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Thursday, August 31, 2017

 

An Alternate Point of View

I learned a fun life skill a few decades ago, and it can also be a lot of fun when writing as well. My mother-in-law didn't call it "an alternate point of view," it was just something she would do to pass the time, lighten a tense situation, or entertain the rest of us. A great example would be the musical Wicked (which I was privileged to see with my mother today). We all grew up knowing the story of The Wizard of Oz with Dorothy, ToTo, Ms. Gulch, the Munchkins, and Glinda. Or did we? The truth is, we don't ever really know the entire story. Do we?

Using an alternate point of view regarding The Wizard of Oz is the entire premise of Wicked. Have you considered taking a familiar story and changing the point of view as a way to inspire your own new works? Have you considered using alternating points of view in your writing? Switching viewpoints takes quite a bit of planning, but when done well it is very enjoyable for the reader. Do you have a favorite book written with an alternating point of view? One I read quite recently was Fractured by Catherine McKenzie and I feel the alternating was done quite well.

Now - for those of you who don't enjoy reading alternating point of view stories, I'll share a few fun stories from my mother in law. You'll see why I feel it is a life skill.

The neighbor comes and goes at unusual times and every time her vehicle backs out of the driveway, the dog barks and you wake up. Frustrating, right? Hmmm...since you can't sleep anyway, you look at the situation from a different point of view. Maybe she's a nurse and she is on the keratoplasty team. She gets called out anytime there's a death at the local hospital and she has limited time to remove the decedents cornea so it can be used to restore vision in the transplant recipient. She's a hero and from there your imagination goes wild - How did the donor die? How did the family of the recipient feel when they got that call? What made her decide to became specialized in this particular procedure? Why aren't more nurses able to do this procedure? Before you know it, you're back to sleep dreaming about heroes in capes saving the world - one eyeball at a time!

A simpler example might be the minivan that pulled out in front of you causing you to lock up your brakes and mutter curse words under your breath. Take a deep breath and come up with a quick story from that person's point of view. Maybe it's a young couple expecting their first child. Mom is panting through her contractions and Dad is frantically trying to get to the hospital before he has to deliver this baby on the side of the road. If I do this quick point of view change, I find myself thinking, I hope they make it on time, instead of who gave this jerk a driver's license?

This may be difficult, but writers will have no problem creating all sorts of fun short tales to explain away frustrating situations in every day life. Give it a try sometime and let us know your thoughts!

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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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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

 

Fear of Rejection: When Common Sense Takes a Back Seat

Back in May, I took a leap of faith and sent a query letter for my newest book to a literary agent I felt would be interested. She was looking for young adult literature of the creepy, semi-supernatural, Lois Duncan variety. My book fit that description perfectly.

To my surprise and delight, she asked for a partial. That partial turned into a request to revise and resubmit. It was the furthest I’ve ever gone in the querying process and I took every suggestion she made to heart. She asked me to enrich my main character’s personality, so I spent hours giving her a stronger back story, fleshing out her likes and dislikes, and making her personality shine despite her crippling depression. The agent asked me to reduce my unneeded characters.  I cut them without mercy. I had several people read my changes and received positive feedback. By the end of July, I was ready to send her the revised manuscript.

And yet, I couldn’t.

At first, ignoring my edited manuscript was easy. It was still summer and I had almost three weeks left before I needed to go back to work, which gave me plenty of time. Then, I was in a car accident (you can read about the struggle to write when you have a concussion here) and I wasn’t allowed to use the computer at all, which gave me a valid excuse for not sending the agent my edited novel.

But two weeks ago, when I was cleared to use the computer again and still hadn’t sent her the revisions, I had to face the ugly truth: I was terrified the agent would reject it.

It’s not as though I haven’t experienced rejection before. Query rejections, sadly, are a dime-a-dozen for some of us – myself included. This was different. This was a revise and resubmit – a whole new level of investment. I was so close to finding an agent. If I sent it and she passed . . . well, you can imagine the hurt.

