrator's head, and I order them so that they progress as the tone and stakes of the story change. Starting the music tends to help kick writer's block. I also recently designed a beer recipe based off tastes and smells that reminded me of the setting of the novel I'm writing (Wyoming), and my home brewing boyfriend helped make it a reality. We agreed not to crack one until a draft was complete, at which point we had a release party. It was a great way to keep me moving!

WOW!: I love your ways - this is awesome! Thank you for being so open and honest.

How did you or how do you plan to celebrate your placing in the WOW!Women on Writing Winter Flash Fiction Contest?


MEG: I can be shy about sharing my writing with friends and family outside my circle of fellow writers. I will celebrate placing in the WOW Winter Flash Fiction Contest by sharing the story with some friends I might not have otherwise shown it to.


WOW!: Congratulations again Meg and thank you for taking your time to have this lovely chat with us and our readers/writers here at WOW! Women on Writing. We look forward to seeing you again in our winner's circle!



Our Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Contest is NOW OPEN!
For information and entry, visit our contest page.

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Sunday, August 06, 2017

 

Make a Writing Bucket List

Pexels.com

Lately I’ve been mentally compiling a list of places I want to visit in my lifetime—Paris, France, the Florida Keys, Big Sky Montana, etc. I’m making a list and talking with my family over which places we want to prioritize; for example, focusing on places right here in the United States first. I remember seeing something on social media a few years ago about a bucket list for writers. I figured since I’m already working on compiling one for travel, why not make one for my writing goals? Who knows—maybe seeing something written in print will give me the kick in the pants I need to get moving.

From what I’ve heard, making a list, regularly reviewing it and taking conscious steps to check things off a concrete list can help you accomplish dreams more quickly. It can also help you lead a more productive life.

Here are a few goals on my writing bucket list, including a few I’ve already achieved.

  • Publish a newspaper or magazine article. Check.
  • Attend a writer’s conference. Check.
  • Participate in National Novel Writing Month. Done, twice.
  • Self-publish something a novella or larger work of fiction/non-fiction.
  • Sell a true-crime article to a national magazine.
  • Have an essay published in a women’s magazine or major newspaper.
  • Find a literary agent.
  • Complete an outline for a new suspense/thriller novel I have an idea for.
  • Publish a novel.
  • Write a play or a screenplay.
  • Create and produce a podcast. 
  • Develop and pitch a television series.
  • Publish a short story.
  • Get a paying gig speaking publicly about writing.
  • Get invited on a press tour to a travel destination I’ve never been before.
  • Go on a book tour.

Do you have a writing bucket list? Please share a few of your goals with us!


Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who is ready to print out her writing bucket list and hang it on a wall where she can look at it every day.

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Saturday, August 05, 2017

 

Odds and Ends: Recipes for Writers, Success, and Social Media

Many of you may know that I am WOW!'s social media manager, and with this job comes great responsibility. (smiles) One of those responsibilities is to make sure readers know what wonderful things have been going on with our social media accounts. Here are three happenings from social media lately, in case you missed them. And if you haven't followed us on these lovely places yet, please do. We just added a fourth!

Recipes on Facebook
One evening, after a full day of work and writing, I wondered: what do people make for dinner on these types of days? So I turned to our loyal Facebook fans to ask for some advice, and we received a lot of great comments. Here's what the original post said:

Anybody want to share quick meal recipes for those writing days when you or your family still need to eat?

Here are a few of the great ideas we received: 
  • Fry a couple eggs, top with ham and cheddar cheese, and serve on toast--a "brinner" sandwich. Total cooking time: 5 minutes
  • A garden full of vegetables lends itself to large salads and stir fry
  • Minute rice with black beans, seasoned with taco seasoning. Then you can add toppings: cheese, sour cream, salsa, etc
  • Kristy from the website, PaidWrite, supplied a link to a post she did about 7 Crock Pot meals for when "you have to work nights". You can see that here
  • And Maggie Kate Harris said to check out her book: Travel Food: Recipes for Wanderers and Lazy Cooks 