I held out. Work started, which made my manuscript easier to ignore. I started to wonder how long I could avoid the dilemma. Luckily, my husband brought me back to reality. “If you don’t send it,” he said, “I’m going to hijack your computer and do it for you.” Then he hugged me and told me that, no matter what, he knew I’d keep on writing. If this book didn’t find an agent, the next one would.

I sent it that afternoon.  Yes, I've been checking my inbox like a crazy person every since.

The fear of rejection is an unforgiving beast. The key is to slay that beast – sometimes with a little help from our partners – and move on. Maybe the agent will love my edits. Maybe she won’t. Either way, I’ll add this to my writing tool-box of valuable experiences.


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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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

 

The second, third, and fourth line

A speaker once began his presentation by writing in huge letters the word "SEX" on the whiteboard. He then looked to the audience and said "Now that I have your attention, my speech has nothing to do with sex." The audience was both confused and disappointed.

First lines are important, but the second, third, and fourth ones should help explain to the reader what is happening, or what to expect. I've written about the difficulty of first sentences, and wanted to share an example of how a strong first sentence can be wasted if the next sentences don't follow through.

Let’s try it:

“I’m getting married!” I blurted out as soon as I saw my best friend, Nancy.

"Congratulations!" (OK, second line works, but watch what happens next.)

"You know how when I was a little girl, and I always wanted to marry a magician with curly black hair? Well, my neighbor, Shirley, remember, she’s the one who worked for the water district, and almost poisoned our city’s water supply last year? Well, anyway, Shirley had a cat that ran away, his name was Whiskers, an orange tabby, and she put up posters around town saying he was missing. So anyway, I was at the coffee shop when a man with dark curly hair came in. When he got to the counter and saw the poster, he said 'Oh, no, Whiskers is missing.'”

“You know Whiskers?” I asked.

“Yes, Shirley’s cat.”

“You know Shirley?” I asked.

Yes, she’s my neighbor.”

“Small world. She’s my neighbor, too.”

"And the funny thing is, I was drinking a mocha cappuccino, and he ORDERED a mocha cappuccino. I invited him to sit with me, and introduced myself."

At this point, I've wandered far, far away from "I'm getting married!" We've heard about Shirley, her job and her cat, the mysterious man with curly black hair (who may or may not be a magician), and how they introduce themselves. Is this the groom to be? We don't know.

This little scene would be perfectly fine on it's own, or maybe the response to the question about how they met, but because I began with the phrase "I'm getting married," the reader may be confused.

So let's try this again:

"I'm getting married."

Leah gasped, and then blurted out, "To Jerry?"

"Of course to Jerry," I said. "He finally popped the question."

"I'm so happy for you."

"Thanks," I said. "I was almost ready to give up on him."

"Yeah, five years is a long time to date. When's the wedding?"

"Not sure," I said. "He doesn't want to rush anything. He says it will take a couple of years to get his dental practice up and running."

"Of course it will," I said, sighing.

"Oh, and he doesn't want me to tell anyone, so don't say anything."

So now I have some pertinent information that specifically expands on the sentence about getting married. We know who she's marrying, that it was a long courtship and may be a long engagement as well, and that he's a dentist. It also raises a question: why doesn't he want her to tell anyone? Hmm. That says a lot right there. I may read on to find out.

So just like a high-five, don't leave a first sentence hanging. Connect it to the rest of your story.

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges. Her short story, "Shirley and the apricot tree," will be published this fall in Kansas City Voices. (And I'm beginning to wonder why I use the name Shirley so often!)

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

 

Three Things People Think About Writers

          Yesterday a book of Chicken Soup for the Soul books was delivered to our home. It was expected. I'd gotten  a story published in their My (Kind) of America anthology, and it goes on sale on August 29. A few minutes after I opened the box, my husband grabbed a copy and started scanning the table of contents. I knew what was coming--he does it every time. This time, I beat him to the punch.