Success stories (Twitter, FB, and Pinterest):
On our social networks, we often put a call out for success stories for our WOW! readers and subscribers. We love to hear about your writing success, small or large. We publish these periodically in a newsletter that is sent to email subscribers, who love to read about other writers' success. (Sign up for our free newsletter on our home page if you haven't yet!) If you have a recent success (book published, blog started, contest win, agent secured, etc), then please let us know in 100 words or less, and email to me (margo@wow-womenonwriting (dot) com) in the next week. She already has several, but we are always looking for more and more. Here's an example:

Molly A. Writer just won the best contest ever with her short story "Made For You." You can read the story on THIS WEBSITE (link). She also self-published her memoir, You Bet I Can, available here (link)

Pinterest and soon to be Instagram
If you missed my post about a month ago, WOW! is now on Pinterest, and we are building a lot of boards, full of great resources, from contest and publishing opportunities to information for fiction writers to marketing ideas. You can find all of that here, so follow us! I also started our brand new Instagram account today, so you can follow us here.

We know social media can eat up your time, and we don't want to do that. But we like to highlight wonderful things writers are doing, share our classes and contest, send a smile or inspirational quote, and build a community of writers on these sites. So join us if you are already active on one, and we'll see you there.


We'd love to hear below how you use social media OR your recipe ideas. . .


Margo L. Dill is the social media manager for WOW! Women On Writing. She is also a writing instructor in the WOW! classroom where she teaches writing a novel with a writing coach. 

Crock pot photo above by Janine on flickr.com

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Friday, August 04, 2017

 

Friday Speak Out!: Fun Places to Find New Stories

by Denise Jaden

I am a firm believer that the seeds of stories and characters can come from absolutely anywhere. One of my novels, for instance, was sparked during a memorial service for a good friend. Another was sparked when I came home to find that my roommate had left our house in an odd state of disarray. Yet another was sparked in the first five minutes of a movie I was watching. I speculated on where the movie was going. I was completely off-base, but that was only to my benefit, because I was left with my own unique story idea to pursue.

When I speak to other writers, one of the first questions I ask is, “Where do you get your best story ideas?” Time and time again, my mind is opened to new avenues, like the man who was inspired by war stories at his grandfather’s deathbed, or the young girl who never met an animal whose story she didn’t want to tell.

Wherever I went, I started asking myself, “What if I had to come up with a story or character idea from these surroundings? What would it be?” These so-called “forced” ideas have become some of my most inspiring. I think our creative minds flourish more when they are pushed than they do when we sit back waiting for ideas to flood our minds.

If we rush through our lives without paying attention, we may miss these opportunities. I have taken the time to build my observational muscles. I am the perfect person to write about observation because I was not born with this natural ability. I truly have had to learn it. You know during political elections when political parties flood streets and lawns with signs and posters and buttons for their candidates? Yes, well, more than once my husband has asked me who I plan to vote for, and I’ve replied, “Oh, is there an election coming up?”

That’s how blind I can be to the world around me if I don’t actively practice the skill of observation. Being a good observer and learning how to catalog the ideas around you is a little like becoming a collector — but not in order to fill up your house with useless knickknacks. You become a collector of characters, settings, motives, and obstacles.

To train yourself to be more observant, find something to open your mind to every day. Foster curiosity. Read something every day, whether it’s a newspaper ad, a poem, a short story, or anything. And actively watch people every day. Write down what you see, what interests you about people or places, and what questions roam in your mind after spending time observing people.

When you observe, consider the following ideas and questions:

• Practice really seeing the details around you. Set your watch for a minute or five minutes, look around yourself with purpose, and then when the time is up, close your eyes. How much can you remember?

• Do this with a buddy. One person keeps his or her eyes open and asks the other questions about your surroundings. Practice seeing, noticing, and remembering the little details.

• Go somewhere different regularly. Don’t just stick to the same routines. Purposefully visit a new coffee shop, restaurant, or gas station. Drive home from work using an alternate route and sit in a different chair in your home or office. How does this change your perspective or open your eyes to new details?

Finally, during your observations, or immediately after, make detailed notes. I encourage you to jot down everything, and circle anything that immediately resonates as something you think you’ll one day want to come back to. Take photos of interesting places, or, if you’re sneaky enough, of interesting people.

Resolve to take the time to be open-minded about the world around you. Ask questions, notice problems, and be curious. By building up your observation muscles, you’ll never again be stuck for new story ideas.