         "Page 147," I said.

          "Out of..." his voice trailed off. He thumbed to the back. "401. That means you're in the front half."



           According to my husband, the placement of a story indicates its value. The weaker stories are towards the collection's end. The stronger stories they put first. No matter how many times I talk about theme and the juried process the editors put the stories through, he continues with his screwed-up thinking... which makes me think about what other people think about writers.

1.   "You don't have a book published? (Then, you're not really a writer, are you.)" James Patterson has beaucoup books on bookstores shelves, and all he does is outline the plot. Other (unnamed) people write the books. I'm not sure that means he is really a writer.

          On the other hand, I know many people who write every day, submit to many different markets, and their pieces are published all over the place--just not in a book. And I know many folks who write almost every day, and haven't got published... yet. They're all writers, from my perspective.
They do the hard work on a regular basis.

2.   "It's easy to write. (You just sit on your butt and tap away at your computer, right?)" Much to the surprise of people who don't write, the words don't come flowing out the right way the first time. (Except for Cynthia Rylant, the who in an interview spoke about her revising process saying, "I don't really have to revise. It comes out right the first time. I'm guess I'm just lucky that way." Some day I'm gonna slash Rylant's tires...)

         Writing is more slashing and burning than it is lining up the lines and the paragraphs and the pages like a battalion of soldiers. If everyone knew how many words we delete, compared to how many we keep, they'd be amazed... and perhaps a bit more respectful of the craft.

3.   "You're so lucky. You get to make your own schedule. (You get to watch lots of TV and lay around on the couch. I'd love to be able to live that life.)" I know some full-time writers. Cathy C. Hall. Sue Bradford Edwards. Lisa Ricard Claro. Sean McLachlan. I know some people who retired from other jobs and now freelance. Linda O'Connell. Pat Wahler. I know people like me who work other jobs and fit writing (sometimes not very well) into their lives.

        Unfortunately, we usually don't get to make our own schedule. Vegging out on the couch and watching movies isn't something we can do every day. Being a writer might mean squeezing it in, 15-minute increments at a time. It might mean waking up an hour earlier than necessary every morning to have some uninterrupted time to write.

       It also might mean we'd prefer to be working on a manuscript, but a deadline for something else takes precedence.

       How about you? As a writer, what can you add?


Add caption

Sioux Roslawski doesn't have a book on a bookstore shelf with only her name on the spine but nevertheless, she considers herself a writer. Most of the time, she's teaching middle-schoolers how to free themselves enough to write honestly and most of the time (99% of the time) she loves her job and revels in the strong student voices that surround her. Currently she's working on polishing up a historical manuscript for middle grades (she's polishing it until it's nice and shiny); if you'd like to read more of her stuff, check out her blog.       


 

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

 

Making the Predictable--Unpredictable: An Example with a Gilmore Girls Script

If you read a lot, write a lot, watch a lot of movies, you know stories. And stories can often become predictable. In a romance, eventually the hero gets the girl. In a western, eventually the good guy gets the bad. In a mystery, eventually the detective solves the crime. So how do you make the predictable unpredictable and satisfy your readers?

I recently saw an example on the television show, Gilmore Girls. (Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't seen the series yet, but it is rather old and currently on Netflix in its entirety.) In the series, Luke and Lorelai are engaged, and Luke discovers he is the father of a 12-year-old girl. For whatever crazy reason, he doesn't tell Lorelai. Once he makes this decision, all viewers know the predictable thing is going to happen: Lorelai will find out, and she's going to be mad. Luke tells one person--his quirky sister, so viewers assume she will be the one to spill the beans. But the writers of the show, who are known for outlandish characters and witty dialogue, don't do the predictable. They have Lorelai come into Luke's diner, when Luke is not there, but his daughter is. His daughter accidentally tells Lorelai that Luke is her father. (Star Wars fans: this time, Luke is the father.)

So what did I learn about storytelling and fiction writing from this story line?

1. The predictable will happen, but change it up a bit.  Of course, Lorelai had to find out about Luke's daughter at some point, but the way she found out was written perfectly and not the "red herring" (Luke's sister) the writers set up.

2. Make life as awful as possible for your characters before you give them resolution. Lorelai finding out from the spunky and cute 12-year-old girl was the worst possible thing that could have happened for Luke, Lorelai, and their relationship. Think about your favorite stories--what are those moments when you are reading and thinking: That is the most awful thing that could happen and it just did? You want to find that moment for the characters you are writing about before they find happiness or resolution in the end of your story.

3. Brainstorm what the predictable outcomes are and figure out how to go one step further.  In this example, the predictable outcome is Lorelai finding out from someone--most likely Luke's sister or a beloved Stars Hollow townsperson who overheard a conversation Luke had. But at some point one of the writers said: How about April (the daughter) innocently tells Lorelai herself? Perfect!

If you read genre novels or are writing one, why do you love these stories if you know what will happen eventually? In your own writing, how will you surprise and satisfy your readers?

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. To take her novel writing course, which starts September 1, please see the details here. To find out more about her, please see her website: http://www.margoldill.com


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Friday, August 25, 2017

 

Friday Speak Out!: Writing The Powerful

by Jeanine DeHoney

There are some stories that need to be written. Not because they are honeyed vignettes of our life or the life of someone we know or imagine and fictionalize but because they are powerful. They are stories, articles, screenplays or novels that are powerful. Words that will unnerve people, tear at their emotions and cause them to think differently, and maybe…hopefully change or take steps to change the world.

As a writer I have always wanted to write those types of stories. Often times I attempted and just scratched the surface, not delving deep enough into those moral, societal and global issues as much as I wanted to because the writing was painful or uncomfortable for me or I thought I might reap hostile responses from those readers whose opinions differed from mine.

I admit that I sometimes thought that as long as there were other writers writing with fire and brimstone about the ills of society; stories about racism and sexism and bigotry and poverty (According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) poverty is the single greatest threat to children’s well-being,) and the school to prison pipeline for many minority students and students with disabilities, our healthcare system, the new immigration policy, etc., I could concentrate on other types of writing.

But as I get older and sager and frustrated with what is so reprehensible in our headlines, the voices of those who are broken or marginalized are at full volume in my ear. Their voices remind me that yes, stories that make people smile and laugh and forget about their troubles are valuable and needed but stories that express our struggles, failures and sad truths are essential.

Our voices are important as writers. Our written words are lyrics that can become the song that stays with a person and causes them to hum (protest, boycott, teach tolerance, sign a petition, speak out, etc.) throughout the day. Our written words can also be healing and redemptive.

Although I'm not putting all of my other stories in a lock chest; the nostalgic stories from my childhood, the humorous children’s stories I hope to find a publisher for, the essays on motherhood or wifehood that I hope will give someone a bellyaching laugh along with inspiration; I am resolute in my decision to write words that are more powerful and hones in on what is erroneous in our society, especially right now.

I want to make my dent in this world in the hopes of changing it and although I know in so many ways you and I do that already as writers, parents, teachers, etc. I ask you to join me with a more urgent conviction than you may have and write the powerful, be it one powerful chapter in your novel, one powerful sentence in your essay, or 140 powerful characters to a friend.

* * *
Jeanine DeHoney has had her writing published in several magazines, anthologies and online blogs. Her writing has appeared in Mused-Bella Online, The Write Place At the Write Time, Literary Mama, Mutha Magazine, The Mom Egg, Wow-Woman on Writing-The Muffin's Friday Speak Out. Scarymommy.com, Parent. Co., Brain Child Magazine, Todays Caretaker Magazine, Jerry Jazz Magazine and Rigorous Literary Magazine. She is an essayist in the anthologies Chicken Soup for the African American Woman’s Soul, Here in the Middle, and Theories of HER-an experimental anthology and will have an essay upcoming in an anthology about sisters. Ms. DeHoney is also a contributing writer to Dream Teen Magazine
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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 24, 2017

 

Prep Yourself for Writing Productivity

Find a cool journal to help keep track of your ideas. 