* * *
Denise Jaden is the author of the new book for writers, Story Sparks: Finding Your Best Story Ideas and Turning Them into Compelling Fiction, as well as the NaNoWriMo-popular guide, Fast Fiction, and several critically-acclaimed fiction titles. She is a sought-after speaker, motivating writers to find their own best story ideas, and then stirring up the drive to write them. She lives just outside Vancouver, BC with her husband and son. Find out more at denisejaden.com
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Thursday, August 03, 2017

 

The Writing and Cable Company Connection

Every month when I open my cable bill, I seethe.

I pay for about two hundred channels, but I probably watch about ten of those channels. The problem for me is sports; I have to have those channels, mostly for football season. I know there are other options available now, but fear keeps me paying that always-increasing, monthly cable bill. Fear of making a mistake, of doing something wrong, of not really knowing what I’m doing and what if I miss my football games?

Fear can stall a writing career, too. Maybe it’s whether to try for an agent (or let go of an agent who’s not working out). It could be about pitching to big markets instead of staying safely in the smaller markets. It could even be as fundamental as finally putting work out there, of just screwing up the courage to submit.

But there are ways to get beyond that fear, and so I’ll share a few strategies that work for me, starting with doing your homework.

Who knew when you finally finished school that you’d be using that homework skill for the rest of your life? In whatever decisions that come along, researching first is empowering. When it comes to writing, we’re lucky. We have the Internet, and boy, that makes researching a lot easier!

Find out everything about the writing challenge you’re tackling. Track down every snippet of information you can find whether it be a market, a literary agency, a publisher, or editor. Not in a creepy stalker way, just in a general information-available-to-everyone way. Knowledge is the first step in conquering a fear, and so the more you know, the more emboldened you will be!

And that leads me to the next step in information-gathering: ask people in the know. Take the cable question. Lots of people that are, say, millennial types, do not pay for cable. They use all kinds of streaming services. They’re the ones I’ll talk to before I make any changes.

Look around to the people you know in the writing world, the groups you’re part of in social media or through writing organizations, or even your writing partners. Perhaps you follow lots of writing blogs; you can reach out to those writers, too. Chances are pretty good that a writer’s faced the same questions and challenges you’re facing; look for answers. You may not always get the help you’re looking for, but sometimes, you will!

And finally, consider timing. Weeks before the start of the college football season might not be the right time for me to switch from my huge cable company.

It’s the same for you in your writing career. What other major life changes do you have going on, and is this the right time to pile on something huge and/or new? Because what if you do your homework, ask around, conquer your fear and go for it—and find success at last? You want to be ready one hundred percent!

Or you’ll end up with another fear, the one about failure. And that’s a whole ‘nother story.


Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer.  When she's not cheering for her favorite teams, she's busy working on her next book. Her latest release is Great Leaders of the World, from Darakwon Publishing in South Korea. (Read all about it here!)


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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

 

How to copy edit like a pro

The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.

Robert Cormier
Author of The Chocolate War

The most complex publishing job I ever had was managing editor of the Journal of the American Optometric Association. We worked on three issues at a time, which isn’t uncommon, and paid close attention to detail, which is common in medical publishing.

My experience there helped me develop a thorough system of copyediting for medical writing. Some of it doesn’t translate well into other writing styles, so I’m focusing on the aspects that do. The process is not pretty or sexy. The editing/copyediting system is a list of items I checked to ensure that the manuscript was factual, used proper grammar and followed our publishing style. I didn't read every manuscript 17 times, but would combine several steps to maximize my time and effort.

These 17 steps may not cover every aspect of your writing project, but it may help you develop your own consistent style, which can generate cleaner copy regardless of what you write.

1) Capital letters (all proper nouns)
2) Begin parenthesis/quotations – end parenthesis/quotations
3) Names and titles consistent – you can’t check names/titles too many times
4) References in order
5) Commas (especially before “ands,” and “which”)
6) Page endings (in galleys – check for lost words between pages)
7) Contractions (consistent use)
8) Very, really, just, that and then (most can be removed without changing meaning)
9) Read aloud, and read backwards for spelling
10) Perspective (consistent use of first or third person)
11) Subhead styles match (first letter upper case, all others lower, no punctuation at end)
12) Mark the end of every line that has changes (helps them stand out on hard copies)
13) All question marks addressed and answered*
14) Consistent use of present or past tense
15) Correct use of hyphens, especially for compound modifiers
16) Sentence fragments and run-on sentences eliminated
17) Numbers (consistent use, check publication style manual)

*When a question arises while my writing is going well, I don’t want to stop and look it up. I mark the spot with three question marks in a row. Later, when I’m editing, I do a search for three question marks, and can go back to each question and answer it before I turn in my assignment.