The kids are back in school and that also means back to their after school sports and other extracurricular activities. Because I work from home, I usually try to prep some of our meals and items for lunch ahead of time so I’m not scrambling to throw something together each evening in the 30 minutes we have in between stops. I use the crockpot a lot and bake things like mini quiches and muffins for extra snacks. As I was making a big pot of soup this afternoon, I started brainstorming about the ways one could prep their writing projects in a similar fashion. Whether you are just trying to get back into your writing groove or trying to tackle a manuscript revision, here are some ways you can prep yourself for writing productivity.

First, start out small.

Spruce up your writing space, or at least declutter. Yes, I know this can be a slippery slope. Writers are famous for reorganizing an entire room before tackling a writing project. But I simply can’t write at home if my desk is a mess and the room is too dark. So file the bills, set up an inbox, hang a bulletin board, and make sure your space is one that you won’t try to avoid because you’re afraid a pile of papers will topple over on your laptop. If your schedule is a little more “on the fly,” you can carry a notepad with you like novelists Elin Hilderbrand and Kristin Hannah do or dictate notes into an app on your phone. The point is, have your tools at the ready.

Scan your hard drive or file folders. We all have them—essays we’ve written for possible submission to anthologies or magazines. Print out a few that you haven’t looked at for a while and put them in your inbox on your desk or writing space. Look over them with a red pen and think about ways you can repurpose or edit. I recently found an opening page to a story I took to an SCBWI conference three years ago. I’m printing it out and putting it in my inbox so I can continue it.

Break up the monotony. Print out a list of writing prompts that intrigue you. Even if you only have 20 minutes, working on a short response will also help get the creativity flowing again. Make a playlist of songs (instrumental or not) to play while you’re writing. Outline an idea for a new short story or novel.

Research. Just like any good chef spends time researching recipes, research before you write. This could be looking up possible markets for submission, printing out a news article that inspired you in some way, looking up books that compare to your own manuscript, etc.

Tackle the hard stuff—a little at a time. Although I hate sacrificing the paper and ink while I’m still in rough draft stages, I’ve found I do more work on a manuscript if I have a printed copy of the latest version on my desk. (I do not right now, hence the screeching halt on the editing). Round up a few beta readers and send them a few opening chapters or a piece you are thinking about submitting for feedback.

How do you prep for writing? What would you add to this list? Do you feel like there are certain “ingredients” that help propel your writing forward? I’d love to hear about them!

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who is happy she has a teen daughter who has already volunteered to be a beta reader.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

 

The Importance of a Word

Back in the early days of writing, my mother took me to task about words.

“The words you choose are so important, Cathy,” she said. And then she went on and on about the power of a single word and how I should be careful about what I write, what I say and what I mean to say. I laughed at some point because she was so intense about the subject. Okay, Mom, enough! Who’s the writer here, anyway? I listened, but honestly, I didn’t pay attention.

Now, after ten or more years and lots more of life, I get what Mom was trying to impress upon me. Words matter.

And not just in the big issues like political or societal or economic discussions. But I think—I hope—most of us understand the importance of choosing our words carefully in those discussions. It’s the everyday use of words that I’m talking about, the things we say or write in a tweet, a status update, or maybe a blog post.

A writer friend updated her status recently with, “Writing is hard.” I’ve probably said that same thing a hundred times. I’ll bet you have, too. We don’t mean anything offensive with the expression, but still. Reading those words then, I winced.

Here are a few synonyms for hard (used as an adjective, as in the above statement.): arduous, wearying, back-breaking, grueling, exhausting. Does that sound like writing? Sure, we might consider rewriting a manuscript for the seventh time grueling, but it’s not. It’s annoying, and plenty frustrating, but it’s not really grueling or back-breaking or bone-wearying.

But single-parenting? That’s arduous work. Losing a loved one? Definitely daily, sometimes hourly bone-wearying stuff. Enduring relentless cyber-bullying? That’s hard.

There are so many life experiences that are hard. And perhaps writing about those kinds of experiences can be emotionally challenging. Even hard. But for the most part, trying to figure out a plot, track down a source, or even the umpteen rejections we might get—all facets of the writing experience—aren’t so hard.

Hard. It’s just one example of one word that we throw around casually; there are lots of other words out there, words we need to think about and how we’ll use them.

So I guess I owe Mom a late apology. She understood all those years ago about words and I didn’t take her seriously. She wanted me to think about each and every word I put out there—professionally and personally—and I just shook my head that day, because really, who has time to think about each and every word?

But maybe it's about time we did.



Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer. Her latest release is Great Leaders of the World, from Darakwon in South Korea. Read all about it here!)


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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

 

Diagraming Your Plot: The Big Picture

I have a confession to make – unlike so many of my fellow Muffin bloggers, fiction intimidates me. I have ideas for fictional stories. But actually carrying them out? I can pull off the occasional picture book.

But, as I wrote about in “Putting Your Story Aside,” sometimes I come up with a story that is just too big for a picture book. I quickly realized that in this case the correct solution wasn’t going to be finding a way to shape my premise into a picture book. This time around the solution was going to be finding a different, longer form for the story.

Once I figured that out, I froze up. I needed to figure out my basic plot points. I knew that, but plot diagrams and I have a dicey relationship. All that scrolling from one screen to another or flipping pages is just distracting. And, NO, I can’t get enough information on one page.

I’m not sure why it took me several days to figure this out but eventually I hit on a solution. Years ago, I made a story board the size of a poster frame. That way I didn’t have to flip from page to page when I visually mapped out a picture book. If I could make a super-sized story board, surely I could make a larger-than-normal plot diagram.

Behold! The Big Picture Plot Diagram. In a former life, it was part of a foam core science fair board. I’m using one panel, approximately 1 foot by 3 feet. Then I stapled red yarn to mark the ¼ point and the ¾ point. Then I used black yarn to mark your basic plot line. It seems overly simple but after waffling for something like 10 days it helped me outline my book.

First, I outlined my mentor text on orange post-its. Remember, fiction intimidates me. Outlining a mentor text helped me put together various things I already knew and spot several problems with my original idea. I saw how to better introduce my characters and how the solution to the big problem has to come out of a flaw in one of their personalities. I know, I know. That’s the sort of advice that you read all the time, but outlining my mentor text let me see it.


Next I outlined my own book on green post-its. The great thing about post-it notes on a giant foam board was that when the tension failed to escalate correctly, I could easily move one chapter and insert another. No flipping back and forth. No cutting and scrolling and pasting. You just pick up a post-it and then put it down three inches farther along in the plot.

And I did it without any of page turns or screen scrolls that I find so distracting. Outlining both books took me two hours.

Maybe none of you have these problems.

Then again, maybe, just maybe, there is someone who is just as visual as I am and needs a highly visual, big picture solution. It may not slice, it may not dice, but the Big Picture Plot Diagram may still be just what you need.

--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 October 9th.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

 

Blue Hair Don't Care; the Lesson of "Just Keep Scrolling"

Photo Credit Olivia Brey of Oh! Photography
The picture you see here is probably not the first controversial thing I posted on social media, and I can tell you for a fact my recent post about allowing my kids to cuss is not the last thing that will spark some negative comments. I love the positive vibes you can get from social media done right. I love being connected to my tribe even when we may not share the same neighborhoods (geographically speaking). Every once in a while though, something can be posted or shared quite innocently and heat up into a raging inferno of emotions and conflicting view points.