Writers shouldn't be intimidated by what some might call the mysterious editing process. Like any art form, it is a craft that can be learned and improved with practice. So use these steps to edit yourself right into more publications. And don't forget to share your editing process!

Mary Horner is a freelance writer, editor, and author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing. She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

 

Interview with Flash Fiction Runner Up, Heidi Scholes


Heidi Scholes graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and went on to have a wonderfully varied career. From driving a taxi to managing a technical writing department, it all encouraged her creativity.

She wrote stories and poems starting in grade school, but got serious a few years ago when she became active in an online writers group. While plugging away at a novel, Heidi sharpens her skills with short stories and especially likes flash fiction. Her poems have been published in an anthology.

This isn’t the first time that Muffin readers have encountered her work. Her story, Served Cold, won Third Place in the WOW! Women On Writing Winter 2016 Contest.

If you haven’t read Wishing, her entry in the Winter 2017 contest, click through and enjoy. Then come back so that Heidi can share her insights into the writing process.

Interview by Sue Bradford Edwards

WOW: What was your inspiration for Wishing? Where did the story start? With the character, the situation, the ending?

Heidi: I don’t know a single woman past a certain age, who doesn’t wish she were younger. As the years add up, some women accept the physical changes of aging better than others. I’ve had friends who have gone to great lengths trying to stave off the inevitable, and I was thinking of some of them when I wrote the original story about 4 years ago.

WOW: Your character's plans didn't quite turn out, did they? What about your plans? How did the story change during the writing process?

Heidi: Since that original version, I have tweaked and rewritten it many times - usually the result of getting good reader feedback. Character development and motivation, and the ending have all changed several times, only the idea has remained basically the same.

The challenge in writing any story is always to write a whole story, with a real character and a believable plot. The additional challenge of Flash Fiction is to do it in a very small word count. With that said, I doubt this is the last iteration for my story.

WOW: Your bio mentions that you are also writing a novel. Can you tell us something about it? Is it contemporary? A mystery? How does writing flash fiction help you hone the skills you need to complete this larger manuscript?

Heidi: My Novel. Stalled. I’m afraid my love of flash fiction has NOT been a help with the larger project, quite the opposite, in fact. Flash allows me to go off on tangents and flights of fancy instead of having the discipline to stick to one thing. That is probably more indicative of a personal character flaw than any intrinsic problem with writing Flash Fiction. But I know I will buckle down someday.

WOW: Multiple projects are definitely an issue for some of us. Let’s move away from that uncomfortable topic, shall we? You have a degree from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and have worked as a cab driver and managing a tech writing department. What drew you to these varied things and how do they feed into your work as a writer?

Heidi: I’m still an artist. The only difference is now I paint with words. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of great experiences, through work and play, and all of it colors my writing. I learned a lot about people driving a cab because I came into contact with a wider variety of people than I would have ever been able to meet on my own. When I drove, we didn’t have partitions between me and the passengers and I think it encouraged conversation. I learned if I asked the right questions people would tell me their stories.

WOW: What an excellent job for a writer! What advice do you have for someone who is considering trying to write flash fiction? What is the most important thing you can tell them? What mistakes should they avoid making?

Heidi: I think anyone considering writing a flash fiction should just jump right in and do it. What do they have to lose? Absolutely nothing but a little time. And they might be pleasantly surprised with the result. I think the most important thing is to figure out your story (beginning, middle and end) before you start. Think of it as a road map.

The other important thing is be prepared to edit, edit, edit. In small word count pieces like Flash Fiction, every single word has to earn its keep, meaning it has to either move the story forward, or it has to show character important to the story. You don’t have the luxury of overwriting. And also be prepared to kill a lot of “darlings” – those beautiful little gems that you write and love but don’t add a whole lot to the story.

WOW:  Kill a lot of darlings.  I think we all need to remember to do that especially when we are writing short.  Dear Readers, check out our contest page for details about our next flash fiction contest!

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