An important thing to remember when we are talking about the spoken word, the written word, social media, or writing a book/short story is something my dad would say:

"You can't please all of the people all of the time"

If I say, share, or type something, it is never with the intention of hurting someone. Intentions are important when it comes to keeping it all in perspective for both the writer and the reader. An equally important tool is this one:

"Just Keep Scrolling"
aka:
"Do Not Engage"

You don't like my kids haircut or the color of his hair?
You think it's terrible that someone would breastfeed their toddler?
You would never recommend that book because the F word is included so often?
You are upset about that picture of a farmer because you're a vegetarian?
You won't read anything by that author because she divorced her husband and became a lesbian?
He was once a she so you'll never patronize his coffee shop much less share his FB page?

...the list is endless...

We are all entitled to our opinions. Even the best of friends don't agree on everything. Even my husband and I can agree to disagree when it comes to certain topics. What we don't do is engage in the negativity. If I see something on social media I don't like, I keep scrolling. When someone says something negative about me, my articles, my religion, my this that or the next thing, I just simply don't engage them. Is it because I have nothing to say? Absolutely not...it's because I know I won't change their mind and arguing only builds walls. I'm all about building bridges.


Have you ever engaged with the negativity? As authors, I think it's only natural to want to defend our work like a mother defends her child. What has been your experience?

What about social media, do you follow the "Just Keep Scrolling" motto or do you have something that works better for you? What do you do if you see something you disagree with or something that hurts you?

Please share your ideas, experiences, and comments - we would love to hear from you!



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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Sunday, August 20, 2017

 

The National Book Festival

One of my favorite events of the year is fast approaching: The National Book Festival. Put on by The Library of Congress, it unites authors and their readers.

The format has changed over the years. Until recently, it was held outside in Washington, D.C. on the West Lawn along the National Mall. I have many fond memories ducking in and out of the tents, listening to authors like Lois Lowry, Diana Gabaldon and Neil Gaiman – riveted as they shared their passion for writing with thousands of eager fans.

As it was an outdoor event, we sometimes had to brave the elements. Rain wasn’t enough to stop me from listening to Katherine Patterson, even if I didn’t have a seat and I was soaking wet, standing in mud. There is a palpable excitement that exists among like-minded people who love reading and writing that not even fifty-degree weather and pouring rain can erase.

The festival is now held in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center – still in Washington, D.C. – but it is no less magical. Instead of speaking in tents, the authors and illustrators speak in large rooms which can hold twice the people. And as if having the chance to hear your favorite authors talk about their work wasn’t amazing enough, the festival also offers book-signings, performances, discussion panels, and my personal favorite – The Pavilion of States. Each state showcases up-and-coming authors and literacy movements in their area. It is a treasure-trove for teachers. I walk away with posters, bookmarks, pens, pencils, and a myriad of other freebies that I still use every year.

Last year, I stumbled upon Scholastic Books who was giving away free, hardcover, young-adult novels. My heart stopped and I dashed to get in line, jumping up and down like a child. In my opinion, there is no better gift than a free book. I also had the opportunity to hear Stephen King speak. Ever seen a grown woman geek out when one of her favorite authors of all time walks onto the stage? You would have if you’d been sitting next to me.

When I mentioned the festival to some of the teachers in my school, they had never heard of it, and so it occurred to me that, perhaps, there were fellow writers who didn’t know about the festival either. If you are in the general D.C. area, I highly recommend going. Every year I walk away with valuable writing advice. I’m inspired to kick-start a new idea. I’m reminded by the 200,000 plus people who attend, that reading and writing do still matter.

The festival is on Saturday, September 2nd this year. You can find me hanging on the every word of M.T. Anderson, Ernest Gaines, and David Baldacci.

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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Friday, August 18, 2017

 

Friday Speak Out!: Are You a Writer?

by Mary-Lane Kamberg

Are you just embarking on the writer’s journey and feel reluctant to call yourself a “real” writer? Don’t be intimidated to declare yourself a member of the tribe. Take heart, fellow traveler. Check off the items that apply to you on following list. The more you check off, the better creds you have. However, even if you check only the last one, you’re in. You are a writer.

You might be a writer if:

· You find a grammatical error in a New York Times best seller and think, I can do better than that!

· You miss your exit on the Interstate because you’re working out the next plot twist for your novel.

· You hear “last call” at the library.

· You eavesdrop in a restaurant and think, I’m gonna use that!

· You thrive on conflict.

· On an airplane a flight attendant tells you to turn off electronic devices, and you close the hardcover book you’re reading.

· You love office supplies.

· You hear “last call” at Barnes and Noble.

· Sitting behind home plate at a Major League Baseball game, you see a pitch coming right at you until the protective netting catches it. You think, so that’s what it’s like to see a fast ball screaming toward your head. I’m gonna use that!

· You go to Chipotle to read the cups.

· You think pajamas qualify as “business casual.”

· You procrastinate until the last possible minute and still meet your deadline.

· You’re addicted to adrenaline.

· You have unread books stacked all over the house.

· You hear “last call” at Starbucks.

· Your favorite friends are other writers.

· Your only friends are other writers.

· You might have a friend who is an artist or musician.

· You walk into a plate glass window and think, so that’s what it feels like to get punched in the nose. I’m gonna use that!

· You tell your spouse to stop creeping up behind you and reading over your shoulder.

· You hear “last call” at Staples.

· You pick up a cereal box and turn to the back just to have something to read.

· You meet someone with an unusual name and think, I’m gonna use that!

· Your cat walks across your computer keyboard. You interrupt your writing session to feed her.

· You look up from a late night writing session and see the sun and hear birds singing.

· You people-watch from a corner at Whole Foods.

· You think of an idea for a poem, story, novel, essay, article or book and think, I’m gonna use that! And you do.

* * *
Mary-Lane Kamberg is a professional writer/editor/speaker in the Kansas City area. She is the author of more than 30 books, including The I Love To Write Book: Ideas and Tips for Young Writers and The "I Don't Know How to Cook" Book. She writes nonfiction books for middle school and high school libraries and has published a poetry chapbook Seed Rain. She roots for the Jayhawks during March Madness.
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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 17, 2017

 

It's all good

In the Netflix movie The Incredible Jessica James, the lead character (played by Jessica Williams) asks Tony-award winning playwright Sarah Jones when she knew she had made it. And Jones responds that she doesn't know she's made it, and success is about what it (playwriting) means to her (James).

James says she loves writing plays and Jones responds with something like: Then you are doing it, you are already in it, and that's all there is.

It's the same for any writer who wonders if he or she is a real writer. You are already doing it, so you don't need to wonder. This is all there is. Of course there will be moments of triumph. Sometimes it's an award or other recognition. But what you are doing now - the research, or maybe writing the (near) perfect sentence. Or it might be discovering a great coffee shop in which to write, and feel so good about it that it makes you believe you can write anything. That moment of joy is what it feels like to be a successful writer.

Or maybe it's getting your office organized, or finding the perfect software to write your novel, or even reading books by your favorite author in the hope that some of his or her ability to write will rub off on you. Other ways of realizing success is about finding your people. Maybe you join a local chapter of the state writer's guild. And maybe it's not a great fit, but within that group you find three or four writers who form the best critique group you've ever had, and you hate to miss those meetings because those people know what it means to be a writer, and you feel the same way when you are with them.

This is what brings joy to writers. Of course we want to succeed, but we are already succeeding, and loving these moments because that's when we feel most like who we are. These moments are when we are the best definition of ourselves as writers.

So maybe you will never have a book on the New York Times Best Seller List, or a Pulitzer, or be known to the masses as a great writer. But that's OK, because you are a writer anyway, and that's all there is, but it's all good.



Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and teaches communications at St. Charles and St. Louis Community Colleges. Her short story titled Shirley and the Apricot Tree will be published this fall in Kansas City Voices.

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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.

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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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